car crash

With its vast and open roads, limited regulatory enforcement personnel, and a huge commercial trucking industry, Montana’s roads are home to thousands of trucks that pass through daily. Trucks traveling on Montana roads and highways can legally weigh up to 80,000 pounds – nearly 20 times the weight of an average car! Trucking companies and industry regulators know the immense damages and harms that result from crashes involving trucks and their immense weight. Too often, these catastrophic damages and harms are inflicted on innocent Montanans and others traveling in our state because of the actions and omissions of negligent truckers and those who put them on the road.   

To try and keep us safe, trucking companies in Montana and throughout the United States are required to follow specific rules and regulations. Trucking industry rules and regulations are designed to reduce crashes, injuries, and fatalities involving large trucks and buses. These rules and regulations come from both federal and state law. They include the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSRs) and those written or adopted by the Montana Department of Transportation (MDOT) and its Motor Carrier Services Division (MCS). Below are some of the federal and Montana trucking accident laws you should know if you’re ever involved in a collision with a truck or other commercial motor vehicle.

Montana Trucking Accident Laws You Should Know

Trucking accidents involving commercial vehicles are more common in Montana than in most other states. Numerous factors contribute to the prevalence of commercial vehicle collisions, but one thing is certain: many end in serious injury or death to those hit by the trucks. Here are some of the most important things you should know about Montana trucking accident laws as a passenger vehicle driver.

To become a commercial truck driver in Montana, a person must meet some minimum requirements. A commercial motor vehicle driver must be or have:

  • 18 years of age or older for driving intrastate, i.e. in-state
  • 21 years of age or older for driving interstate i.e., across state lines
  • High school diploma or GED
  • Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) holder and
  • Medical Examiner’s Certificate (MEC)

The FMCSRs are the most comprehensive federal regulations that regulate the trucking industry. Generally, the FMCSRs apply to all employers, employees, and commercial motor vehicles transporting property or passengers in interstate (and certain intrastate) commerce. Those subject to the FMCSRs include those who operate a motor vehicle or a combination of motor vehicles which:

  • Cross state lines and
  • Have a gross vehicle rating or gross combination weight rating of 10,001 pounds  or more (whichever is greater) or
  • Is designed or used to transport more than 8 passengers (including the driver) for compensation or
  • Is designed or used to transport more than 15 passengers (including the driver) not for compensation or
  • Is used to transport certain quantities of “hazardous material.”

The Federal Motor Carrier Regulations may also apply to those operating intrastate only and who have a motor vehicle or combination of motor vehicles which:

  • Do not cross state lines, but have a gross combination weight rating of 26,001 pounds  or more and is not a farm vehicle operating solely in Montana or
  • Is designed or used to transport at least 16 passengers (including the driver) not for compensation or
  • Is designed or used to transport at least 9 passengers (including the driver) for compensation or
  • Is of any size and used to transport “hazardous material.”

“Hours of service” refers to the maximum amount of time drivers are permitted to be on duty including driving time, and specifies number and length of rest periods, to help ensure that drivers stay awake and alert. In Montana, most truck drivers must abide by federal regulations for hours of service. One such rule is that drivers require 10 hours off-duty following 14 hours on-duty. Additionally, the driver may only drive 11 of those hours after the 10-hour off-duty period. Drivers must take a 30-minute non-driving break after 8 consecutive hours of driving and must take a 34-hour break after 60 or 70 hours on duty (depending on how many consecutive days driving). If a truck driver operates outside of these regulations, he or she faces fines and is more likely to cause a serious accident. Drivers who violate hours of service restrictions are one of the most common substantial factors in causing commercial motor vehicle crashes.

Similar to passenger vehicles, a commercial truck must carry a minimum amount of insurance coverage as required by Montana law. There are different regulations depending on the size and cargo type of the truck. For example, vehicles weighing less than 10,000 pounds must carry liability for $25,000–$50,000 in coverage for bodily harm and $20,000 for property damage. On the other hand, in recognition of the heightened danger they pose, larger trucks require more coverage, often a minimum of $750,000. Unfortunately, too many trucking companies choose to operate in Montana with insurance policies that have far too low of limits to cover the extent of damages and carnage that are caused when their trucks drive into Montana drivers. These damages are often in the millions and tens of millions of dollars in damages and include injuries such as death, quadripelgia, parapelegia, amputations, brain injuries, broken bones and ortheropedic fractures, and other serious injuries.

Liability is more complex in trucking accidents including because fault can be placed on someone other than the driver, such as someone who negligently loaded or maintained the vehicle. Consequentially, in addition to the driver, those who may be held liable include the trucking company, the cargo loading company, the broker, and manufacturers. 

Montana is a comparative fault state. This means that if a driver is determined to be 51% or more at fault, they are jointly and severally liable and the injured party can recover against the driver even if the injured party played a lesser role in causing the crash.

A trucker’s or other commercial motor vehicle operator’s liability must be accessed by someone who knows the particular rules applicable to the industry and how those rules affect liability. Trucking crashes are not just typical motor vehicle accidents with a larger vehicle involved. The liability analysis is vastly different and more complex.

Need a Montana Trucking Accident Lawyer?

If you suffered injuries in a trucking accident due to another person’s negligence, you may be entitled to compensation. At AFJ Law Firm, PLLC, we understand the unique nature of trucking accidents and how to help you seek justice. We’ll work with you every step of the way, no matter how complicated your case might be. Contact AFJ Law Firm today to go over your case during a free consultation. We’re ready to fight for you.