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What is a truck company ‘safety fitness determination’ in Texas?

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In a state the size of Texas, the transportation of goods over long distances is crucial for the proper functioning of a modern economy. In many cases, this function is carried out by fleets of commercial trucks owned by private motor carrier companies. While indeed essential, the presence of these large vehicles can create hazards for other drivers on the roads, and federal and state laws and regulations seek to ensure that these companies operate in as safe a manner as possible.

One way they do this, is by inspecting companies’ operations and making a “safety fitness determination” for the organization. Under Texas Transportation Code 644.155, a Safety Investigator or a State Trooper may make an inspection of a commercial motor carrier and will assign a rating based upon that carrier’s compliance with various safety regulations based upon the size of and type of operations that company performs. These ratings can be satisfactory, conditional or unsatisfactory. These ratings are based on a review of the company’s policies and management of items such as the maintenance and inspection of the vehicle fleet, driver’s qualifications and testing for drug and alcohol use, the financial responsibility and accident record of the company and drivers’ hours of service, among others.

Ether the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) or the Texas Department of Safety will issue the determination depending on whether the company engages in inter- or intrastate commerce. If a company receives an unsatisfactory rating, it will have certain time limits to come into compliance depending on its operation type. For interstate carriers, passenger and hazardous materials transporters have 45 days to improve their safety ratings, while other carriers have 60. Intrastate carriers, on the other hand, have 60 days if they transport hazardous materials or passengers and 75 days otherwise to bring their rating up to conditional or satisfactory. In either case, the if the company fails to do so, it will no longer being able to operate commercial motor vehicles.

While large trucks are a necessity of life for Texas, they should always be operated in the safest possible matter to avoid truck accidents that may cause serious and life-threatening injuries. Companies that fail to operate in this way not only may answer to authorities for breaking regulations, but might be civilly liable for damages as well.

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