Truck Show FAQ's
I go to Truck shows. That probably needs some clarification. What I mean is that I go to A LOT of truck shows. To be honest, I do enjoy my time at the shows and tie interactions I get to have with drivers. With that being said, the Drivers I see at the shows usually have legal questions for me. These questions fall into several familiar areas; Motor Vehicle Records (MVR), Traffic Stops and Accidents.
So in an attempt to get ahead of the curve I thought I would address some of these questions ahead of time. Now, if you see me at one of the Truck Shows you can ask something more fun….like how my Red Sox are doing this year. Or why I like the designated hitter in the American League.
The MVR or Driving Record
Everyone that holds a CDL has a MVR that tells their employer, personal insurance carrier and the DOT or law enforcement officer how they drive. Traffic convictions to a CDL driver mean lost time, lost money and maybe a lost job. The Federal Motor Carriers Safety Administration requires each carrier to pull the MVR of each and every CDL driver they hire. A bad MVR may mean you do not get that better paying job or any job.
The traffic ticket you received last night may not mean much to you in terms of lost time and lost money, but that same ticket may put you over the top of the serious CDL conviction limit and require you to take an unpaid vacation for 60 days. That’s right, two serious CDL violations convictions in three years and your CDL is suspended for 60 days. Receive another serious CDL conviction in that same three years and you can add an additional 120 days for a total of 180 days of unpaid vacation.
What those convictions on your MVR do to your hiring potential is even worse. Ask yourself what carrier will want to hire a driver with a serious conviction or two on his MVR. All that means is the driver is just waiting on the next conviction to put him out of work for 60 days while the insurance company for the carrier is just waiting to raise their rates for having bad drivers. You can’t afford to have even one serious conviction on your record--protect your MVR and protect your future as a driver by knowing what to expect and what’s allowed when dealing with the law.
The Traffic Stop
The most common involvement with law enforcement is a basic traffic stop. You see the flashing lights and pull to the side of the road. Now what? How do you best handle this situation to protect yourself? It’s extremely important that you remain calm and professional and you treat the officer with respect. This is critically important.
Why? You will never win any arguments roadside, with an officer who is wearing a badge and carrying a gun. Choosing to argue will only ensure you a citation and a possible stay in the local jail. In addition, the officer will note on that citation not only your words but your attitude. This can have a detrimental impact on the outcome of your citation.
Also, please remember, that a traffic ticket is nothing until it becomes a conviction. It becomes a conviction when you automatically pay the fine, when you fail to show up for court on the appointed day or when the judge or jury has heard all the evidence and decides you are guilty. All have the same effect as a conviction and all will show up on your MVR. Never, just pay a ticket and admit guilt; you are just killing your job and your career.
When talking to the officer who approaches your truck, keep your hands visible. If it’s nighttime, turn on the light in your cab. Do what you can to put the officer at ease because he’ll be uneasy and unsure of you or what he might be encountering. The more agreeable you are, the better the roadside interaction will go.
Above all else when in a traffic stop situation, do not convict yourself. Be careful of the words you choose and the information you provide. It’s best to answer any questions directly but never volunteer information lest you incriminate yourself. Remember that the officer will note all you say if you admit guilt. An example I hear all the time is: A driver gets pulled over and when asked if he knows why he was pulled over will respond, ‘I was probably going...70 mph.’ Or he’ll say he was doing just a little over the limit, say 60 mph in a 55 mph zone. Both are an admission of speeding. The cop asks a simple question and the driver convicts himself with an answer. Instead, ask the officer how fast he thought you were going or admit you are unsure of your speed at the time in question. And refrain from agreeing with whatever he says. Answer questions and try not to slip into incriminating yourself.
After the stop is over, one of the best things you can do is record, either as a voice message on your phone or as w written note, everything that happened before, during and after the stop. You will be able to use this information later if you are a witness on the stand to refresh your memory. The judicial system understands that data recorded at the time of the incident is more accurate than your memory some 3-12 months later. That makes your written or recorded information more accurate in the court’s mind than that of the office that makes 25 traffic stops a day and has to recall you specifically at a later date.
If you are in an accident, always keep in mind your own protection. Typically, if you do not feel you are at fault, your instinct is to cooperate fully with an officer but you still need to be careful what you volunteer. Let’s say you’re involved in an accident that results in serious injuries to another individual but no fatalities. Your immediate reaction is to cooperate fully. After all, most professionals have nothing to hide. An officer starts asking questions; you respond thinking you’re being helpful. But three days later the injured person dies, and the prosecutor decides to file a vehicular homicide charge against you. Everything you said at the scene will be brought up in court. The slightest things that you merely commented on could be turned around and used against you.
When you are involved in an accident one of the first things you should do is call your company to report the accident and ask them what they want you to do. You may want to check out the situation for yourself and to collect information that could be helpful for your own cause, but in all cases follow their instructions on what to do. Remember, you may be excited or scared but the company has written steps they want you to follow. The safety department’s job is to handle accidents, and this may be the only time in your life you are involved in an accident, so follow their instructions.
Snap some pictures of the surroundings--the vehicles, the people present who were witnesses. You want a picture of every car tag and person at the scene if you can get it because you never know what they saw. Next, collect potential witnesses’ names and phone numbers. I must caution you not try to talk to these people about the accident. Professional drivers are not trained in interviewing people and you don’t want to take the chance of actually hurting your own case. You simply want names and numbers so that your company and the defense lawyer can talk to them if necessary. But remember; always follow your safety department’s directions.
While some of this may seem extreme, you simply never know when a basic traffic stop or an accident, major or minor, will land you in court defending yourself and your future livelihood. Collecting certain pieces of information when in these situations will help to protect you if that ever happens.
Brad Klepper, Esq. is President of Interstate Trucker Ltd., a law firm entirely dedicated to legal defense of the nation's commercial drivers. Interstate Trucker represents truck drivers throughout the forty-eight (48) states on both moving and non-moving violations. Brad is also Executive Vice President & General Counsel of Drivers Legal Plan, which allows member drivers access to his firm’s services at greatly discounted rates. Brad spent almost a decade with the largest law firm in Oklahoma where his practice included extensive experience in transactional law, business defense litigation, and intellectual property. In addition, Brad is a licensed architect and serves as General Counsel to the Oklahoma Board of Architects, Landscape Architects and Interior Designers. Brad has dedicated much of his time to DataQs challenges, which are challenges posed to the FMCSA for CSA incidents, to examine data and reports filed by law enforcement.
800-333-DRIVE (3748) or www.interstatetrucker.com