Wheels of Justice
MVRs, accidents and traffic stops
When I talk with drivers, their questions typically fall into one of the following categories: motor vehicle records (MVRs), traffic stops, accidents, search and sei-zure and drug dogs.
A motor vehicle record is the key to a driver’s trucking career. Traffic violations will not only place points on your MVR, but will also take money out of your pocket, waste your valuable time, have a negative effect on your job security, decrease your future hiring potential and in worst cases, spell jail time.
The traffic stop
Every time you hit the road, take two items with you for your protection: a loaded camera and a hand-held cassette recorder. These will be valuable to you should you be pulled over by an officer, involved in an accident or held for a search and seizure proceeding. The most common involvement with the law is a basic traffic stop. It’s extremely important that you remain calm and professional and treat the officer with respect. This is even more necessary when the officer is failing to show you any common courtesy.
The accident scene
If you do not feel you are at fault, your instinct is to cooperate fully with an officer, but you still must be careful about what you volunteer. Let’s say you’re involved in an accident resulting in serious injuries to another individual but no fatalities. An officer asks questions, and you respond thinking that you’re being helpful. 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.
Search and seizure
An officer can search your truck, trailer or person at such time he has probable cause to believe you’ve committed a crime or have evidence of a crime on your person or in your truck. But remember that probable cause is to be determined before, not during, the search. It’s often done in reverse—an officer searches your cab, finds something illegal and then says, “Aha! I suspected he had XYZ on him.” That’s not the way it works.
Drug dogs are allowed around the perimeter of your truck and trailer without your consent be-cause the Supreme Court has decreed this is “too slight an intrusion.” This means that it doesn’t violate your privacy. If a drug dog circles the perimeter of your truck and “hits” on something, it gives an officer probable cause to search further.
Anytime you are involved with the law, take some of these steps to protect yourself and your company. Too often professional drivers are overly accommodating and end up hanging themselves unnecessarily. Obey the law and be sure to know your rights and how to protect yourself on the side of the road.
Jim C. Klepper is president of Interstate Trucker Ltd., an organization that provides legal defense protection to commercial drivers. Jim is a lawyer who focuses on transportation law and the trucking industry in particular. He works to answer your legal questions about trucking, and he holds his Commercial Drivers License.