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What is Transportation Law?

Transportation law covers most aspects of travel and commerce on the streets and highways, in the air, and on the water -- including regulation of vehicles and vessels; implementation of safety standards; and oversight of shipping activity. Transportation is regulated at both the state and federal level, with the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) being the main federal regulatory agency. 

Individual states often also have their own transportation authorities to regulate aspects of the roads and transportation hubs. Still, federal agencies lead the way nationwide. Federal agencies charged with regulating the various means of transportation include:

Many legal issues arise on land, air, and water, such as workers' compensation, criminal offenses, personal injury, or employment issues. However, when they occur on the water or in the air, admiralty or aviation law often applies special legal rules. Let's look at these two common areas of the law: admiralty and aviation law.

Admiralty Law

Admiralty law, also called maritime law, is a combination of U.S. and international law that covers all contracts, torts, injuries, or offenses that take place on navigable waters. Admiralty law traditionally focused on oceanic issues, but it has expanded to cover any public body of water, including lakes and rivers. These laws largely cover interactions between two or more ships, the ship captain's obligations to the crew and passengers, and the rights of crew members, as well as other legal issues.

Federal district courts usually hear all admiralty cases, but states may also hear them on occasion. Courts apply special rules and legal principles to admiralty cases.

Aviation Law

Air travel is expected to double over the next 20 years, according to the FAA. As air traffic increases, so does the risk that passengers will be involved in an aviation accident. Generally, air traffic is considered to be a safe means of transportation, but when accidents do occur they often result in fatalities. Smaller, less serious accidents involving private aircraft are more frequent than people realize, because many of these incidents go unreported in the media.

Aviation accident law covers both major air carrier and general aviation accidents. General aviation includes all non-commercial aircraft including small planes, large business jets, charter flights, pleasure crafts, helicopters, and hang gliders.

When You Need a Transportation Lawyer

The regulation of who may transport through the air, sea or on land is a separate issue that often necessitates an attorney. How licenses are granted or revoked, for instance, is a common issue. Who do you turn to if your pilot's license is in jeopardy? What to do if your railroad or trucking access is at stake in a federal hearing? How about if criminal charges come to bear after a transportation law incident?

These are all instances when you would want to consult with legal counsel. Therefore, when faced with a legal issue where transportation law applies, you should consult an attorney familiar with these special laws and rules rather than simply hiring a personal injury attorney.

Additionally, transportation lawyers should be familiar with the many industry-specific laws and regulations that may apply. For all these reasons, be sure to contact a Transportation Law Attorney to better protect your rights in any legal or procedural setting.

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