Any accident is scary to be a part of but when a large truck is involved the fear and danger tend to increase. Even though there are many good, safe, and law abiding professional truck drivers out there, even the best of them are prone to human error and subject to forces they have no control over. Unfortunately, there are also drivers who are not safe and law abiding. A truck driver who is negligent and/or reckless when they drive can cause great harm to other people who are on the road. Regardless of the cause, truck accidents happen all to frequently and almost always cause damage. The following is a summary of some of the more common causes of truck accidents.
Weather and Truck Accidents
Most truck drivers would prefer to stay home from work during inclement weather but most professional truckers do not have this option. No matter how careful a truck driver is, conditions on the road and in the atmosphere can cause dangerous situations for themselves and other vehicles. Because of a trucks inability to accelerate or decelerate quickly, and because of their size and weight, their high center of gravity, and their narrow width relative to their length and height, trucks are prone to accidents- and often do much more damage to other cars and their passengers than the ones that the truck and its passengers sustain themselves. As well, large commercial trucks are prone to brakes, and other system failures that cause them to get in accidents.
Bad weather conditions are especially dangerous for large trucks. Some of the common weather conditions that may cause a truck to get in accident include:
Wind Storms A truck’s top-heavy structure makes it more likely to tip over during high
winds. A rollover can be devastating to the truck driver, nearby drivers, passengers and
Heavy Rain One of the more dangerous things a truck can do is to hydroplane because
of large volumes of water collecting in its path.
Heavy Snow Heavy snow and the ice it creates are dangerous for trucks because of the
lack of traction they create. Trucks that are already slow to slow down and stop are rendered incapable of doing this.
Hail Storms Hail storms can be incredibly noisy and disorietening. They can cause
problems with a driver’s ability to see the road. As well, depending on the volume of hail that is dumped, this too may cause traction problems.
Fog Fog makes it difficult to see in front of you. Sometimes driving at as little as five miles
an hour still does not allow a person to see more than a foot or two in front of their
vehicles. When a trucker has a deadline to meet, they often have to keep driving and
hope that they won’t hit anything.
Thunder and Lightning Storms Thunder and lightning can startle drivers and cause
them to get into accidents because of slamming on their brakes, swerving or speeding up
because they are disoriented by the sound of thunder or the flash of bright lightning.
Even when professional drivers get enough sleep at night and take the breaks that they are supposed to, they can still suffer from driver fatigue. The National Transportation Safety Board has released reports that indicate that truck driver fatigue may be a contributing factor in 30-40% of commercial truck accidents. Because of their weight, size, and high center of gravity, semi-trucks, tractor trailers, 18 wheelers, and other large commercial trucks, are difficult to maneuver under the best conditions. When a driver is fatigued, they are particularly liable to not be able to react quickly and in ways that they should to ensure their own safety as well as the safety of others on the road.
Driver fatigue can be the result of spending days on the road or driving in inclement conditions.
Driver fatigue can also be caused by the driver not getting enough sleep, driving too many hours in a row or driving too many days in a row, pressure to make their deliveries on schedule, depression, poor health and age.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) tries to regulate and make safe guidelines for truckers to follow but unfortunately not all truck drivers comply with these. Truck drivers are only allowed to drive 11 hours in a row, after taking 10 hours in a row off. They are not supposed to drive trucks for more than 60 hours in one week, or more than 70 hours in eight days. Even though these rules and regulations have been put in place to protect truck drivers and others they encounter on the road, many truck drivers feel like they cannot comply with them and still keep up with the delivery schedule they’ve been given.
Since not everyone follows the rules, the FMCSA also requires drivers to maintain a logbook for every 24-hour period of service. Trucking companies have an ability to determine whether a truck driver has falsified the log book based on the loads he or she actually delivered. If you have been injured by a truck accident, this log book may be used as evidence to help you win your case.
No one is supposed to drive under the influence of alcohol or drugs. It is illegal to do. In many ways, it is even more illegal for a truck driver to drive while intoxicated because truck drivers have even stricter laws governing them just private citizens who drive. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has imposed additional, stricter restrictions on drivers of 18-wheelers because they are significantly heavier and larger than other large vehicles on the road. Because semi-trucks, tractor trailers. and other large commercial trucks cannot do anything quickly, including slowing down, even the smallest lapse in a driver’s attention can have devastating consequences for the truck, trucker, and the other vehicles and passengers that get in an accident with it.
The following are FMCSA implemented restrictions for truck drivers:
– Possession of alcohol
– Possession of controlled substances, narcotic drugs, amphetamines
– Consumption of alcohol while operating a truck
– Consumption of alcohol within 4 hours of operating a truck
Truck driving is a hard job. Truck drivers can spend hours and hours on end of days and days on end with little to no contact with other human beings. When they do make contact with people it is in passing at gas stations, restaurants, truck stops and rest areas. It is not the same as getting to see your friends and family at the end of the day. Relaxing in a living room or taking a hot bath or eating a home cooked dinner, are usually not options for truck drivers while they are on the road. Because of this isolation, lack of contact, and sheer boredom of driving for days and days on end, sometimes in stressful situations of inclement weather or difficult roads, etc., many truck drivers turn to alcohol or drugs to sooth the loneliness and boredom. While many, many truck drivers refuse the temptation of alcohol and drugs, when they don’t, the consequences for them and others on the road can be devastating.
Even though strict laws have been set at at both state and federal levels that limit the amount of weight a commercial vehicle is allowed to safely hold, many trucking companies try to get around these laws when loading their trucks. Regardless of the reasons they do this, overloading beyond the legal limit creates potential for a catastrophe on the highway. Theses risks to other drivers and passengers, and to the truck driver too, can be found all over the United States, in all kinds of weather, times of day or night, on rural highways, in small towns, and in big cities.
Overloading a truck increases the amount of time it takes a truck to slow down or speed up. Overloading increases a truck’s chance of jackknifing or falling over. Overloading a truck can cause structural damage which can lead to horrific consequences.
Commercial vehicles are rated according to the maximum weight that can be transported without compromising the safety or structure of the vehicle. Many commercial vehicles such as 18-wheelers and tractor trailers are rated to carry upwards of 80,000 and 100,000 pounds. One would think that a company would want to be super careful about not overloading their trucks because of safety for their drivers and others on the road, or if not for that, because it is the law. Unfortunately even with these large quantities of weight that these massive trucks can carrey, the companies will put more weight on their trucks, knowingly making them less safe by overloading them.
Something that can be complicated about placing blame on who overloaded a truck is because very often, more than one party is involved. For example, a trailer may belong to a freight company who leaves it at a loading dock to be loaded by third party consignor, when it is then picked up by an independent truck driver. The driver may be oblivious that his trailer is overweight. If he or she needs to pull into a weigh station, they may find out that they are overloaded but will be given a fine and sent on their way.
Overloading commercial vehicles make them dangerous but unfortunately it continues to happen and innocent people get injured and die because of it.
Federal Trucking Laws
Getting a license to drive a Commercial Motor Vehicle (CVM) is harder to do than getting a driver’s license for non-commercial vehicles. Driving a commercial vehicle requires a higher level of knowledge, experience, skills, and physical abilities than those required to drive a non-commercial vehicle. Getting a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) is a more involved process than getting one for a non-commercial vehicle. A CDL applicant must pass both skills and knowledge testing that is geared to the higher standards required of a commercial vehicle operator. CDL holders are also held to higher standards when operating any type of motor vehicle on public roads. A CDL may be revoked or suspended for committing serious traffic violations.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) is the federal agency responsible for devising the rules, laws, and regulations that govern motor carriers in the United States. They also pass trucking laws and regulations in the hopes of increasing the safety of large, commercial trucks on our roads.
The FMCSA has put out Title 49 of the Code of Federal Regulations which lists all the laws and regulations that govern the entire trucking industry in the United States. This sets out laws and regulations that apply to truck drivers to help ensure their safety as well as laws and regulations applying to trucks and how to properly maintain them to that they are safe to be used.
Trucking Industry Regulations
In the United States, trucks are responsible for the majority of freight movement over land. They are instrumental in the manufacturing, transportation, and warehousing industries. After trucks were used in WWI, they began to find a regular place in American life in the 1930s. This sparked safety concerns and the government began to issue regulations to protect truckers and the American public.
Rules regarding the safety of interstate commercial driving and drivers are issued by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). The FMCSA regulates the trucking industry in the United States with a focus on reducing the number of crashes, injuries and fatalities involving large trucks and buses. The FMCSA is a division of the United States Department of Transportation (USDOT). USDOT governs all transportation-related industries such as trucking, railroads, shipping, and airplanes.
Large commercial trucks and buses require their drivers to have a commercial driver’s license (CDL) in order to operate them. Drivers of commercial motor vehicles (CMV) must adhere to the laws set out by the FMCSA and the USDOT.
Hours of Service (HOS) is the regulation that came about in the 1960s that governs how much time a driver can be on the road, and how long and how frequent breaks need to be.
In 2006, the United States Environmental Protection Agency implemented revised emission standards for diesel trucks in the hope of improving air quality and public health.
Liability in Truck Accident Cases
The responsible party in a truck accident case is not always as apparent as it is in a crash involving non-commercial vehicles. Even though it may be apparent that the truck is at fault in causing an accident, the party or parties that are at faulty may not be. This is because most commercial trucks are owned by one party but it is more than just this party who is involved. Trucks and tractor beds are often driven by an independent contractor. That independent driver may own their own cab or work for a company that provides it to them. The trailer that the goods are loaded on to is also usually owned by a party separate from the driver and the owner of the cab. The goods that are loaded onto a trailer to be transported are also owned by a different party. It may even be a party separate from all of the above, that loads the goods onto the trailer. Proving liability in a truck accident case can be tricky because it may not be a matter of finding just one person or party guilty of negligent or reckless behavior.
A trucking company can be found liable for damage through a legal theory called, vicarious liability. When an employee gets into an accident during their regular work duties, an employer may be found responsible for the accident.
If it can be proven that a truck driver or a trucking company broke the law, they may be found liable.
If it can be proven that there was a malfunction or faulty part that caused an accident, the trucking company or whoever sold or distributed the malfunctioning parts may be found liable.
Even though proving liability can be tricky, there are many ways to do this including ones not mentioned here.
If you find yourself in need of a truck accident lawyer, do not hesitate to reach out to Cohen & Cohen, P.C.