Although semi-trucks are a major part of the supply chain that drives America’s economy, they also pose a major danger to people who use the roadways. Speeding down the highway at an average of 70,000 pounds, semi-trucks have a frightening potential to do devastating damage to anything that gets in their way. According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, in 2018 – the most recent year for which data is available – 5,096 large trucks and buses were involved in fatal crashes.
Although semi-truck drivers undergo hours of training and safety preparation, they are forced to operate under grueling schedules to meet tight deadlines. Worse still, over the last few years, the trucking lobby has convinced Congress to ease, alter, or outright reject several safety regulations. These interest groups have succeeded in pushing for heavier truck loads, longer beds, and shorter rest periods for drivers. Additionally, trucking companies – in a bid to cut their payrolls – have been putting younger, less experienced drivers behind the wheel. The latest regulatory rollback in favor of the trucking industry was the withdrawal of a rule that would have forced carriers to test drivers for sleep apnea.
When a big rig truck driver causes a motor vehicle accident, they often leave serious property damage, critical injuries, and fatalities in their wake. In this type of situation, do not be left without the best truck accident lawyers. Call us today or submit a FREE case evaluation form before it’s too late.
What Causes Serious Truck Accidents?
To have the best defense in your truck accident case, you need to know who was at fault for the crash and what the issues were that led to the accident. There are many factors that can lead to these tragic incidents, according to an extensive FMCSA study:
- Poor decision-making, such as speeding and aggressive driving, led to 42 percent of collisions
- Recognition, or a lack thereof in the form of inattention, contributed to 35 percent of accidents
- Driver performance was behind 7 percent of crashes
- Vehicle issues, or faulty equipment, caused 8 percent of accidents
- Environment, whether it’s a poor roadway or inclement weather triggered 4 percent of accidents
The FMCSA study also highlighted the top 10 specific “causative” factors that contributed to tractor-trailer truck collisions:
- Health complications of drivers
- Making illegal maneuvers
- Inadequate surveillance
- Traveling too fast for conditions
- Following too close
- Misjudgment of gap or other’s speed
- Stop required before crash
- External distraction
- Brake problems
Other factors that can play a role in a tractor-trailer accident are:
- Impaired driving: A driver’s ability to operate his vehicle is impaired when they are under the influence of drugs or alcohol
- Driver fatigue: Because of demanding schedules, drivers are often forced to work excessive hours, on inadequate rest, while they typically fail to observe rest stops – all of which can add to fatigue. Exhaustion can be as deadly as an intoxicated driver.
- Driver error: Semi-truck drivers are human, and they can make critical mistakes in hazardous situations, which can lead to a fatal accident
- Improper maintenance: All too often, vehicles aren’t properly maintained, which can result in issues that make their operation even more dangerous.
- Unbalanced truck loads: When carriers are in a hurry to make a deadline, trucks can be improperly loaded, which can lead to dangerous conditions for even the safest drivers
- Road hazards: Hazardous road conditions, whether it is the result of improper maintenance or objects in the road, can challenge a driver’s reaction time and lead to an accident
- Inclement weather: Bad weather, such as rain or snow, can reduce visibility and make the road slick, creating a difficult driving environment for anyone
- Jackknifing: This type of accident occurs when the truck and its trailer fall out of line, twisting to form an L or V shape. These are typically a result of driving too fast for the conditions, especially around a curve. Faulty equipment can also be a factor.
- Poor training and supervision: Not every carrier is as responsible as they are supposed to be when they train their drivers, which can lead to an inexperienced driver without the tools to deal with hazardous conditions and/or situations
Legally speaking, any vehicle classified as a “common carrier” must adhere to strict state and federal regulations while on the road, which include:
- The number of hours a truck driver can spend on the road in any given day or week
- The amount of rest a driver must have before each trip
- The type and size of the cargo that can be hauled
- Adherence to heavy truck preventative maintenance schedules
- Specific requirements for tracking adherence to these regulations
All truck drivers are required by law to stop at designated weigh stations to check that their load is not overweight, falsely reported, or contains illegal cargo. If a truck is found to be above its weight limit at one of these stations, the driver can be given a ticket, but all too frequently, they are allowed right back on the road with an unsafe amount of weight in tow, increasing the chances of causing a devastating accident. Occasionally, offenders may be detained until a specific permit is issued of the weight is reduced.
There are strict guidelines in place that limit the time a driver can be on the road to no more than 10 consecutive hours, no more than 11 hours in one day, and they must not drive more than 60 hours during one week, or more than 70 hours during an eight-day period. To make sure they stay in compliance, the FMCSA regulates these hours of service.
Impaired Truck Driving Risks
Impaired driving can mean a lot more than just driving while under the influence of drugs and alcohol. Experts estimate that driver exhaustion is a factor in up to 40 percent of trucking accidents. A truck driver can be impaired by influences other than drugs or alcohol, such as lack of sleep or improper use of medications.
Many truckers will even compound fatigue with drug use. Coffee does not go very far in combating real sleep deprivation. Stimulants, such as cocaine and methamphetamines, often help drivers stay awake so they can make their schedule. However, they can also lead to confusion, paranoia, and impaired judgment, all of which can lead to truck drivers to make mistakes behind the wheel.
Using drugs and alcohol before getting behind the wheel of any vehicle is extremely dangerous. When you add in all the possible factors that can cause truck driving accidents, you increase that threat exponentially. While impaired, a driver’s reaction time and judgment is reduced, and it is imperative that this not happen while driving a commercial vehicle as large as a semi-truck. The federal government has laws in place to regulate truckers taking drugs and alcohol, including regulating legal limits on alcohol intake. Drivers that have a commercial driver’s license are held to a higher standard on the road.
The Dangers of Overloaded Semi-Trailers
Large trucks are inherently harder to operate and dangerous compared to every other vehicle on the road. Since they are generally bigger, longer, and heavier, they can be more difficult to maneuver than standard passenger cars. This causes drivers to lose control more easily, which can lead to a tragedy if they are involved in an accident.
Sometimes truck may have defective parts or are not properly maintained per their fleet vehicle maintenance schedule, ultimately increasing the odds of an accident. In addition, because of their momentum from the weight, it may be nearly impossible to recover from a problem situation particularly in inclement weather.
Other factors include:
- Trucks can easily lose control when going downhill
- Truck tires can burst when there is too much weight
- Semi-trucks often shift the cargo weight, which can cause steering difficulties and lead to a rollover
- A trailer tractor’s center of gravity could rise, making rolling more probable
- Trucks often need a much longer stopping distance than regular automobiles
Extra weight may cause a poorly maintained bridge or overpass to collapse, putting other lives in serious danger. Large amounts of weight increases momentum, which can put added stress on the brakes and cause them to fail.
Truck engines have a device built into them called an Electronic Control Module. These so-called “black boxes” capture information regarding the operation of the truck during operation. The truck’s ECM can be crucial evidence to prove negligence or wrongdoing of the driver involved during a civil lawsuit. In some cases, it could prove negligence on the trucking company’s part, increasing your odds during litigation.
Common Questions about Truck Accident Cases
What Is a “Common Carrier”?
A common carrier is referred to as any company that fleets oversized vehicles to transport goods. These fleets can be composed of buses, trains, airplanes, or semi tractor-trailers. These large vehicles are subject to strict laws by state and federal governments. Whether these vehicles are compliant with these laws may be an important factor in your case if you are injured in an accident involving a common carrier vehicle.
What Are Some Legal Issues with Truck Accidents?
Semi-trucks and the companies that operate them must abide by stricter rules and regulations than private vehicles. They must pay attention to how many hours the driver is allowed to operate the vehicle during any one stretch of time, the type of load it is allowed to carry, how the truck is maintained, when it is serviced, and much more. Contact us to get started with your case and learn more.
Who Is Responsible when a Truck Driver Is Found to Be at Fault?
More than one party can be found at fault for a trucking accident, including the company. The truck manufacturer that may have supplied faulty assembled parts could even be held to product liability rules for damages. The trucking company has a responsibility to monitor their drivers and maintain the equipment under a timed fleet schedule. Drivers who fail to adhere to their specific licensing responsibilities or trucking laws, who were driving carelessly, or did not follow regulations for truck stop checks, can also be found at fault.
Who Is Allowed to Drive Large Trucks?
Truck drivers must have a special commercial driver’s license, which is different than a standard driver’s license. Special training and tests and required to obtain a CDL and keep it. There are also different classes of CDLs, which dictate the types and weights of trucks that drivers are permitted to operate. Extra training and tests apply to drivers who haul certain types of cargo, like hazardous materials, or who drive certain types of truck equipment like triple trailers. Accidents and violations of traffic or trucking laws can cause a driver to lose their CDL.
What Is an “Under-Ride” Accident?
Because tractor-trailer trucks are so much larger and sit higher than passenger vehicles, sometimes a car’s hood and engine compartment or trunk can slide underneath the trailer truck, causing impact to occur directly to the occupant compartment of the car. These accidents are particularly dangerous and can cause serious injury, decapitation, and death. An under-ride accident can occur due to an impact between a car and the front, read end, or side of a large trailer truck.
Contact an Experienced Semi-Truck Accident Attorney
If you have been involved in a tractor trailer accident, it is critical that you find an experienced truck injury lawyer you can trust and start to build your trial case immediately. Burg Simpson’s personal injury attorneys have decades of experience and the knowledge of state and federal regulations that truckers must abide by. Let one of our personal injury lawyers help gather the evidence needed to build your case by filling out our FREE case evaluation form or calling us at (866) 649-8734.