The results from truck accidents are far more devastating on average than other motor vehicle accidents. In the U.S. one person is killed or injured in a truck crash every 16 minutes. 98% of the fatalities are occupants in the smaller vehicles, as opposed to those riding in the trucks. Despite these numbers truck drivers, on the average, are patient and safe drivers.
When truck accidents occur involving an automobile, it is at least partially the fault of the automobile driver in 75% of all cases. Only 16% of truck accidents can be attributed to the driver of the truck. Why do truck accidents happen and how can they be prevented?
A trailer truck can be 75 feet long and weigh up to 80,000 pounds. Traveling at any speed they require a greater stopping distance than smaller vehicles. Truck drivers are only permitted to drive for a maximum of 11 hours per day, yet many exceed that limit reducing reaction times. Trucks are often overloaded or mechanically unsound. 23% of truck inspections reveal a mechanical or hydraulic problem. So now we have a sleep deprived driver, operating an overweight truck, with faulty steering or brakes. Suddenly a car appears in the path of the truck and the perfect formula for disaster is ignited and the results can be catastrophic.
There are many factors that can lead to a truck crash, all of which are preventable.
· Driver Fatigue – Fatigue is the number one cause of all trucking accidents and the fault of the truck driver or trucking company. The pressure for truck drivers to meet time constraints, despite being fatigued, is so commonplace that it has become an epidemic. Truck driver fatigue accounts for 35-40% of all truck crashes. A truck driver who is experiencing fatigue and forcing himself to continue driving, due to the pressure of a tight schedule, may be as impaired as a driver that is under the influence of alcohol.
Federal law permits a trucker a maximum of 11 consecutive hours on the road followed by a minimum 10-hour break. The driver is permitted a combined total of 14 hours driving and non-driving work. Often their work, prior to or during their driving schedule is physically taxing. Many drivers despite these regulations spend 12-14 hours on the road plus another 4-6 hours of non-driving work in a single stretch. Legislation is pending requiring electronic driver monitoring equipment to be installed in most large commercial vehicles.
· Speed – Truckers will speed to make up for lost time, gain downhill momentum to ascend an upgrade or to meet a strict schedule. A speeding truck requires a longer stopping distance and can become unstable on curves. Speed is often the cause in jackknife accidents. Legislation to require speed limiting devices in large commercial vehicles is pending
· Distracted Driving – The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has issued restrictions making it a violation for truck drivers to operate any hand-held device while driving. This includes texting, cell phone use or surfing the internet on a hand-held device. Other forms of distraction by truckers may be eating, drinking, reading, smoking or looking away from the road.
· Overloaded Cargo – Weight limits are determined by the Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) derived by calculations of brake, powertrain, frame and suspension limitations. A large percentage of big rigs on the nation’s highways are a combination of a tractor and a trailer that have never been hooked together. To accurately determine the GVWR is challenging, if even possible. In many cases the tractor is independently owned by the driver and the trailer is consigned. The driver, motivated by making a paycheck rather than safety, signs some papers, attaches the trailer and pulls away, not knowing if the load is too heavy or off balance. Once on the road, the driver may feel the equipment straining, but returning to the point of origin is rarely an option. There are weigh stations on major interstate roads that are placed strategically for the sole purpose of identifying overloaded trucks, but these stations are often closed. If a truck is discovered to be overweight, it is a common practice for a DOT or State Police inspector to issue a ticket to the driver and allow him and his hazardous load back on the highway. In the case of a crash involving and overloaded trailer, legal responsibility can be on the truck driver, the trucking company or the company that loaded the trailer.
· Drugs and Alcohol – FMCSA regulations require truck and bus companies employing drivers with commercial driver’s licenses to conduct random drug and alcohol tests to drivers at a nationally prescribed percentage. This rate is determined by the results of an annual survey. The FMCSA lowered the requirement from 50 percent to 25 percent of drivers for the 2016 calendar year following a survey for three prior calendar years beginning in 2011. Positive results were below 1 percent for controlled substances. When the testing rate remains below one percent for two consecutive years, the FMCSA Administrator may lower the annual testing rate to a minimum of 25 percent of a carrier’s drivers. Should the positive testing exceed one percent, the testing rate automatically reverts to 50 percent.
· Inadequate Maintenance – The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSR) apply to all interstate trucks with a gross weight of 10,000 lbs. or more. Both the trucking companies and their employees are held to minimum safety standards under the FMCSR. At the time a driver is hired by the trucking company, he, or she, must display the ability to perform pre-trip safety inspections and show the ability to use safety equipment properly. A safety program is required to be in place by the trucking company to show compliance with the FMCSR as required by the Federal Highway Safety Administration. The FMCSR requires the trucking company to inspect, maintain and repair all equipment. The equipment includes, but is not limited to brakes, tires, fuel systems, lighting, windows, frames, cargo retention equipment as well as emergency equipment. All inspection records must be kept for a period of one year per vehicle.
If You Are Injured in a Truck Accident
Following a truck accident your priority is to get medical treatment for any injuries that you or a loved one received, as soon as possible. Do not refuse any medical attention that is available from first responders. The first medical record is a time and date validation that your injuries were entirely the result of the crash. While you are being attended to, the insurance company for the trucker is already looking for a way to discredit your case. With a record of medical treatment in the moments following the accident, this becomes more difficult. Keep track of all your doctor’s appointments and diagnostic procedures. Keep a record of all your medical expenses, lost wages, travel to and from medical facilities, home treatments and equipment and even psychological treatments related to the accident. Every dollar spent should be recorded and documented.
A truck accident attorney should be consulted as soon as possible. The attorney will even come to your hospital bed if needed. The experienced truck accident attorney has the resources to provide medical experts on your behalf to help determine the extent of your injuries spread over a lifetime. The attorney will also have accident reconstruction experts at his disposal to virtually reconstruct the accident and all the events preceding and following it. The attorney will check the hours driven by the truck driver prior to the crash for signs of possible fatigue as well as considering their overall driving record. The attorney will have a maintenance expert check for any mechanical failure or overloaded cargo that may have played a part, as well as the weather and road conditions. In addition, he will examine the cell phone records of the driver to determine if the driver was distracted at the time.
Trucking companies have insurance investigators and law firms who have a great deal of experience in minimizing settlements. You need an experienced truck accident attorney who has the resources and skill to recover the compensation you deserve. You owe it to yourself and your loved ones to have the best lawyer on your side.