Trucks are a constant sight on America’s highways. Daily, these behemoths lumber alongside vacationing families, business travelers and people obeying traffic laws trying to get safely from one point to another. Accidents involving commercial trucks (including semi-trucks, tractor-trailers, dump trucks and buses) can be devastating, as well as extremely complicated. And obviously a 3,000 pound car is no match for a 10,000 pound truck, often resulting in fatalities. Truck vs. car crashes can be caused by many factors including truck driver fatigue, loading company negligence, defective roadways, and brake malfunction.
According to NHTSA, one out of nine traffic fatalities in 2008 resulted from a collision involving a large truck. In 2008, 380,000 large trucks (gross vehicle weight rating greater than 10,000 pounds) were involved in traffic crashes in the United States; 4,066 were involved in fatal crashes. A total of 4,229 people died (11% of all the traffic fatalities reported in 2008) and an additional 90,000 were injured in those crashes.
Commercial truck accidents occur quite often on the roads of America for a variety of different reasons. Those reasons can be driver fatigue, inattentiveness, inclement weather, blown out tires, faulty equipment, failed breaks and unsecured loads. All trucks must comply with federal regulations regarding the weight restrictions of a truck’s load and the proper method loads should be secured to the vehicle.
At issue is the dichotomy between vigilance with regard to safety, and the profitability of the trucking company. The more time the truck and trucker spend driving and meeting or exceeding goals, and the less time spent on maintenance and monitoring of equipment, the more profitable the truck will be.
Truck drivers work very long hours, face unrealistic deadlines, and have to meet tight, rigorous schedules. Because of this fact, truck driver fatigue is one of the main reasons why truck accidents occur in the United States. Truck driver fatigue can severely impair the judgment of an individual who is behind the wheel of a commercial motor vehicle. It is particularly dangerous because one symptom includes the decreased ability to evaluate their own level of fatigue. The Motor Carrier Management Information System (MCMIS) has determined that adequate period of sleep for a truck driver is seven to eight hours within a 24-hour period.
Stopping distance is another huge problem for trucks for a number of reasons. According to the National Safety Council’s Defensive Driving Course for Professional Truck Drivers, the stopping distance for an 80,000 pound tractor trailer, traveling at 30 mph on a dry, level road, is 100 feet. If the speed is doubled to 60 mph, the stopping distance for that truck doesn’t double, it increases over four-fold to 426 feet. If the speed increases another 5 mph, to 65 mph, the distance needed to stop increases almost another 100 feet, to 525 feet (compared to 316 feet for a car – more than 200 extra feet). This concept is critical yet easy to ignore until it is too late.
Liability can also be placed on the truck company or agency if they failed to perform an adequate background check on the driver, and was not aware of prior arrests for drunk driving, for example. Improper loading or setting schedules that require drivers to drive too long, may also create liability for the truck company. As attorneys in trucking cases, we are responsible for proving liability but must consider the role of negligence by the trucking company. The defendant is considered negligent if he or she did not exercise reasonable care under the circumstances and the plaintiff’s injuries were caused by that negligence.