Some of the most catastrophic motor vehicle accidents we see are collisions between passenger vehicles and semi-trailers or big rigs. These trucks weigh much more than passenger cars, so when there is a crash, occupants of the smaller vehicle tend to suffer disproportionately. Indeed, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s 2017 fatality statistics, 97% of those killed in crashes of this kind were occupants of passenger cars.
In handling truck accident cases, we’ve often found a range of contributing factors including driver error and poorly maintained or defective equipment. This complicates matters when it comes to holding someone accountable for injuries or wrongful death. That said, increased safety standards have made expectations for truckers and trucking companies more clear and the task of recovery less arduous.
Among the most common contributing factors to truck accidents is fatigued driving. In a 2007 study, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) found that 13% of large truck crashes were due to driver fatigue.
Indeed, the statistics show that drowsy driving is the equivalent of drunk driving:
According to the National Safety Council, driving after going more than 20 hours without sleep is the equivalent of driving with a blood-alcohol concentration of 0.08% – the U.S. legal limit.
In response to this safety hazard, the FMCSA updated its Hours of Service (HOS) regulations, according to which property-carrying truckers are capped at 11 hours’ driving over a period of 14 hours so long as they’re off-duty for at least 10 hours between shifts. The FMCSA also mandates that every large commercial truck be equipped with an electronic logging device (ELD) that syncs with the engine to automatically record driving time.
The new HOS regulations and ELD requirements create a safer environment for passenger vehicles as truckers are less likely to push themselves past the point of exhaustion. If they do, the record will be shared with their employer. But there is nothing in the rules to prevent a trucker from starting their shift on less than optimal rest. Despite the FMCSA’s efforts, drowsy driving is still a danger.
Even when truckers react appropriately, faulty equipment may lead to catastrophic consequences on the roadway. Due to to the size and speed of trucks, they take longer to slow and stop, even with proper performing brakes.
Large trucks rely on an air braking system, which means that when a trucker brakes, a sufficient quantity of air has to build up before the rig slows down. This is known as brake lag. Truckers are trained to plan for brake lag as well as the extra distance required to stop a heavy load, but mistakes can be made, especially when a trucker drives drowsy.
Unfortunately, even when truckers are alert, accidents may still happen because of poorly maintained or defective equipment. Air brakes are more complex than the hydraulic systems used in passenger cars and need regular adjustment. Tire failure can be caused by overloading, under-inflation or a manufacturing defect. And if a truck’s alignment is off, it could easily veer into another lane.
There are many other common causes for preventable trucking accidents including distracted driving, speeding, following too closely, impaired drivers, and improperly trained truck drivers. However, it’s not always clear who is responsible for causing the accident, or whether the crash should have been prevented by appropriate training, disciplining, or equipment.
In any crash with a commercial truck involving significant injury, it is worth contacting an experienced trucking injury lawyer to help investigate whether this crash could have been prevented with reasonable care of the truck driver, owner, manufacturer, or other third-party.
Our attorneys are experienced in handling truck accident cases involving in catastrophic brain and spinal cord injuries and have the expertise and compassion to ensure that you receive the justice you deserve.
For a Free Consultation with one of Passen & Powell’s top-rated personal injury lawyers, call us at 312-527-4500.