5 Ways Truck Drivers can be Responsible for an Accident
We rely on truck drivers to transport the goods we want and need throughout cities, states, and the nation. Truckers have demanding schedules that often include driving at night and coping with heavy traffic. Even the most experienced truck drivers make poor choices behind the wheel. Others are careless and/or inexperienced.
Those who share the road with truckers are especially at risk for serious injuries when an accident occurs. Medium and large trucks are heavier than the average passenger vehicle, creating a greater force during a collision. A fully loaded semi-truck can weigh up to 80,000 pounds compared to 3,500 pounds for an average car.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA)—the agency that oversees the trucking industry—estimates that almost 5,000 trucks each year are involved in fatal crashes. Each year, more than 110,000 trucks are involved in collisions that lead to injuries. Of course, truck drivers are not responsible for all these accidents. Yet, truck drivers do cause some accidents. Below we cover five ways truck drivers can be responsible for traffic accidents.
1. Poor Maintenance Practices
Truck drivers and trucking companies have a legal obligation to follow regulations and guidelines implemented and enforced by the FMCSA. A large section of FMCSA regulations include laws that force truckers and their employers to maintain trucks in a roadworthy condition. Trucks require regular inspections, and companies have the duty to perform preventative maintenance and immediately fix known issues. Mechanical breakdowns at critical times can lead to dangerous truck accidents. Examples of mechanical issues that sometimes cause truck crashes include:
- Tires. Failure to change worn tires leads to dangerous blowouts. Sometimes a blowout causes a truck driver to lose control of his rig, potentially rolling over, jackknifing, or crashing into other vehicles.
- Braking systems. Many trucks have air brake systems, but some have traditional pads and rotors. Regardless, trucking companies need to regularly inspect braking systems for issues and change any necessary fluids or parts to prevent brake failure at intersections and other critical times.
- Transmissions. Failure to check transmission systems and fluids and maintain them could lead to a transmission going out while a truck driver is operating his rig. The loss of control often leads to an accident that sometimes involves other vehicles.
It’s true that the lion’s share of responsibility for a truck’s roadworthiness falls on the truck owner or trucking company. However, the FMCSA also requires truck drivers to inspect their trucks before and after each trip. Trucking companies cannot fix issues if they do not know about them. Negligent truckers who don’t follow through with inspections could be responsible for a mechanical failure that leads to an accident.
2. Poor Training Practices/Inexperience
Another situation where a truck driver could share responsibility with their employer for an accident involves hiring and training practices. All truck drivers must hold a commercial driver’s license (CDL), and some trucks require special endorsements. Trucking companies have the responsibility to hire qualified drivers or adequately train new drivers how to operate their trucks. Even the most experienced drivers make mistakes, but those with little experience put others at risk for accidents and injuries.
Proper training is especially important for transporting hazardous materials and operating top-heavy trucks, such as dump trucks, cement trucks, and garbage trucks. These trucks have a higher center of gravity, making them more prone to tipping over when inexperienced drivers take corners or curves too fast. New truck drivers need comprehensive training in the type of truck they will be operating. This provides an opportunity to learn how the truck handles, how to react appropriately to hazards on the road, and how to share the road safely with other vehicles.
3. Distracted Driving
Thinking of distracted driving typically conjures up images of cell phone use. The popularity of cell phones certainly has led to an increase in distracted driving-related accidents. However, cell phones aren’t as much of a problem for truckers as you might think. The FMCSA outlawed cell phones long before Louisiana and other states put laws on the books prohibiting handheld devices while driving. Federal law prohibits truckers from using their phones unless they use a hands-free device to place or receive a phone call. Drivers who don’t use a headset are not only breaking state law but face harsh penalties for an FMCSA violation.
However, cell phones are not the only driving distractions that plague truck drivers. Distracted driving includes anything that causes a trucker to take his hands off the wheel, his mind off of driving, and his eyes away from the road. Examples include:
- Eating and drinking
- Personal grooming
- Reaching for something on the floor
- Adjusting the CB, GPS, or another radio
- Adjusting A/C or other truck features
- Focusing on something outside the vehicle
Distracted truck drivers who cause traffic accidents can be financially liable for property damage and injuries of others involved in an accident.
4. Driver Fatigue
Truck drivers are among the professionals who face the most risk for drowsy driving. The FMCSA regulates the hours per day and week that a driver can be behind the wheel. Yet, even with mandatory breaks and rest, the demanding schedules leave some fatigued. Getting proper rest is essential for safe driving. FMCSA research revealed that truckers who go 18 hours without sleep have the same level of impairment as someone who has a blood alcohol content of 0.08 after consuming alcohol, which is double the legal limit for those who hold a CDL.
The danger is not only falling asleep at the wheel but the inability to properly react to hazards and other vehicles on the road. Drivers with untreated sleep disorders and those who drive at night are especially at risk for drowsy driving. Truckers who don’t get the rest they need can be responsible for an accident if their fatigue leads to a crash.
5. Reckless Driving
Some truck drivers are reckless and aggressive behind the wheel. You would hope that holding a CDL would prevent this, but unfortunately, that isn’t always the case. Drivers who are rushed or have no regard for others because they are in the bigger vehicle sometimes make dangerous choices that can lead to deadly truck crashes. Other times, drivers who are behind schedule or in a rush will drive aggressively to try to make up time on the road. Whether intentional or unintentional, examples of reckless/aggressive driving that opens a trucker up to liability for an accident and injuries include:
- Excessive speeding
- Failure to check blind spots when turning or changing lanes
- Tailgating other vehicles
- Failure to use turn signals
- Cutting other vehicles off
- Racing other vehicles
- Refusing to drive in the far right lane
- Passing vehicles on the left
Truck accidents are traumatic events that leave victims suffering from physical injuries, economic burden, and emotional stress. If you have suffered injuries in a truck accident, you deserve compensation for damages. Let the experienced truck accident lawyers at Charbonnet Law Firm deal with the trucking company’s insurance carrier and other details of your claim while you focus on healing from your injuries. Contact us today online or call us at (504) 294-5094 for a free consultation to discuss your truck accident injuries and how they have impacted your life.