Trucking accidents are unlike most other motor vehicle accidents. Because of their colossal size and weight, tractor-trailer trucks can cause extensive damage to just about anything they come in contact with, including passenger vehicles. In the chance that a collision like this happens, injuries can easily become fatal. In fact, in 2014 alone, over 100,000 people were injured and nearly 4,000 people died in large truck accidents.
Tractor-trailers (also known as 18-wheelers) are classified as “common carriers,” which means that they are designated to carry goods around specific routes. They run constantly, and are subject to strict state and federal regulations including:
- The number of hours the truck can be driven at one time and the amount of rest a driver must obtain during the trip;
- The type and size of the cargo that can be hauled;
- Maintenance schedules; and
- Extensive record-keeping requirements.
Checkpoints are placed along highways in the form of weigh stations. These are put in place for a few reasons. Primarily, they check that the truck and its contents do not exceed a specific weight. They also verify that the cargo is reported accurately, and that the truck does not break any hours of service (HOS) laws.
Trucks that are guilty of these infractions may be detained and taken off the road until they obtain special permit. Oftentimes, however, in the case of an overweight truck, the driver will only be issued a ticket and sent back onto the busy highways while still hauling the same amount of weight.
Trucks that don’t conform to the weight standards are a common source of accidents on the roadways. The reason such non-conforming trucks can lead to so many more catastrophic events include:
- Tires bursting from too much weight;
- The vehicle becoming more difficult to maneuver, especially if the cargo weight shifts;
- Brakes failing due to extra pressure from a higher amount of momentum;
- Drivers misjudging the distance they need to stop the truck with the extra weight
- A truck rolling due to a higher center-of-gravity
- Extra weight putting too much stress on a bridge or overpass, causing it to collapse
Causes of Truck Accidents
Some causes of truck accidents are:
- Improper maintenance
- Faulty brakes
- Overloaded trucks (a common cause of accidents)
- Unbalanced truck loads
- Driver error
- Driver fatigue (excessive hours, inadequate rest, failure to observe federally-mandated rest stops)
- Driver intoxication or drug use
- Road hazards
- Inclement weather
- Excessive speed
What is “Common Carrier”?
A common carrier is any oversized vehicle, like a bus, train, airplane, or tractor-trailer, which is subject to strict laws by the state or federal government. If you are injured in a common carrier accident, it is important to determine if the vehicle involved was compliant with state and/or federal laws.
What are the different legalities in trucking accidents?
Tractor-trailers and the companies that own and operate them must abide by stricter rules and regulations than private vehicles. They must pay attention to how many hours the driver may operate the vehicle at any one stretch of time, the type of load they may carry, and how the truck is maintained and serviced, etc.
Do trucks have to carry “black boxes” like commercial aircrafts?
Most tractor trailers have a device integrated into the truck’s engine known as the Electronic Control Module (ECM). The ECM, sometimes referred to as the truck’s “black box,” captures information and data about the operation of the truck. The ECM can be crucial evidence to prove any negligence or wrongdoing of the driver involved. In some cases, it can prove negligence on the trucking company’s part, as well.
If you have been involved in an accident with a large truck, it is important that you find a lawyer with experience and knowledge of the state and federal regulations that apply specifically to truckers and their companies and the evidence required to prove your case.
What if I was partially at fault for my truck accident?
In cases in which more than one party shares the responsibility for causing the accident, courts will frequently assign a percentage of blame to each and take this into account when assigning compensation amounts. Depending on the law of the state where the accident occurred, you may still be able to recover damages for your injuries, proportional to the other party’s established percentage of responsibility.
Who is responsible when a truck if found to be at fault?
Multiple parties may be found to be at-fault for a trucking accident, including the trucking company, the person who was driving the truck at the time, and even the manufacturer of the truck or its assembled parts.
Trucking companies have a responsibility to monitor their drivers and maintain the equipment. Drivers who did not adhere to their specific licensing responsibilities or trucking laws, or who were driving carelessly can also be found at fault.
What are the most common causes of trucking accidents?
- Nearly 4,000 people die each year due to driver fatigue-related trucking accidents.
- Drugs and alcohol are often factors in driver-related accidents. Ironically, many drivers turn to illegal stimulants in an effort to combat driver fatigue.
- Weather is also an important factor. Poor visibility and slippery road conditions are hazardous for any vehicle, but with large trucks the dangers are only compounded by their size and weight.
- Overloaded or improperly-loaded trucks can cause faulty weight disbursement and cause balance control issues, making the truck difficult to handle.
- Simple equipment failure is also sometimes to blame. Common carriers are large and complex machines that require keen maintenance and proper operation. When systems such as brakes or tires fail, even the best drivers can’t always prevent a serious accident.
What are the limits that a driver can be on the road?
Hours of service (HOS) regulations state that drivers can be on the road for no longer than 10 consecutive hours and no more than 11 hours in one day. They must take at least 10 hours off between daily driving sessions and may not drive more than 60 hours in one week, or 70 hours during and eight-day period. They are required to be off at least 34 consecutive hours each week.
Who is allowed to drive big trucks?
Truck drivers must have a special commercial drivers license (CDL). Special training and tests are required to obtain a CDL. Furthermore, there are different classes of CDLs, which dictate the types and weights of truck that drivers may operate. Extra training and tests apply to drivers who haul certain types of cargo, like hazardous materials or who drive certain types of equipment, like triple trailers. Accidents and violations of traffic or trucking laws can cause a driver to lose his or her CDL.
What is an “under-ride” accident?
Because these trucks are so much larger and sit higher than passenger cars, sometimes a car’s hood and engine compartment or its trunk can slide underneath the truck, causing all of the impact to occur between the bed of the truck and 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 impact between a car and the front, rear, or side of a large truck.