A landmark study of fatal and injury accidents * between large trucks and passenger cars showed not only that the commercial vehicle caused the crash about 55% of the time, but that in a vast majority of those cases, the truck driver was the cause of the crash rather than a vehicle failure or other problem. While the Large Truck Crash Causation Study (LTCCS) incorporated medical emergencies, such as a heart attack, in its numbers, it also included other issues, such as the truck driver falling asleep, not paying attention, speeding, or overcompensating when trying to avoid a wreck.
Collisions between semis and passenger vehicles often result in catastrophic, life-altering injuries or death to those in the car. Because cars offer relatively little protection in an impact with an 80,000-pound, fully loaded semi tractor-trailer, such crashes are more likely to result in the deaths or serious bodily injury of car occupants than are crashes between similarly-sized cars. If you’ve been injured or lost a loved one in a commercial vehicle collision, it’s critical to call an experienced truck accident law firm immediately. These types of injury claims are extremely complex. A good personal injury lawyer will investigate the claim to identify all defendants and begin dealing with individual insurance carriers directly, so you can focus on healing.
While truck drivers must obtain a commercial driver’s license (CDL) and follow more regulations than other motorists, all too often even professional drivers do engage in risky driving behaviors. And, at times, drivers, or the companies that employ them, fail to properly maintain their vehicles.
The top truck driving risks include:
- Driving for longer than regulations allow, which can cause fatigue
- Using a handheld cell phone while driving
- Following too close (tailgating)
- Brake problems
- Work zones
(Source: LTCCS Report to Congress.)
Speeding was the most frequent truck driver moving violation in 2017, according to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). It’s a frightening thought, considering how dangerous a speeding commercial vehicle is. 18-wheelers already require greater stopping distances than standard-size vehicles. Greater speed significantly increases their stopping distances. For example, it takes an 80,000-pound semi with air brakes under ideal conditions 335 feet to stop at 55 miles per hour, while a typical car takes around 207 feet. It takes a big rig 525 feet to stop at 65 miles per hour, while a passenger car can get the job done in 290 feet. Another danger of going too fast is that the driver can lose control.
Truck drivers can be pressured to keep driving longer than they should by being given unrealistic delivery schedules. They may be unable to find legal stopping places where they can rest, or encounter delays when picking up or dropping off loads. Based on surveys and recorded violations, over-the-road drivers consistently continue to drive more hours than federal regulations permit. For example, long-haul truckers may violate the Department of Transportation’s hours of service rules by driving more than 11 consecutive hours without taking a mandatory 10-hour break or by driving after being on duty for 8 hours without having taken a 30-minute break. (Sources: Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) and FMCSA) It’s easy to see how fatigue can set in after so many hours behind the wheel!
In fact, it was found that truck drivers’ drowsy driving contributed to 60 fatal accidents in 2017. Some highway safety groups worry that number could grow thanks to a move by the Transportation Department to relax federal regulations on these drivers’ work days, according to a July 1, 2019 Associated Press article published in the Minneapolis Star Tribune. The DOT proposal, unveiled August 14, 2019, would allow drivers to go off-duty for up to three hours, pausing their 14-hour workday clock, according to Commercial Carrier Journal. It also would relax rules for the 30-minute break that is currently required within the first eight hours of on-duty time and would instead require the break within the first eight hours of drive time, CCJ reported.
Distracted driving is a rampant risky behavior on our roads, and cell phones are one of the biggest driver distractions. While it became illegal in 2012 for commercial vehicle drivers to hold and use a cell phone while driving, citations for doing so remain among the most commonly issued. In 2017, 21,742 citations were issued to truck drivers for handheld use of a phone while driving, reported the FMCSA. While there are many things that can distract any motorist, studies have shown that driver distraction due to using a smartphone may be more dangerous than driving at or near legal impairment for alcohol.
As noted above, one of the biggest factors in 2017 Minnesota large truck crashes was tailgating by the truck, and it was among the most frequent citations issued nationwide, as well. When you consider that loaded tractor-trailers can take up to 40% farther than cars to stop, it’s imperative that their drivers not crowd so close behind other vehicles that they’re unable to stop in time when there’s a sudden slow-down.
Brake problems are also a major mechanical issue for semis. The FMCSA’s study showed that 27% of large trucks involved in two-vehicle crashes had brake problems. It’s no surprise, then, that brake issues are a top source of infractions. The five most common brake violations for 2017 include brakes that were out of adjustment, defective, inoperative, missing required automatic brake adjusters, or were otherwise faulty. Together, brake violations made up 20% of the top 20 vehicle violations that year, according to the FMCSA.
Finally, it’s important to give attention to work zones because 27% of fatal work zone crashes involve commercial vehicles. In fact, traffic flow interruptions (whether due to work zones, rush hour traffic jams or another cause) are a factor in a quarter of all two-vehicle crashes that include large trucks. Speeding, tailgating, fatigue, distraction, and bad brakes – any of these increase the risk of a crash when traffic suddenly slows or when lane changes or merging are required. When a vehicle is larger, heavier, and less maneuverable, its driver has a much smaller window of time in which to react.
A truck accident injury lawyer will seek a victim’s optimum financial recovery. Just as important is having the financial resources and willingness to take a case to trial against the largest corporate defendants. Suk Law Firm has recovered more than $125 million for clients, and our experienced truck injury lawyers are ready to assist you. Contact us today.
Besides Rochester, we serve the following major southeast Minnesota cities: Red Wing, Winona, Mankato, Austin, Albert Lea, and Owatonna, and all outlying communities, as well as the cities of Minneapolis, St. Paul, Duluth, and Bloomington. We also serve the Iowa cities of Mason City, Charles City, Osage, Spencer, Garner, Forest City, and Northwood and the Wisconsin cities of La Crosse, Onalaska, Sparta, Viroqua, River Falls, Ellsworth, Whitehall, and Black River Falls.
*A note about language:
Federal agencies involved in traffic safety have banned use of the word “accident” for more than 20 years, and with good reason. However, we use the word “accident” on our website, even though we know it has implications that run contrary to our professional thinking and training, because we recognize that “accident” is the word most commonly used in online searches when people are looking for help after being injured in a crash. If you’d like more information about this topic, please see our blog, “Car Accident or Car Crash?”
LTCCS Report to Congress: https://www.fmcsa.dot.gov/sites/fmcsa.dot.gov/files/docs/ltccs-2006.pdf