Commercial trucks are an essential part of the current economy. Semi-trucks and flatbeds haul just about anything and everything from produce to furniture, and tankers are used in transporting petroleum from one region to the next. The functions of the commercial trucks thus help people to live comfortable lives. Nevertheless, these vehicles can also be quite dangerous. Most commercial trucks typically weigh about twenty to thirty times what a normal passenger vehicle weighs, and gives you a picture of the devastation they can create when they slam into a smaller vehicle. If you were injured as a result of a trucker’s negligence, you need to know that you are entitled to compensation. But how do you determine whether the accident was as a result of the truck driver’s negligence? This guide will provide all the information you need to know about commercial trucks and driver’s negligence.
The standard for Conduct of Truck Drivers
The trucking industry is regulated by the state and federal laws which lay down the standards which trucking companies and drivers must follow. These laws help in determining who is responsible for an accident. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration along with the United States Department of Transportation are the two federal agencies mandated with the task of ensuring compliance on part of trucking companies and their drivers. Each state has a department that works to ensure intra-state commercial trucking is regulated.
If your accident relates to a big rig, a semi-truck, or any other kind of commercial vehicle, then you need to know that the driver along with the company he works for could be held responsible for the injuries you sustained. The laws which trucking companies must follow include:
Rest for Drivers
The trucking industry outlines the hours of service every driver must comply with. This refers to the duration of time a truck driver is allowed to operate without resting or taking a break.
Commercial Driver License
All drivers of commercial trucks such as an 18-wheeler truck must follow the guidelines as well as the statutes on commercial drivers’ licensing outlined by the state. In case there is an accident and the truck driver did not have the right license to operate a large truck, you can effect a legal case against the company and the driver.
Maximum Weight Allowed
The maximum weight which a commercial vehicle can haul is often determined by its size. A single axle truck, for instance, can carry about 20,000 pounds and the two-axle truck can take up to 34,000 pounds. When these weights are exceeded, then driving the loaded truck becomes dangerous to other road users.
Trucks’ Quality Control
Large commercial trucks are usually regulated in both maintenance and manufacturing to ensure quality control. For instance, federal laws do exist on air brake systems. If there is a defect in the truck which led to an accident, then you could have a claim against whoever was responsible for its manufacture or repair. This is a provision under the legal theory of product liability.
The Different Kind of Truck Drivers Negligence to Know About
Here are the five types of truck driver negligence that will put everyone in danger.
1. Improperly Secured Cargo
When the cargo on a truck has been wrongly secured, it can easily fall off the truck and hit vehicles causing accidents of greater magnitude. According to a 2014 report by AAA, flying materials caused over 200,000 crashes which led to more than five hundred deaths and thirty-nine thousand injuries. The common flying materials include wheels, sheet metal, tires, appliances, tow trailers, furniture, among others.
Cargo that has been poorly loaded can also cause the imbalance of trucks since the cargo shifts from side to side inside the truck. As a result of the imbalance, commercial trucks are at a higher risk of rolling over when hit by a gust of wind. The semi-trucks can also spin around or jackknife when the driver attempts to take a quick turn with an imbalanced load.
2. Speaking or Texting on a Phone
Speaking or texting while driving is one of the major causes of trucking accidents. This habit dramatically reduces a person’s attention and increases their likelihood of causing accidents on the road. According to studies, distracted driving is also dangerous for the truckers themselves. According to statistics, truckers who text while driving are 23 times more likely to engage in an accident as opposed to a driver who is not distracted. Apart from that, a trucker who dials to their phone is about 6 times more likely to engage in an accident. On the other hand, drivers of passenger vehicles who dial while on the road are only 2.8 times more likely to find themselves in a wreck. Lastly, a trucker who attempts to grab their phones increases their risk by 6.7 times. This risk is only increased by 1.4 times with car drivers.
The good news is, federal laws prohibit the use of hand-held gadgets and emailing or texting while driving. Truckers are allowed to use their cellphones when they pull over to the side. However, the use of handless gadgets is allowed when driving. Even so, some drivers take such an opportunity to use their cellphones while driving, actions which could result in injuries for other unsuspecting road users.
3. The Hours-of-Service Rules
In most cases, truck drivers exceed the limit of their allowable hours because of the tight deadlines placed by their companies. A driver could knowingly violate the federal laws that stipulate the duration of time they are allowed to be on the road and their companies may look the other way. Exceeding the mandated hours is the cause for fatigue which could lead to truck accidents.
4. Speeding and Aggressive Driving
More often than not, commercial truck drivers are under immense pressure to deliver their cargo within the stipulated time frame. In turn, this causes them to spend and engage in aggressive driving behavior: running a red light, tailgating, and changing lanes rapidly. When drug and alcohol are combined with tight deadlines, it can be easy for truckers to slam into other vehicles.
5. Driving While Impaired
Trucking can be an overwhelming job. In most cases, trucker drivers work for long hours for an average pay and sometimes, they have to spend days away from their families. Unsurprisingly, some of them turn to alcohol and drugs to aid them in dealing with the stress of average pay, poor working conditions, and the need to stay awake. The commonly abused drugs include cocaine, marijuana, amphetamines, and alcohol.
Any of the above drugs can prove detrimental to other motorists on the road. For instance, marijuana and alcohol slow the reaction time in addition to inducing sleepiness. Amphetamines and cocaine can give truckers temporary highness but they can cause other health complications. Additionally, these can encourage a driver to engage in aggressive behavior such as tailgating and speeding.
Drivers who were absent from their job may also feel the pressure to get back to work because they fear being fired or they need the money. These category of drivers are often at risk of abusing prescriptions to manage the day. Nevertheless, overusing painkillers can have a tremendous impact on a person’s life as they could cause decreased attention and fatigue. These two factors make road accidents more likely.
Liability in Truck Accident Cases
In truck accident cases, you will need to show and prove that the driver, as well as their employer, are responsible or liable for the injuries you sustained. The trucking company could be liable through a legal theory called vicarious liability. In this case, the employer of the driver is responsible for the negligence of their employee during the regular course of their operations.
One way you can prove liability is to demonstrate that the trucking company or the driver broke the law by violating any of the five negligent rules mentioned above. For instance, when the driver was operating while under the influence of drugs or alcohol, you can file a claim for negligence as his actions are against the law.
You can also show that the company was negligent by proving that it negligently hired an unqualified driver. For instance, when a trucking company hires a driver who has been convicted more times for drunk driving, then you could easily prove negligence on their part.
As mentioned, the proof of liability in a trucking accident case rests on your ability to show that a trucking company and his driver were negligent in carrying out their duties. Truckers will most likely deny the allegations pertaining to their negligence so you will need a personal injury attorney on your side to help ferret out the required evidence. For instance, your attorney will know what steps to take to subpoena telephone records that will help in uncovering whether the trucker sent a text or talked on his phone when the accident occurred. Additionally, your attorney can also question the driver in a deposition while under an oath. All these techniques can go a long way in proving that the negligence of the trucker caused your accident.