OpenJurist

When should a collision with a large truck be litigated?

Large commercial vehicles and eighteen-wheelers pose a significant hazard to most other vehicles on the road, due to their massive size and weight. When a semi jackknifes on a highway, it can become an impenetrable wall resulting in a serious multiple vehicle collision. Due to their weight and size, commercial trucks can be slow to come to a full stop. A trucker's load may spill following a collision, creating an additional hazard for other drivers and potentially releasing hazardous chemicals. Although the commercial trucking industry is heavily regulated, many regulations are flouted by truck drivers who try to shorten their time on the road.

The overwhelming majority of truck accidents which result in a fatality also involve a passenger vehicle. This is the unfortunate consequence of a truck which may well weigh 60 to 80 tons, colliding with a 3,000 pound passenger vehicle.

Where a commercial truck driver is the employee of a trucking company, the company may be vicariously liable for injuries caused by the driver's negligence either in its capacity as an employer or as the owner of the truck.

Driver Fatigue
There are federal regulations on the number of hours a commercial truck driver may drive per day, and even how many hours of sleep a truck driver is expected to get each night. Hours and miles on the road, driving start and stop times, and hours of sleep are supposed to be continuously logged by drivers. Yet drivers routinely fake log entries, or complete their log books days after-the-fact, ignoring the regulations while driving. A tired driver may also be tempted to use stimulants to stay awake and alert.

Commercial truck drivers subject to federal regulation are not supposed to drive more than ten consecutive hours, or more than eleven hours in a day. After accumulating eleven hours of driving in a day, the driver is supposed to take a break of not less than ten hours, with a weekly rest period of 34 or more consecutive hours. Drivers are not permitted to accumulate more than 60 hours of driving time in a week, or more than 70 hours over eight consecutive days. Additional state regulations may apply. Employers should audit their drivers' logs to ensure compliance with these regulations.

Improperly Secured Load
Where the load in a commercial truck is improperly secured, it can shift during transit creating a risk of rollover. With trucks carrying loose loads under a tarp, an improperly secured tarp can result in a shower of debris on the road or on vehicles behind the truck. An overloaded truck also is at greater risk of becoming involved in an accident.

Poor Maintenance
Trucks require proper maintenance, and mechanical failure (particularly of the brakes) can create a great danger to other drivers. Brakes, truck lights and other safety equipment should be properly maintained and regularly checked. Truckers should always perform a complete pre-trip inspection of their vehicles. Sometimes a manufacturing or design error in a truck or truck part will support a product liability claim.

Excessive Speed
Speeding by the drivers of commercial trucks plays a very significant role in the frequency of accidents. Truck drivers know it is safer to obey the posted speed limit, but unfortunately may choose to speed in order to deliver their loads more quickly.

Unsafe Driving
Additional unsafe driving factors by truck drivers which frequently contribute to accidents include:

  • Driving Outside of the Designated Truck Lanes
  • Failure to Respect Weather Conditions
  • Aggressive Driving
  • Driving While Impaired by Drugs or Alcohol
  • Failure to Yield Right of Way
  • Failure to Observe a Safe Following Distance

Other drivers can make the probability of a truck accident increase by failing to drive safely:

  • Failure to Respect the Trucker's Blind Spot - Trucks can have an enormous blind spot, and some post warning signs on the rear demonstrating the zone in which they cannot see a passing vehicle. Still, many drivers attempt to pass trucks as they attempt to turn or change lanes.
  • Sudden Braking - Commercial trucks and tractor-trailers may require a considerable distance to stop, particularly when they are towing an empty trailer.
  • Unsafe Lane Changes - Sudden lane changes in front of a truck, particularly while passing, can create risk of accident.
  • Cross-Winds - On windy days, a truck may shield another driver from the effects of the wind. If the driver passes the truck, a sudden gust of wind may catch the driver off-guard.
  • Aggressive Driving - In a collision between a truck and a passenger vehicle, the passenger vehicle will lose. It is not wise to engage in aggressive driving techniques against a semi driver.
  • Tailgating - Drivers who rear-end commercial trucks may find that the front of their vehicle passes below the truck, depriving them of the benefit of the front-end crumple zone and possibly causing the primary point of impact to be with the windshield, only a short distance from the driver's face. The metal bars welded to the back of a truck below the chassis are ostensibly meant to prevent underride, but are commonly called "guillotine guards" due to the number of decapitations they case. Underride accidents with commercial trucks can be deadly.

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