Truck drivers spend hours, even days, on the road. And because they guide an 80,000 pound (or more) dangerous missile, they have a responsibility – a legal duty, actually – to drive carefully and protect us from these behemoths-on-wheels. Many truck wrecks are caused by a number of factors involving driver negligence, which can be manifested in careless, distracted, drowsy, or substance-impaired driving.
Most of the time, a trucker’s unsafe driving can be attributed to being in a hurry. Often it’s because their employer is “encouraging” them to keep unreasonable schedules, or maybe overloaded the trailer, or didn’t properly secure the cargo. But careless driving also makes them cut corners, which can cause serious injury (and fatal) wrecks, by engaging in these behaviors:
- Ignoring bad weather conditions (rain, sleet, etc.) and road conditions (closures, bridge weight limits, height restrictions, etc.)
- Speeding or ignoring reduced limits
- Unsafe lane changing.
Sometimes the carelessness involves others. A truck might suddenly break down because of poor maintenance, or a defective part could fail, making the transport company or the manufacturer of the defective part open to liability for legal damages after an accident caused by a semi.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), says about 30% of all truck accidents caused by the trucker are due to driver distraction. The FMCSA also found truckers involved in crashes are distracted about 8% of the time by something outside the cab; and the rest of the time (over 90%) by something inside the cab.
Just like us, truckers can get lost too. And one careless trucker behavior that causes wrecks is looking at a map or their GPS instead of the road. Researchers found that using a GPS while driving requires using visual, manual, and cognitive skills simultaneously.
Other trucker distractions include fiddling with the radio or infotainment system, smoking, personal grooming, eating, watching a video, and talking or texting on a cell phone. Texting while driving is banned in Texas; and there are also a few laws that restrict – or ban –hand-held cell phone use in areas such as school zones. Our state’s texting ban also includes GPS devices.
Sleep deprivation is one of the leading causes of traffic accidents. National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) research says that up to 100,000 accidents are caused by drivers who doze off behind the wheel; and at least 1,500 fatalities and 40,000 injuries are caused by drowsy drivers.
Research from Harvard Medical School tells us that every day around 250,000 Americans fall asleep while driving. Over half of those who participated in the research admitted to driving while drowsy. Half of those admitted to actually dozing off – though just for a moment. And, after surveying a group of 18-wheel truckers, the Harvard study found that nearly half admitted to actually ‘drifting off’ while driving a long-haul route.
The FMCSA has placed tight restrictions on big-rig drivers, limiting the number of consecutive hours and total number of hours in a 24-hour period that they are permitted to drive before being required to take an mandatory break. This is due to the fact that many truckers force themselves to continue driving even when they are tired, because their companies pressure them to meet deadlines. Many transport companies even encourage their drivers – and often assist them – in skewing or misrepresenting their schedules just so they can spend more time behind the wheel.
This practice should concern us all, especially when we have to share the road with them. Consider this statistic: In 98% of fatal semi-truck vs. passenger vehicle accidents, the person who was killed was in the passenger vehicle.
It is illegal to operate any vehicle in Texas with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level of .08% or above. For commercial truck drivers, the stricter level of .04% is the law. Truckers are also prohibited from consuming or being under the influence of any alcohol within four hours of going on duty or while driving, according to www.fmcsa.dot.gov. Drivers also can’t possess or be under the influence of drugs, which include all narcotics and amphetamines.
Auto Driver Safety
We are also obliged to share the fact that four out of five car vs. truck crashes are caused by car drivers — not truckers. A few of the more common car driver causes include:
- Driving in a trucker’s “blind spot” – behind and beside the rig. A hint: If you’re out of direct view of the driver and cannot see one of their large side mirrors, you’re driving in a blind spot. So beware.
- Changing lanes abruptly in front of a truck.
- Passing a truck on the right side when it’s making a right turn.
- Misjudging an approaching truck’s speed – or its ability to brake safely – at an intersection, and then making a left turn in front of the truck.
You should always be especially alert when driving around a truck.
If you were involved in a truck crash that was caused by the truck driver’s negligence, or the actions of their employer, or maybe even a defective part, fill out a free initial consultation form or call us now toll-free at 1 (800) 444-5000. Terry Bryant is a former judge and is Board Certified in personal injury trial law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. We aggressively advocate for our clients.