Legal Issues in Trucking Accidents

Legal Issues in Trucking AccidentsWhen trucks are involved in accidents, the results can be devastating. Their sheer weight alone, as well as often flammable or hazardous cargo, make them the cause of too many dangerous and often fatal roadway accidents.

Trucking Laws

Truckers are subject to a complex web of federal and state regulations. Truckers who drive in the State of Florida must:

  • Be registered with the Department of Transportation and display their DOT number
  • Comply with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations, which are federal laws that govern things like licenses, using electronics, and equipment on trucks.
  • Subject themselves to inspections conducted by Florida law enforcement at designated stations. Reviews of safety procedures may also be conducted at the carrier’s business location.

Fatigue Problems

When drivers of any vehicle feel drowsy or tired, they can and should get off the road and take a rest. Unfortunately, many truckers, trying to meet deadlines and make deliveries by certain times under pressure from employers who may put profits over safety, often choose to drive through fatigue. Fatigue is a leading cause of trucking accidents. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) estimates that in 2014, 20 fatalities and 434 injuries were caused by so-called “drowsy driving” and in 2012, 12% of all crashes involving a truck were caused by drowsy driving.

In fact, research demonstrates that when someone is awake for 19 straight hours and then gets behind the wheel, his or her driving is impaired as though he or she had a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .05%. Push that to 24 hours, and the BAC equivalency goes to about 10%.

In response to the problem, in 2013, federal laws required that drivers be limited to “only” 60 work/driving hours over seven days, or 70 hours over eight days. Those limits can be exceeded if drivers have 34 hours of uninterrupted rest over two nights during nighttime hours. Drivers must also take a 30 minute break every eight hours.

However, these changes were only expected to impact a small percentage of trucking companies, and as most people with common sense would know, a driver can be drowsy driving at less than 70 hours per week.

Logging of Hours Required

For many years, truckers’ compliance with hour logging requirements was hard to track and enforce. In many cases, truckers or trucking companies simply logged hours with pen and pencil, and logs may have been difficult to read, inaccurate, or at worst, downright falsified.

However, laws now require that a trucker’s work hours be logged by an electronic device. These devices track the truck motor’s activity and the location of the vehicle, allowing authorities to better monitor whether rest requirements are being met. Approved cell phones and handheld devices can also be used as monitoring devices.

Remember that even though the laws set maximum limits, that does not mean that a trucking company automatically is acting safely by complying with those limits. The regulations are not a “safe harbor” that immunizes a trucking company from negligence if they comply with those requirements. In other words, a trucking company may have policies and procedures in place that are in compliance with these regulations, but which still put truck drivers on the road who are exhausted. Questions of a company’s policies and procedures often come into play in trucking company accident cases.

Even if a company is in compliance with regulations, it may also employ drivers with poor driving records, or who may have medical conditions that require them to take additional rest, beyond what is mandated by federal law.

Other Causes of Truck Accidents

Other aspects of truck driving can lead to accidents. Being higher off the ground, blind spots for truckers are larger, and improper lane changes are common sources of trucking accidents. Because trucks need a wider space to make right turns, they often compensate by first veering left to create space. By doing so, they may run into oncoming traffic, block opposite traffic lanes, or collide with pedestrians. Bad tires which lead to blowouts and items falling off the truck and into the roadway also cause dangerous conditions for other motorists on the road.

Brake Failures

The FMCSA estimates that almost 30% of trucking accidents involved some form of brake failure, often due to the failure to properly maintain or inspect brakes. Federal law requires annual inspections of truck equipment including its breaks, and mechanics that work on trucking brakes must have a special certification to do so.

Truck brakes are different from car brakes. Trucks normally use air brakes. Federal law requires these brakes have specific stopping distances, and force requirements based on the size of the truck. Even with properly working brakes, human error can also cause accidents. Truckers need to be skilled in downshifting before braking, and braking in ways that do not cause their load to shift, and tip over the truck or spill the truck’s load on the road. Driving over water using improper braking technique can easily cause hydroplaning.

Trucks that are overloaded can also cause braking problems, as the driver may be used to using a braking technique with one weight that is different with an overloaded vehicle. Attorneys may need to obtain a company’s logs and records to see if a truck was either overloaded above capacity, or loaded more than what is common for that particular truck or driver.

Many Parties May be Involved in Truck Accident Cases

Because the duty to maintain a truck’s brakes and use brakes properly lies with the trucker, the company, and mechanics, brake failure or misuse cases can be complex and difficult and entail numerous potentially liable parties.

Additionally, as in any case in which a product fails, preservation of evidence is crucial. Often, a truck’s brakes and logs of brake maintenance are in the trucking company’s possession, and quick action should be taken to make sure that vital evidence is preserved for later inspection.

Trucking cases involve many complicated legal issues. Make sure your attorneys understand the complex regulations that these cases involve. If you are injured in a truck accident, contact Brill & Rinaldi today about a free consultation to discuss your case and your injuries.