Trucking is the most important mode of commercial shipping in the U.S., carrying nearly 70 percent of the country’s total freight by weight, according to the American Trucking Association.
Unfortunately, truck driver negligence is often at the core of many of the tens-of-thousands of injury-causing truck crashes each year.
Fort Lauderdale trucking accident lawyers at The Ansara Law Firm recognize some examples of trucker negligence include:
- Driver fatigue
- Inattentive driver
- Driver speed (often prompted by demanding delivery schedules)
- Hours of service violations
- Other federal violations
Additionally, trucking companies might face allegations of overloading, negligent maintenance, equipment failure and negligent hiring – all of which are known to contribute to injurious crashes.
Legal theories of vicarious liability allow victims to hold responsible truck driver employers regardless of direct negligence but one must overcome any assertion the driver was an independent contractor, as opposed to an employee.
Even though drivers are often the ones at-fault for these collisions, it is the occupants of other vehicles that pay the price. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports an estimated 342,000 large trucks were involved in police-reported crashes in 2013. Of the nearly 4,000 people killed and 95,000 injured, the vast majority – 71 percent – were occupants of other vehicles, and 11 percent were non-occupants (i.e., pedestrians, bicyclists, etc.).
Consider that although large trucks account for just 3 percent of all registered vehicles on the road, they account for 13 percent of all roadway fatalities.Truck Driver Fatigue
Perhaps the biggest problem posed by many truckers is that they are tired.
This is not always their fault, as it is well-established many trucking companies expect their drivers to push themselves to the brink in order to make tight shipping deadlines.
Truckers are limited by federal hours of service regulations to 11-hour drive limits following 10 consecutive hours off and 14-hour limits following 10 consecutive hours off. They are also required to take a 30-minute break within the first eight hours of a shift in order to stay alert.
NHTSA researchers concluded truck driver fatigue was likely a factor in 30 to 40 percent of all heavy truck crashes. Additionally, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Association concluded the risk of a crash doubled between the eighth and tenth hour of a trucker’s shift.
Despite stricter regulations, polls of truckers consistently show those laws are violated.
The National Sleep Foundation reports sleepiness or fatigue while driving is just as dangerous, if not more dangerous, than alcohol impairment. Driving while tired can cause:
- Impaired reaction time, vision, judgment
- Problems with short-term memory, information processing
- Reduced vigilance, performance, motivation
- Increased moodiness, aggression
Unfortunately, because there is no objective test for sleepiness (the way there is for alcohol or drug impairment), determining whether sleep played a role in a truck crash is often based on witness statements, officer observations and circumstantial evidence, such as hours of service violations.Speeding/Aggressive Driving/Impairment
A recent study by the FMCSA revealed drivers of large trucks are ten times more likely to be the cause of a crash than other factors (like road conditions, weather, equipment failure, etc.).
Speeding was cited in 23 percent of all trucker accidents, while 44 percent involved truckers who were taking either prescription or over-the-counter drugs.
With regard to speed and other aggressive maneuvers, this can often be traced to employer pressure to make deliveries on a tight schedule. Nonetheless, it is incumbent on the driver to operate the vehicle safely under the conditions.
In some cases, driving too fast or failure to maintain an assured clear distance behind other vehicles can be the result of operator inexperience. Employers have a duty to make sure their drivers are properly trained before assigning them to duty.
Part of the problem is the way drivers are paid – by the mile. That gives them incentive to rush. Very few companies pay by-the-hour, even though doing so has been shown to significantly reduce crash rates.
Impairment, too, has proven a significant problem. Alcohol has shown to be less of a problem than drugs. While most of these medications are either legally prescribed or obtained over-the-counter, their effects can still have a negative effect on a driver’s ability to safely operate the rig.
Federal law mandates truck companies test drivers for the use of drugs and alcohol as a condition of employment, and also sporadically impose random drug tests on drivers. Testing is also required after an accident. Drivers can be cited for being under the influence, even if the drugs they are on are legal.
Inattention among drivers, also, is a growing problem. The FMSCA and Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration specifically bar interstate truck and bus drivers from texting or using hand-held mobile phones while operating those vehicles.
Violations carry civil penalties of up to $2,750 and disqualification of license for multiple offenses. Still, drivers can comply with the rules by using speaker phone and voice-activated features. This is despite the fact numerous studies have shown talking on the phone – even with a hands-free device – still dangerously divides a driver’s attention.
Contact Fort Lauderdale Truck Accident Lawyer Richard Ansara at The Ansara Law Firm, by calling (954) 761-4011 for a free consultation.