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What Are the Most Common Ways Truck Drivers Cause Crashes?

Truck Accidents Can Be Devastating. But What Causes Them to Occur?

Enduring the impact of a 50-foot, 80,000-pound commercial vehicle is one of the most traumatic things that can happen to you as a driver. Your injuries can devastate your physical health, keep you out of work, and even render you permanently disabled. Identifying the most common ways truck drivers cause crashes can give you information that may support a claim that you are anticipating, should you be the unfortunate victim of an accident involving a commercial truck, or can keep you well-informed about how you can do your best to steer clear of circumstances that can make you and your loved ones vulnerable to crashes involving large trucks.

If you get into a trucking accident, your first call should be to an experienced truck accident lawyer at Munley Law. We’ve been practicing truck accident law for more than 60 years and we understand how complex these cases can be. Contact us today to schedule a free consultation.

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What Are the Common Causes of Trucking Accidents?

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMSA) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) expose the most common causes of truck accidents in their “Large Truck Crash Causation Study” (LTCCS) study:

  • Driver fatigue/ pressure from the employer to complete long assignments without adequate breaks
  • Distracted driving
  • Drug/alcohol intoxication
  • Mechanical vehicle problems/inadequate maintenance and inspection
  • Improperly secured cargo
  • Reckless driving
  • Aggressive driving
  • Roadway/ environmental problems

The FMCSA and the NHTSA’s data incorporates reported episodes from tractor-trailers, semis, semi-trailers, and flatbeds, data, classifying them to represent the large commercial truck population. Accidents involving large trucks, big rigs, 18-wheelers, and tractor-trailers can prove devastating to the innocent victims involved.

According to the most recent data from the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, there were over 7,200 accidents involving large commercial trucks; 1,172 truck accidents were directly caused by passenger cars colliding or striking trucks. In addition to these statistics, 37 percent of all vehicular fatalities involved occupants of passenger cars.

What is the Leading Cause of Truck Driver Accidents?

FMSCA has reported that 71 percent of truck accidents are caused by distracted driving. This is one of the most universal reasons for truck accidents, and it encompasses a great array of possible distractions:

  • Cell phones
  • Texting, emails
  • Dispatch device use
  • Eating
  • Reading
  • Logging information
  • Adjusting the radio
  • Exterior distractions such as billboards, physically communicating with another driver and taking your eyes off the road.

License suspension, jail time, fines, job termination, and temporary or permanent Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) suspension are all realities for at-fault distracted drivers. In addition to the consequences for at-fault commercial drivers, serious injuries can be endured by all parties, and sometimes, tragically, fatal.

How Dangerous is Fatigued Driving?

Truck driver fatigue and drowsy driving are extremely dangerous and extremely prevalent in the commercial truck driving industry. Trucking companies sometimes implement unrealistic deadlines that compel commercial truck drivers to work longer hours than federal trucking regulations permit, but getting the work done by working overtime with no breaks is definitely not warranted on the road. This violates the protections that are made to procure the safety on our roads for commercial vehicles and passenger drivers, alike.

The FMSCA Hours of Service (HOS) Rules were created to discourage and manage instances of fatigue and exhaustion. They require that regular, logged breaks are taken by truck drivers. Truck drivers can drive a maximum of 11 consecutive hours after taking 10 consecutive hours off. After going on duty, they cannot drive beyond the 14th hour. In addition, truck drivers can drive a maximum of 60 hours in one week, and/or no more than 70 hours in eight days.

Truck drivers are also required to take a 30-minute break after spending eight driving hours; the break cannot be taken while driving.

In addition to these efforts, most commercial vehicles are required to utilize the Electronic Logging Device (ELD) mandate. Logging hours will help to ensure that adequate breaks are being implemented and accounted for.

Truck Accident Lawyer Dan Munley examines the wreckage of a truck accident

How Do Drugs and Alcohol Cause Truck Accidents?

In some instances, the pressure of completing assignments and unrealistic demands on the road to stay awake, or to need to endure the loneliness sometimes prompts drivers to abuse alcohol and illegal drugs. Impaired judgment on the road can present itself as speeding excessively, falling asleep at the wheel, or delayed reaction time.

To deter drivers from drinking and driving, commercial blood school content levels are twice as strict as the requirement for ordinary drivers: the BAC limit is 0.04% for commercial drivers. And although not commonly sought, if a lawsuit is at stake that involves drunk or drug-influenced driving, punitive damages may be on the table to be compensated for. Punitive damages are rendered to punish an at-fault defendant that has engaged in serious misconduct and negligence.

Why Do Commercial Trucks Need Regular Maintenance?

Trucking companies must perform regular maintenance and inspection on their vehicles to keep them safe, operable, and in working order. Trucking companies must replace and repair broken parts, and cargo and the vehicle must be properly inspected before making its way onto the road. Regulations require drivers to log their inspections, record performed maintenance, and load the cargo and secure it appropriately. When trucking companies ignore or delay necessary truck inspections and maintenance they risk the lives of their drivers and the general public.

If companies do not enforce logging and maintenance, the care of vehicles often goes astray. Also, trucking companies often pay truck drivers by the mile, and inspection tasks do not qualify as being paid for; this can curtail the task of mindfully recording maintenance issues thoroughly. Trucking companies are required to maintain their vehicles; however, when they allow their vehicle defects to go untreated, tractor trailers can become dangerous to operate, leading to collisions. In these instances, trucking companies are liable should there be an accident. Tire blow-out and faulty brake problems are examples of what can become factors of vehicle maintenance negligence.

What Happens When Cargo is Not Properly Secured?

The FMCSA provides rules for proper loading and tie-down requirements, truck maintenance and inspection procedures, licensing and driver testing, and restricts the use of drugs and alcohol. Truck drivers and trucking companies must comply with all federal and state trucking regulations. When they don’t comply, and their negligence causes a truck crash, they can be held liable for any injuries. Truckers and trucking companies are required to keep logs and shipping schedules, which need to be updated and contain the correct information.

What is Considered Reckless Driving?

Truck accidents happen when a truck driver is driving recklessly, such as speeding, tailgating, changing lanes quickly, making unsafe turns, violating the rules of the road, or driving too fast for road conditions. The American Transport Research Institute (ATRI) conducted a study that found that commercial truck drivers who have committed any of the following are more than 100% more likely to have an accident:

  • Failure to yield right-of-way violation
  • Failure to use a turn signal
  • Improper use of turn signal
  • Reckless driving violation

Other reckless driving includes overloading commercial trucks or incorrectly loading truck cargo. Overloading and other unsafe loading practices can make it very difficult for a trucker to correctly maneuver a truck, poor directional control, cause cargo shifts, cause a rollover, mechanical failure, or greatly impact stop times, resulting in a collision.

How Do Adverse Weather Conditions Play a Role in Truck Accidents?

Truck drivers must plan accordingly and alter their schedule, should weather conditions be impeding. However, if unexpected weather occurs, according to the FMCSA, “If unexpected adverse driving conditions slow you down, you may drive up to two extra hours to complete what could have driven in normal conditions.” Therefore, if an unexpected weather event occurs while a truck driver is on the road, the driver can proceed to drive for up to 13 hours in the current weather conditions. If the weather conditions are predicted, then the truck driver must be off the road. Alternatively, if there is an unpredicted weather event in “real time,” a truck can stay on the road legally.

Severe weather can cause delays and slow-moving traffic. With delayed travel time, truck drivers may run behind schedule, which can, in turn, lead to careless driving or speeding as drivers attempt to make up for lost time.

dangerous weather truck accident

Are Truck Drivers Properly Trained to Drive Commercial Vehicles?

It is worthwhile to first consider what type of experience and training is required for the truck drivers who share the road with passenger vehicles. Commercial vehicle drivers must possess directional control and troubleshooting skills. Trucking companies execute a high demand of deliveries every day, and truck drivers have many elements to manage on their daily agendas:

  • Weather to account for
  • Traffic to navigate
  • Roadwork and road closures
  • Mandatory rests to take
  • Cargo to properly secure
  • Logs to execute properly
  • Truck maintenance to implement

These are just some of the responsibilities that a truck driver must manage when on the road. Trucking companies must employ experienced drivers, properly train inexperienced drivers, and perform proper background checks. FMSCA has a required entry-level driving training (ELDT) program, before taking their commercial exam, as of February 7, 2022. Prior to ELDT training, a CDL permit must be obtained. To earn a commercial driver’s license in Pennsylvania, potential drivers must:

  • Be at least 18 years of age for driving within the state, and 21 years of age to drive out of state, or to transport hazardous materials.
  • Possess a standard current driver’s license
  • Apply for a commercial learner’s permit
  • Certify the driving type that they will be conducting
  • Produce the adequate identifying documents (birth certificate, passport, Social Security card)
  • Provide proof of current U.S. residency
  • Pay fees for licensure, tests

The Federal Commercial Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 1986 mandates proper testing and licensure. According to PennDOT, every driver must “self-certify the type of driving in which they operate or expect to operate in i.e., Non-excepted Interstate; Non-excepted Intrastate; Excepted Interstate; or Excepted Intrastate.” Furthermore, the classification of commercial driver’s license is necessary to determine as well. In accordance with the licensing requirements of the Commercial Motor Vehicle Safety Act, the license classifications are:

  • CLASS A – combination vehicle with a gross combination weight rating of 26,001 pounds or more, provided the gross vehicle weight rating of the vehicle being towed is in excess of 10,000 pounds.
  • CLASS B – single vehicles with a gross vehicle weight rating of 26,001 pounds or more, or any such vehicle towing a vehicle not in excess of 10,000 pounds.
  • CLASS C – single vehicles with a gross vehicle weight rating of less than 26,001 pounds if the vehicle is: transporting hazardous materials requiring placarding; is designed to transport 16 or more passengers, including the driver; or, is a school bus. Class C CDL must include a S, P, or H endorsement

Drivers must be hired and trained appropriately for their appropriate classification when being employed to operate large commercial vehicles on public roads.

How to Avoid Getting Into a Truck Accident:

  • Pay Attention: Human error is the most common cause of truck accidents. The easiest way to reduce your chances of being involved in a truck collision is simply to avoid distracted driving and engage in safe driving. Put your cell phone in “do not disturb” mode or simply place it somewhere inaccessible during your drive. If you have to use your phone, take advantage of hands-free capabilities and avoid texting at all costs.
  • Inspect Your Vehicle: Make sure that your car is in good working order prior to hitting the road. Making sure your tires have the correct pressure, windshield wipers are functioning, all your lights work properly, and your brakes are up to snuff are all ways in which you can stave off a disastrous outcome.
  • Stay Back: Never follow a large truck too closely. If you are unable to stop in time, rear-ending an object as large as a tractor trailer can end in catastrophe. It is recommended that you stay a minimum of three seconds behind the truck in front of you, which will leave plenty of time to recognize the truck stopping, apply your brakes, and stop your car.
  • Go Wide: Try to give large trucks a wide berth. The closer you are traveling to a truck, the more likely you are to be involved in a collision with it should something go wrong (load shift, tire blow, brake failure, etc). By generally staying away from trucks, except to pass, you will reduce the risk that you will be involved in a truck collision. Remember to always pass trucks on the left, giving the driver the best chance of seeing you in their mirrors, and avoiding truck accidents.
  • See Something, Say Something: If you observe a large truck on the highway that is driving recklessly, appears to be under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or has unsafe vehicle defects, as soon as safely possible call 911. Make a note of the trailer or commercial truck license plate, or the DOT number and provide any or all of those to the police when you call in your report. Remember to get as far away as possible from an unsafe commercial truck.

The Truck Accident Lawyers at Munley Law Can Help

Whenever truck drivers get behind a commercial vehicle, they have an immense responsibility to drive carefully. If a truck driver is negligent or fails to drive with reasonable care, they can be held liable for a truck accident. Trucking companies may ultimately be at fault for trucking accidents that expose inadequate maintenance and logging protocol. Any accident involving commercial trucks is more complex than the typical motor vehicle accident. Trucking accident victims need to know that they are not alone.

To speak with an experienced truck accident attorney about your truck accident claim or personal injury claim, please call or contact Munley Law Personal Injury Attorneys online. You can reach us 24/7. We offer a free initial consultation and operate on a contingency fee basis, meaning you don’t pay our personal injury lawyer until we win your case.

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