It was a typical Thursday two weeks ago when a horrific crash on I-40 in New Mexico reminded drivers across the country the very real dangers from commercial truck accidents. In a disaster scene straight out of Hollywood, a tractor-trailer swerved over the median and crashed into a Greyhound bus head-on.
Eight people tragically died and more than two dozen, including three children, were rushed to area hospitals with serious injuries.
How could such a disaster happen? News reports reveal that the truck lost the tread on a tire. The truck driver’s and his California company’s inspection and maintenance of the truck are being scrutinized. The front tires have been sent to the National Transportation Safety Board in Washington, D.C. to be examined. Two lawsuits have been filed on behalf of the victims and their families to learn more about what caused this avoidable crash — and hopefully prevent future ones.
Our law firm has represented injured people in many 18-wheeler wreck cases. We stay on top of the latest developments and discuss important topics like liability, defenses, the calculation of damages, and trials in a separate blog.
Commercial Truck Accident Statistics: How Many Accidents Are Caused by Semi-Trucks?
This crash received a lot of media coverage, serving as a wake-up call to drivers who think commercial truck accidents won’t impact them. The reality is that there are hundreds of thousands of commercial trucks on our roads across the country every day. A number of laws are designed to make the trucks and drivers safe. The problem is that failures to follow basic safety practices often go undetected until a wreck occurs. When it does, the truck driver or the company that owns the truck may be guilty of negligence and even gross negligence.
Large trucks travel at high speeds on our interstates, bringing all kinds of goods from suppliers and manufacturers to the retailers who sell the goods. Their drivers provide an essential service that we need. But efforts to make it safer to have them on our roads have fallen short.
The chances of a truck crash happening increase every year. In 2016 the number of injury crashes involving large trucks or buses was 125,000, a shocking 20% increase from the previous year. A shocking 180,000 people were injured in those crashes and 762 people were killed. These numbers increased substantially from 138,000 and 714 the year prior.
All types of vehicles are involved in crashes each day. The reason those involving commercial trucks are so severe is the difference between the weight of the truck and that of the passenger car. The driver of a car never knows when something will go wrong and cause a semi-trailer to put his or her life in danger.
Common Causes of Commercial Truck Accidents
Large trucks are involved in a disproportionate number of accidents for many reasons. Regardless of the cause, the end results can be devastating. When they strike a smaller vehicle, motorcycle, or pedestrian, 18-wheelers and other large trucks often cause severe injuries and death. But why do these accidents happen in the first place? Some of the most common causes include the following easily avoidable what failures.
— Driver Fatigue
The laws have been changed to limit the number of hours a driver is behind the wheel without a break or sleep. In the past, drivers were not limited in the number of hours they could drive consecutively, leading to many cases of driver fatigue. Some drivers were under pressure to deliver their loads within an allotted time. Others received incentive pay, encouraging them to cover more miles of road than they can comfortably. In spite of the laws today, some drivers and driving companies don’t follow the rules. Electronic recording of hours of service will hopefully stop drivers who kept two sets of books before.
– — Improper Maintenance
One of the concerns in the semi-truck and Greyhound bus accident is that the tires on the truck weren’t properly maintained. Federal law also dictates what that condition should be. All commercial trucks must meet strict federal regulations and receive periodic maintenance. Vehicles not in compliance are pulled from service.
Every business, from the mega-billion ones like Federal Express down to the owner-operator of one big rig, must inspect the vehicle before putting it on the road. This covers everything from the brakes, tires, engine, lights, turn signals, fuel systems, frame, hitches, cargo retention, and other equipment and parts. Everything that could potentially cause a truck accident has to be inspected.
Further, the company must keep those inspection records for one year, which is often how evidence of negligent inspection and maintenance is uncovered. One of the first things a personal injury attorney does is to write a letter demanding that all records be preserved and produced.
— Distracted Driving
Most of us think of distracted driving as teens using their cell phones to text or talk while they drive. While they abuse this privilege, distracted driving has also become a serious issue for commercial truck drivers. It isn’t just using a cell phone that leads to accidents. Truck drivers can become distracted while adjusting the settings on their radio, using the GPS system, eating or drinking, or anything else that causes them to take their eyes off the road.
Truck drivers are prohibited from cell phone use while driving. Even if they follow this rule, there are plenty of other distractions that can lead to accident
— Poor Driving
Mistakes by the commercial driver cause crashes ten times more often than any other factor. Whether speeding, making performance errors and poor decisions, or failing to recognize obvious road hazards, drivers can crash their 80,000 pound plus tractor-trailers into much smaller vehicles and create deadly havoc. They also drive when they are not medically able to, like when they suffer from heart conditions, or other times fall asleep at the wheel.
— Lack of Driving Experience Coupled With Inadequate Training
You’ve probably seen the advertisements on billboards, in the classifieds, and even on the backs of semi-trucks by trucking companies looking to hire drivers. When a company needs more drivers to keep their business growing, they might take the fastest approach to get more drivers on the road. Sometimes the truck driving company pays for good candidates to take a course. As soon as they complete it, they put them behind the wheel of a truck. Since not all commercial trucks are the same, they aren’t prepared to drive the truck they are given. The same is true for drivers sent to unfamiliar areas. They simply aren’t prepared to handle situations that they are not familiar with. The trucking company might be trying to save money by hiring drivers with little or no experience. Everyone ends up paying when their inexperience ends up causing commercial truck accidents.
— Improper and/or Over Loading
Commercial trucks have weight limits and guides to follow for loading to freight. When they aren’t followed, they may not distribute the weight evenly throughout the truck. This can affect the driver’s ability to handle the truck and may cause it to jack-knife.
Stay Out of a Commercial Truck’s Blind Spots
Truck drivers rely heavily on their mirrors to see traffic around them. Trucks are so large that there are always some areas where they can’t see. When other drivers are in the trucks’ blind spots they are at a greater risk of having a collision with the truck. Drivers need to be aware of these areas to reduce the risk of getting struck.
Blind spots include
- The area immediately in front of the truck cab
- The area directly below and behind the driver’s side window
- The right side of the cab
- The passenger side of the trailer
- Directly behind the trailer
Drivers should never tailgate a semi-truck. The truck blocks the view of the traffic and any road hazards in front of them. If the truck should have to stop suddenly, they could crash into the back. Although the greatest damage usually comes from a truck crashing into a smaller, lighter car, crashing into the truck can also cause damage and injuries. Many crashes have happened when cars or motorcycles hit a commercial truck and slid underneath the trailer.
Those signs sometimes seen on trucks which read, “If you can’t see me in my mirror, I can’t see you” can help drivers be aware of the truck’s blind spots. If you can’t see the truck driver, assume that he doesn’t see you either.
Although drivers can take precautions to help prevent blind spot accidents, truck drivers are required by law to avoid any potential risk to other people’s safety. If a truck driver causes another person’s injuries because he failed to use care when slowing down, changing lanes, or turning, they can sue the truck driver for negligence. Depending on the circumstances, the trucking company that hired the driver might also be sued for negligence.
Steps to Take if You Are Involved in a Commercial Truck Accident
Commercial truck accidents are frightening and, sometimes traumatic. It’s easy to become confused and unsure of what to do. But what you do and don’t do will make a difference in how quickly you recover from your injuries and the amount of compensation. This is not the time to play judge and jury and determine who is at fault. It is the time to secure evidence and start building your case.
Get Medical Treatment
You may not feel any pain or think you have any injuries. Sometimes it takes hours for injuries to become evident. Sometimes it takes days or longer. Get checked out and make sure you get any treatment you need. It’s important for your health and for your personal injury claim.
Do Not Leave the Scene
It’s against the law to leave the scene of an accident. No matter how minor the damages may seem, call 911 and wait for the first responders to arrive. Find out if anyone else has injuries and get the names and contact information of any witnesses. They may decide to leave once they realize help is on the way. Use your cell phone to take pictures of the damages to all vehicles and to your injuries. Take photos of the truck, license numbers, and any information that is pertinent to your case.
Move to a Safe Location
Staying in an area where there is a lot of traffic can end up causing another accident. If needed, move off the side of the road without getting too far away from the scene of the accident. Ask the truck driver for flares or cones to set up to warn other drivers.
Request a Copy of the Officer’s Accident Report
The responding officer will make a report of the accident. It will go to your insurance company and to your personal injury attorney. The accident report is valuable evidence for your claim. Additionally, you need to have the name of the truck driver, his contact information, license number, the US Dept of Transportation serial number, the name and contact information for the trucking company the driver works for, and their insurance company.
Follow-Up with Your Medical Treatment
Your medical records are an important part of your personal injury case. Make sure you go to any follow-up appointments. Take any prescribed medications and observe any limitations the doctor gives you. The truck driver’s insurance provider will probably be watching to make sure your injury claims are real.
Contact an Experienced Truck Accident Attorney
A truck accident attorney knows the federal laws related to commercial truck use on the highways. The factor that determines whether you qualify to get compensation is whose negligence caused the accident to occur. It doesn’t cost anything to have your case evaluated. Get expert advice and get the best outcome possible for your case.
Commercial Truck Accidents in Texas
Truck accidents can occur anywhere at any time. Still, it seems like Texas has more than its fair share of accidents. Dallas-Fort Worth is especially dangerous for drivers, with 80,000 car and truck wrecks reported annually in Dallas and Tarrant Counties alone.
Texas is not only one of the top 10 states for trucking accidents; it also makes the list for having a disproportionate number of fatalities. It’s a very real problem that can affect any driver without provocation. Busy highways and rush hour traffic are some of the factors that come into play. Eliminating some of the common causes of commercial truck accidents will help reduce the overall number of injuries and fatalities that occur each year in the state.
Driver vs. Company Liability
If a commercial truck accident results in serious injuries, it may be the driver, the truck driving company, or both who are liable for your damages and injuries. Both parties are responsible for following laws and implementing regulations every time a truck enters the highway.
Sometimes the employer is held responsible for the acts of the truck driver. If the trucking company owns the truck and the driver works as their employee, they are responsible for the driver’s actions. It is up to the company to hire qualified, well-trained drivers to operate their trucks.
The laws may differ if the driver owns his truck and works as an independent contractor. If the driver works on a per job or per mile basis, he may be held liable for all the damages in an accident he caused. Your truck accident attorney will advise you on who is responsible for damages in your case.
If you have been injured in a commercial truck accident, contact Bill Berenson Injury Law for a free consultation. We’ve been handling 18-wheeler cases for almost 40 years and will help get you the compensation you deserve.