The culture in today’s trucking industry has extremes; while it is highly regulated by the government and some individual firms’ guidelines, some smaller firms slip through the cracks and are contributing to a culture that is causing approximately 5,000 deaths each year in the United States alone1. 75-80% of these deaths are of drivers and passengers in the passenger vehicle1. It is important to understand some of the root causes of these accidents and what rights you have as a victim.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) released new guidelines to go into effect in 2013 that outlines the restrictions on the number of hours that drivers can consecutively drive. They may only drive a maximum of 11 consecutive hours, must take regular breaks for sleep, and can only drive 60/70 hours in a 7/8 day period2. These regulations have been made to fight some startling statistics regarding sleep deprivation in the trucking industry:
66% of Drivers feel Fatigue
65% of Drivers feel Drowsy, Yawn, or Struggle to Stay Alert
13% of Drivers Fall Asleep at the Wheel3
The long and irregular hours have also lead to sleep disorders and some abuse of illegal substances to help drivers stay awake4. This impairs their ability to operate a vehicle and is not permitted under FMCSA guidelines. The industry is also plagued by falsified logs that allow the drivers to stay on the road longer than permitted by the FMCSA5.
While large trucking firms tend to be highly regulated within their firm and are very strict on drivers schedules and maintenance schedules, smaller firms that have a very small fleet of trucks are the most likely to push the limits of the regulations so that their trucks can stay on the road longer. This leads to not only the sleep deprivation issues outlines above, but also serious concerns as to the maintenance and upkeep of their trucks. Drivers who are fully aware and awake may be highly susceptible to an accident due to negligence by people higher up in the firm. In some cases, decisions regarding the parts replacement on trucks cause accidents further down the line.6
Weather is a factor that is completely out of the hands of all trucking firms, both large and small. They are, however, responsible for their reaction to adverse weather conditions. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations: Section 392.14 states
“Extreme caution in the operation of a commercial motor vehicle shall be exercised when hazardous conditions, such as those caused by snow, ice, sleet, fog, mist, rain, dust, or smoke, adversely affect visibility or traction. Speed shall be reduced when such conditions exist. If conditions become sufficiently dangerous, the operation of the commercial motor vehicle shall be discontinues and shall not be resumed until the commercial motor vehicle can be safely operated.”#
Drivers are mandated, through this, to stop driving when conditions are not safe. If they stay on the road, they are expected to reduce the speed appropriately. However, in some firms, the driver may be penalized for pulling over to stop in unsafe conditions8. This perpetuates a serious problem that causes accidents and deaths.
The causes outlined above are only a few of the wide variety of issues facing the trucking industry. Victims of motor vehicle accidents involving trucks are often unaware of the complexities involving each and every case. The dynamics of these types of motor vehicle accidents are different than that of an accident between two passenger cars. Large trucks have much more momentum, as momentum is a function of both the mass and velocity of an object. Even at low speeds, trucks have so much more mass than the average car that while they may sustain no damage or injuries in an accident, the passenger car almost definitely does.
For the reasons outlined above, it is important to examine every aspect of these complicated cases. The driver’s time schedule, but also the activity leading up to their shift, should be carefully accounted for. All maintenance logs are important tools in understanding root causes of a crash, as are data such as cell phone records and correspondence between the driver and the company. This data can help to show directions by the firm, or if the driver was distracted leading up to the accident. A process referred to as “Back Chaining”6 can hold the firm itself and any key players accountable for an accident by understand the process by which decisions were made and if they had an effect on the crash.
This carefully dissection of every detail of an accident involving trucks leads to success in these cases. While the culture of the trucking industry may be unsafe on the road, intelligent litigation can combat this culture and the effect that it has on drivers of passenger vehicles.
- “Truck Accidents and Traffic Fatalities.” Truck Accidents And Traffic Fatalities. Legal•Info, n.d. Web. 6 May 2014. <http://www.legalinfo.com/content/truck-accidents/truck-accidents-and-traffic-fatalities.html>.
- “Hours of Service.” Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. N.p., n.d. Web. 6 May 2014. <http://www.fmcsa.dot.gov/regulations/hours-of-service>.
- Grugle, Nancy , PhD., and Brooks Rugemer. “Asleep at the Wheel: Sleep Deprivation and Fatigue in Commercial Trucking.” The Lawyer’s LogBOOK 4: 14. Print.
- O’Connor, Joe. “Truckers Using Illegal Substances to Combat Sleep Deprivation: A Tragic Combination.” The Lawyer’s LogBOOK 4: 66. Print.
- Donnelly-Coyne, Shelia. “The Sleeping Giant.” AAJ Trucking Litigation Group Journal of Trucking Litigation 1: 7. Print.
- Young, Andy. “Hard Braking- The Choice to reduce Crash Severity.” AAJ Trucking Litigation Group Journal of Trucking Litigation 1: 2. Print.
- FMCSR, [33 FR 19732, Dec. 25, 1968, as amended at 60 FR 38747, July 28, 1995]
- Craig, David W. “Winter Weather Truck Case” The Lawyer’s LogBOOK 4: 50. Print.