In 2019, 159,000 people sustained injuries in accidents that involved trucks, and another 5,005 lost their lives. 71% of those who died and 69% of those with injuries were passenger vehicle occupants, demonstrating the often-catastrophic outcomes for motorists in these accidents. Cars are simply no match for a fully loaded semi that may weigh as much as 80,000 pounds. It is no wonder people always blame the truck driver in a passenger vehicle-semi collision.
Is the trucker always at fault, though? The answer is complicated, but understanding responsibility in these cases is key when pursuing a personal injury claim. It may help to have an attorney working for you who has the knowledge and experience to handle truck accident claims. If you’ve sustained injuries in a truck accident, Cellino Law attorneys are here to help you navigate the complex insurance and legal system. Here are some key factors to consider when determining fault in a truck collision.
What Are Common Truck Accident Causes?
Like any other collision, truck accidents can have many causes. The truck driver may be at fault, but so might the passenger vehicle drivers. There may also be additional causes that aren’t due to either truck driver or car driver error.
Distracted driving is an issue for motorists and truck drivers alike. Whether it’s looking at a device, staring at the surrounding scenery, eating or messing with the radio, when a driver’s attention is not on the task of driving, the risk of an accident is high.
However, when a semi-driver gets distracted, the consequences for other drivers on the road are potentially severe. A trucker who is staring at their phone instead of paying attention to the road may veer out of the driving lane, hitting one or more passenger vehicles in the process. The trucker may also fail to notice a change in traffic flow and rear-end the car ahead.
Cell phone use is one of the biggest distractions on the road today. Almost every state now has distracted driving laws related to hand-held devices, with 48 states and the District of Columbia making it illegal for any driver to text. D.C. and 24 states ban drivers from using hand-held devices while driving, and D.C. and 36 states prohibit teen and bus drivers from all cell phone use while driving.
Whether you’ve been on the road too long or the trucker has, driving while tired can lead to slower response times and falling asleep at the wheel. However, truck drivers are particularly vulnerable to pressing on even though they are too tired to drive.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has rules for how long truckers can be behind the wheel. Shift-length guidelines are set for consecutive hours on the road, the number of required hours of rest between drive times and built-in 30-minute driving breaks.
Though the drivers and the trucking companies are legally bound to follow these rules, they often don’t. Spending too much time on the road without getting enough rest is one of the primary causes of truck accidents.
Driving Under the Influence
Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs is one of the most common causes of fatal car accidents. Approximately one-third of all fatal crashes in the U.S. are linked to intoxicated driving. The latest data show that more than 60,000 truckers are banned from driving due to drug or alcohol use, and that number increases by between 2,000 and 3,000 every month.
Though federal law prohibits truckers from possessing, using or being under the influence of alcohol or drugs, including marijuana and amphetamines, driving under the influence is still a big problem in the trucking industry. Some drivers also use cocaine to help them stay awake during their driving shifts.
When a trucker gets into an accident and is under the influence, the driver may not be the only one at fault. The law also states that motor carriers cannot permit their drivers or require them to violate any drug or alcohol use prohibitions.
Unsafe driving practices certainly aren’t limited to truck drivers. However, when the trucker is under pressure to reach the next destination on time, the driver may speed, tailgate or cut off other drivers in an attempt to make progress. The size of a semi automatically makes it harder for truckers to stop and maneuver, increasing the likelihood that their unsafe driving actions will cause a serious accident.
If the driver in front has to put on the brakes, the trucker may not be able to stop on time. A large truck requires nearly twice as much braking distance to stop as a passenger vehicle, despite having brakes on the trailer as well as the cab. When truckers are in a hurry, they are also more likely to misjudge their actions.
Often, trucking companies place driving deadlines on their drivers that are impossible to meet without violating federal industry regulations and highway safety laws. Drivers may fear the consequences of not meeting their deadlines. As such, they may take risks they would not otherwise take.
Sometimes, the cause of the accident has nothing to do with either driver. Approximately 30% of truck driver accidents are due to tire failures. Mechanical issues, such as brake failures, can also lead to collisions. In these instances, fault may be less clear-cut.
Motor carriers are supposed to conduct regular maintenance on their trucks, and drivers must do a safety check before each trip. The carrier or the trucker may skip maintenance and safety checks to save time and money. Both parties may be at fault for a truck accident from mechanical failures.
Occasionally, the motor carrier and the driver do what they are supposed to do, but a part still fails and causes a collision. Truck and part manufacturers are responsible for ensuring the parts and vehicles they produce meet quality and safety standards. When they don’t, and the defective part or vehicle causes an accident, the manufacturer may be responsible.
Who May Be Liable in a Truck Accident?
Determining liability in a truck accident is often a complex process and involves a deep understanding of the trucking industry and the laws that govern it. Even when the case seems clear-cut, such as when the semi-driver is under the influence of a drug, it may not be as straightforward as you think. If, for instance, the motor carrier encouraged or required longer driving hours than is legal, the company may also have some responsibility. The insurance companies and the court can assign fault to more than one party. Though driver error often plays a role, other parties may also be at fault, including:
- The trucking company
- Maintenance contractors
- Cargo loaders
- Shipping companies
Motorists may also bear at least some of the blame. A knowledgeable and experienced truck accident attorney knows how to analyze the facts of the case to determine who might be liable for the collision.
Who Can You Turn to When You Have a Truck Accident?
At Cellino Law, we understand the laws governing the trucking industry, the insurance industry and personal injury cases. We have the experience you need to determine fault in a truck accident, and we are not afraid to pursue damages from all responsible parties. Get in touch with us today for a free case review.