What Causes Truck Accidents?
A fully loaded semi-truck or 18-wheeler is often 20 to 40 times as heavy as the passenger cars driving nearby. Even small mistakes can lead to deadly truck crashes. The commercial trucking industry is therefore tightly regulated. Five topics that aid in understanding truck accidents are addressed below:
- How driver error causes truck accidents
- How vehicle error causes truck accidents
- How road obstacles and deficiencies cause truck accidents
- Why truck crashes are especially damaging
- How the cause of a truck accident is determined
How Driver Error Causes Truck Accidents
Studies and testimony produced by the trucking industry argue that car drivers, not truck drivers, cause most truck crashes. Research from impartial parties contradicts this. An experienced truck accident attorney should be aware of misleading truck accident studies and know how to counter them in court. Government studies show that most truck crashes occur due to truck drivers’ errors. Such accidents generally involve driver fatigue, substance abuse, orreckless driving.
Driver Fatigue: A 1995 government study concluded that most truck crashes are caused by driver fatigue. Long-haul semi-truck drivers are often sleep-deprived. Sleep deprivation affects attention, judgment, and reaction time much like alcohol does, leading to truck crashes. In extreme cases, truck drivers fall asleep at the wheel while hurtling down the road. The economic demands of the trucking industry tempt drivers to stay awake. This risks fatigue and causes truck crashes. To prevent truck accidents, state and federal maximum limits on truck driver work hours have been imposed. Beyond maximum driving-time restrictions, to prevent truck accidents truckers must not drive while tired or ill.
Substance Abuse: The dangers of driving while drunk or intoxicated are well-known. Nevertheless, truckers’ drugs and alcohol use causes many truck crashes. Trucking companies are required to minimize the probability of substance abuse that could cause a truck accident. They are required to investigate drivers before hiring and monitor them afterwards. These accident prevention efforts are often ignored. Experienced truck accident attorneys can identify deficiencies in the design and implementation of company accident prevention procedures.
Speeding and Reckless Driving: Speeding in a semi-truck, 18-wheeler, or other large truck invites deadly trucking accidents. A truck traveling at 70 miles per hour has twice as much energy as a truck traveling at 50 miles per hour. It also requires a much greater braking distance. A National Highway Traffic Safety Administration study examined those driving semi-trucks and 18-wheelers involved in fatal-injury truck crashes in 2004. Over 25% of the drivers had at least one prior speeding conviction. Truck accidents are also caused by unsafe lane changes, following too close, and failures to compensate for bad weather and road conditions.
Falsification of Records: The pressure on truckers to move freight quickly contributes to each of these causes of truck accidents. To prevent truck accidents, truckers must keep log books showing how they spend their time during trips. This allows comparing on duty, driving, off duty, and sleeping hours to relevant federal rules designed to prevent truck accidents. However, truckers may feel pressure to falsify logs showing their time. A California truck accident lawyer should know how to discover if driver logs have been falsified. Not all lawyers know the tricks truckers use to reduce apparent drive time. Similarly, a California trucking accident lawyer should be able to decipher hidden messages in trucking company driver’s manuals that convey a company’s real (and sometimes illegal) expectations about how to perform the job and how much to drive. Trucking support services sometimes facilitate log falsification, thus facilitating truck accidents. For example, some fueling stations refrain from printing the time of purchase on driver receipts. If the time was present, it could help show how much a trucker was driving. An experienced truck accident attorney should know ways to uncover these scams.
How Vehicle Error Causes Truck Accidents
Even the safest driver can have a truck accident due to an unsuspected vehicle-related error. This may have a variety of causes:
Design Defect: Sometimes a truck or one or more of its components, such as a braking or steering system, does not work as intended. Your truck accident attorney can monitor the latest industry news to see what design defects that cause truck crashes become known.
Maintenance Error: As with passenger cars, improper maintenance of various truck components can lead to truck accidents. Sometimes the problem comes not from the driver, owner, or manufacturer, but from a third party who improperly maintained the truck.
Dangerous Cargo: A truck driver may be unaware that certain cargo, which may be mislabeled, should require precautions to avoid truck accidents. Improperly loaded, contained or restrained cargo such as objects falling onto the road or liquids spilling on the road can cause truck crashes.
Improper Loading: Improper distribution of cargo weight can cause a truck accident in an otherwise safe truck. Too much weight loaded too high, or too much on one side, can raise or alter the truck’s center of gravity. The truck becomes liable to tip over, especially on curves, which can cause truck accidents. Too much weight loaded too far back can change how the truck maneuvers, especially on turns. This again can cause a truck crash. A driver would not necessarily notice these problems in time to prevent a truck accident. In such circumstances, those who negligently loaded the vehicle may be liable for the truck accident.
How Road Obstacles and Deficiencies Cause Truck Crashes
Other factors causing truck crashes include road obstacles. Other vehicles may drive recklessly or obstruct an 18-wheeler or your car. Obstacles or debris may be left on the road. The drivers of other vehicles, or those responsible for obstacles, may become truck accident defendants.
Another category of hazard involves flaws in the road itself causing a truck crash. These generally involve either poor road design and poor road maintenance. In such cases, the entity responsible for roads, often the government, may become a truck accident defendant.
Why truck crashes are especially damaging
Trucking accidents, especially those involving semi-trucks, pose several dangers for cars:
- the impact of the semi-truck itself
- the impact of a semi-truck component, such as a tire that blows out or becomes loose
- the truck’s cargo falling or leaking onto the road or into the air
- cars losing control or running off the road to avoid any of the above threats
Truck crash impacts differ from car crash impacts in two ways. Truck crash impacts are extremely forceful and more likely to cause injury accidents. Truck crash impacts also pose dangers due to vehicle design. When cars collide, similar parts such as bumpers or fenders that are distant from passengers will generally make contact. This provides some protection from injury. Cars match up poorly with trucks, however. A truck’s fender or bumper may be level with a car’s windows, offering less protection from injury. Truck accidents sometimes involve “underrides,” where a car will slide underneath the high carriage behind or at the side of a truck. Portions of the car above the hood may be partially or entirely sheared off in such a truck crash, causing grave injuries.
Cargo-related dangers beyond truck crash impact include:
- chemical spills and gas leaks causing poisoning, burns, or lung injuries
- exposure to harmful radiation
How the cause of a truck accident is determined
Specific evidence about how a truck accident happened often comes from a truck’s on-board “black box,” which documents the truck’s actions leading up to a truck crash. Truck accident reconstruction experts may be required to estimate how a truck crash occurred. Evidence about why a truck crash happened often comes from the trucker’s log and the truck’s maintenance records. Truckers are legally required to keep and produce such records, but they are sometimes conveniently “lost” or falsified. Your experienced truck accident attorney can make sure that the defendants follow the rules.
California trucking accident lawyers and the trucking industry are often on opposite sides of individual truck accident lawsuits. They share a common purpose, however: reducing truck accidents. Enacting laws alone will not reduce trucking accidents. The temptation for truckers to cut corners, bend the rules, and still hope to avoid truck accidents is too great. Lawsuits by truck accident victims punish truck drivers and owners who violate the laws. Truckers who believe they will pay if they negligently cause a truck accident will more likely follow the rules. Companies that believe that their competitors cannot underbid them by cutting corners, and thus risking truck accidents, will also more likely follow the rules. Truck accident lawsuits are thus a tool for accident prevention.