Despite recent improvements in passenger vehicle safety, nothing can protect passengers from the catastrophic effects of a commercial trucking accident. Commercial trucks include large trucks weighing over 10,000 pounds such as eighteen-wheelers, tractor-trailers, flatbed trucks, heavy trucks and tanker trucks. Each year more commercial trucks crowd onto the nation’s highways, carrying an increased risk of accidents along with their cargo. Driver fatigue, inadequate training, reckless driving, mechanical failures, and poor maintenance injure or kill innocent victims with alarming frequency.
When trucking companies fail to meet their responsibilities, The Law Offices of John David Hart responds by aggressively seeking restitution for victims who have been seriously damaged by the companies’ negligence and disregard for safety. We have successfully represented numerous individuals in obtaining compensation for injuries obtained in collisions involving large trucks.
We strive to ensure that all those who share the road also share the responsibility for keeping it safe. If you or a loved one has been seriously injured in a trucking accident, please call 1-800-961-HART (4278).
Trucks are considered “large” if they weigh more than 10,000 lbs. This includes single-unit vehicles as well as combination vehicles. Combination vehicles consist of single unit trucks or tractors pulling one or more trailer(s).
In most states, the longest a single trailer can be is 53 feet. A tractor pulling two 28 foot trailers (which is legal) is known as a twin or western double. Some places allow trucks even bigger than a twin/western double. These trucks, known as longer combination vehicles, have at least two (sometimes even three) trailers, one of which is 29 feet or more, and weigh over 80,000 lbs combined.
Drivers of large trucks travel a great deal more than passenger vehicle drivers on average. In 2007, large trucks accounted for 4 percent of registered vehicles and 7 percent of total miles traveled. Large trucks in 2008 were responsible for 8 percent of all vehicles involved in fatal crashes and 4 percent of all vehicles involved in injury and property damage only crashes. 1 out of 9 traffic fatalities in 2008 resulted from a collision involving a large truck. Large trucks are involved in more fatal crashes per unit of travel than passenger vehicles. In 2005, there were 2.1 large truck crash fatalities versus 1.7 passenger vehicle fatalities per 100 million miles traveled.
The disparities between large trucks and passenger vehicles vary by specific vehicle type, with passenger cars having the lowest fatal involvement rate (1.5) and tractor-trailers having the highest rate (2.4). The higher fatal involvement rate for large trucks occurs although much higher proportions of their miles are traveled on interstate highways, which are the safest roads. The higher fatal involvement rate is attributable to the size disparity between large trucks and passenger vehicles. In nonfatal crashes involving injuries or property damage only, large trucks have a much lower rate of incidence compared with passenger cars.
About 4,000 people die each year in fatal crashes in which large trucks are involved. 85 percent of these people are not truck occupants. When the fatal crash is a two-vehicle accident, involving a passenger vehicle and large truck, 97 percent of the deaths occur to the passenger vehicle occupant(s). Large trucks are responsible for 3 percent of registered vehicles and 7 percent of vehicle miles traveled in 2005 2 but were involved in 12 percent of all fatal motor vehicle crashes.
Typically a multiple-trailer truck has more handling problems than a single-trailer truck. Additional connection points lead to greater instability for the truck as a whole, which can result in lane encroachments, overturning, or jackknifing. That said, the relationship between crash risk and multiple-trailer trucks has not been firmly established. In a Washington state study, doubles (tractors pulling two trailers) were found to be two to three times as likely as other truck rigs to be in crashes 3. However, an Indiana study found that doubles had no greater risk of crash except on roads with icy, snowy, or slushy conditions 4. A possible mitigating factor is that doubles are often operated by drivers possessing good safety records and employed by large companies that feature active safety programs.
Two federal agencies, as well as the states, oversee the safety of large trucks in the United States. Standards for new trucking equipment are set by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), which also has some jurisdiction over current/on-the-road trucks and trucking equipment. Meanwhile, the safety of commercial vehicles in interstate commerce is overseen by the Federal Montor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). Regulations enforced by the FMCSA include those relating to equipment, hours of service, licensing, vehicle maintenance and inspection. For trucks only operating within one state’s borders (intrastate trucks) regulation is up to the state and state inspects are primarily responsible for enforcing federal regulations as described above.
Yes. States have issued licenses since 1992, and federal law requires states meet uniform standards for these licenses, called “commercial drivers licenses” (CDLs). Regulations were weaker prior to 1992 but since then those driving commercial motor vehicles have been strictly required to carry a CDL, which can only be obtained through passing a rigorous test. All CDL drivers are in a national database, as well. The purpose of this database is to ensure truckers cannot obtain multiple state licenses and obscure traffic violations in multiple states. You must have a license if you operate a vehicle with a gross vehicle weight rating of 26,001 pounds or more, if you are transporting 16 or more passengers, and/or if you are carrying hazardous materials.
If a truck crosses state lines and/or carries hazardous materials, drivers must be at least 21 years of age. If the driver is remaining in only one state, a state can allow a driver between 18-20 years of age to operate a truck.
Yes. Studies in the United States, Australia, and New Zealand suggest that drivers in their 20s or younger than 21 have a higher rate of crashing, fatal and nonfatal.
Driver fatigue is a factor in truck crashes, as it is in regular automobile crashes. Institute research has found that drivers behind the wheel for more than 8 hours in a truck had a twofold increase in their risk of crashing. The risk of crashing is also increased when the driver is driving between midnight and 6 in the morning. Plus, long work hours can disrupt normal sleep and cause sleep deprivation generally. Drivers reporting hours-of-service violations were more likely to report falling asleep behind the wheel in the past month. How many truck crashes total are affected by fatigue is unclear.
Hours of service are the work hour limits placed on a commercial truck driver. New rules were rolled out by FMCSA in January of 2004. These increased the daily and weekly allowable driving times but also increased the required daily off-duty period for truck drivers. Interstate commercial drivers are not allowed to drive more than 11 hours or drive after 14 hours since starting a duty shift until they have a 10 hour break. If a driver has accrued 60 work hours in a 7 day period or 70 work hours during an 8 day period, they must stop. However, a driver can get back behind the wheel if they take 34 hours off. So a driver can drive up to 77 hours in 7 days or 88 hours in 8 days if they take advantage of this provision.
On October 1, 2005 new modifications to these rules took effect. Drivers who user sleeper berths in their trucks can split their required 10 hour daily off-duty period into two smaller periods of 2 hours and 8 hours. Plus, short-haul truckers can extend their work day twice a week, and they are exempt from the requirement to carry a logbook of their work hours.
No. Truck drivers are spending more hours behind the wheel since the new rules were implemented in 2004, according to Institute surveys of long-distance truck drivers. In fact, more instances of falling asleep were reported than in the previous year under old work rules. 13% of drivers in 2003 reported dozing at the wheel at least once in the past month, while 15% in 2004 and 21% in 2005 did so.
Current regulations permit truck drivers to record their hours in written logbooks. Inspectors review these logbooks for compliance. Studies have found that these hours of service rules are commonly violated by long-distance truck drivers. About 1/3rd of truck drivers admit to often or sometimes omitting hours from their log books, according to Institute interviews. Truck drivers have referred to these logbooks as “comic books” because they are easily falsified.
One alternative to a logbook is an onboard computer that automatically records when a truck is driven. For over 30 years Europe has required truckers have mechanical tachographs in their trucks. These devices record vehicle travel time. They are easier to falsify than an onboard computer, so in January 2006 the European Union began requiring that new trucks and intercity buses be equipped with an electronic recording device.
Along with five other organizations, The Institute petitioned the US Department of Transportation to require use of tamper-resistant electronic onboard computers in commercial vehicles whose drivers are currently required to maintain only written logbooks. This reform has been repeatedly recommended by The National Transportation Safety Board. A proposal to do so was published in 2000 by FMCSA but this proposal was eventually eliminated from the work-hour rules that took effect in January 2004.
Alcohol is a much greater problem for passenger vehicle drivers than it is for truck drivers. In 2005, 33% of fatally injured passenger vehicle drivers had blood alcohol concentrations at or above 0.08%, whereas among large truck drivers the rate was only 3%.
As far as drugs go, a 1995 roadside study in four states found that truck drivers had higher drug use rates than alcohol use rates. About 0.2% of truck drivers tested positive for alcohol but about 5% did so for illicit drug use, which includes the use of marijuana, cocaine, amphetamines and/or methamphetamines. Over-the-counter stimulants were not included in this test, but another study showed the presence of these at rates of 12% in truck drivers. In 1999, almost 3% of large truck drivers involved in nonfatal crashes tested positive for illegal drugs.
Carriers are required by federal regulation to test all commercial drivers before employment, after crashes, and also randomly. Alcohol testing is required randomly and after crashes. Rules established in 1994 put drivers out of service if they are found with any alcohol in their systems. If a driver is found with a BAC level of 0.04% or higher, he or she is disqualified from driving with a commercial driver’s license.
It is not. Radar detectors have been banned from use in commercial vehicles engaged in interstate commerce since 1994.
They are. Large trucks have a high center of gravity which increases their risk of rolling over, particularly on curving ramps (hence the road signs you see sometimes). 50% of large truck occupant deaths in 2005 occurred in crashes in which their vehicles rolled over. 60% of SUV occupant deaths and 46% of pickup truck occupant deaths occurred in roll over situations as well (these types of vehicles also have high centers of gravity). Only 24% of passenger vehicle deaths occurred in roll over situations in 2005.
There are some measures that can help limit roll over incidents. Electronic stability control (ESC) systems continuously monitor how well a vehicle is responding to a driver’s input. They can monitor engine speed and detect when a vehicle is straying out of the intended line of travel, in which case the ESC brakes individual wheels to help control the vehicle. ESC systems have been found to lower the risk among passenger vehicles of a single vehicle crash by 41 percent. They also have an impact on large truck crashes and rollovers.
Defective equipment does have an impact on truck safety. The Institute in the late 80s examined large truck crashes in the state of Washington. They found that a large truck with defective equipment was twice as likely to be in a crash as a truck without defective equipment.
The most common defects were brake defects; defective brakes were found in 56 percent of tractor trailer crashes covered in this study. Defective steering equipment was found in 21 percent of trucks involved in crashes. More recent data will be provided soon.
It takes a tractor trailer a much greater distance to come to a stop than it does a passenger vehicle. This disparity is only heightened in wet weather. In December 2005, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration proposed a rule reducing stopping distance for trucks by 20 to 30 percent, a decrease obtainable with existing technologies. A final rule has not yet been released.
Brake problems are aggravated by poor maintenance. The most common reason for authorities to order trucks out of service is out-of-adjustment brakes. New large trucks are required to have automatic brake adjusters, visible brake adjustment indicators, and antilock brakes. Antilock brakes in particular are a helpful safety measure in large trucks. By keeping wheels from locking they reduce the likelihood of a jackknife and improve driver control of trucks during emergency stops.
NHTSA issued a rule in 1995 requiring anti-lock brakes on newly manufactured medium and heavy vehicles. They were on new tractors as of March 1997. As of March 1998, they were also on new single-unit trucks, buses, and new trailers. Anti-locks are required on all new trucks, buses, and trailers in Japan and the European Union.
A truck underride crash is a type of crash in which a passenger vehicle goes partly or wholly under a truck or trailer. In such crashes, the likelihood of death or serious injury increases. In a 1997 Institute study it was estimated that half of fatal crashes between large trucks and cars had underride occur at some point (rear, side, or front overrides were all included). In January 1998 a new federal rule to upgrade new trailers’ rear impact guard standard took effect. Improved guards should prevent many of the injuries and deaths that occur in rear impact type crashes. Underride guards prevent many of the deaths and injuries that occur in rear impact crashes.
Trucks can be very difficult to detect at night. Research suggests a truck’s speed and distance can be judged more accurately and appropriate reactions can be made sooner when the ability of drivers to detect medium and heavy trucks is improved. Federal studies report that enhancing truck visibility reduces crashes in which trailers were hit from the site or rear at night on unlit roads. A federal rule requiring reflecting sheeting or reflectors is in place for trailers manufactured after December 1993 and truck tractors manufactured after July 1, 1997. As of December 1, 2001, the US Department of Transportation requires these markings on all trailers on the road.
Trucks from Canada are generally not allowed to pickup US loads with a US destination, although they can deliver loads from Canada and pick up loads with a Canadian destination. Mexican trucks are restricted to border cities at this time. The US government plans to give Mexican motor carriers the same access that Canadian motor carriers have, provided they meet certain insurance and safety specifications.
Data on the crash experience of Mexican trucks are insufficient to determine if they have a higher crash risk than US trucks. Past safety inspection data indicate that out-of-service rates for Mexican trucks were lower in California, a state with a stringent inspection program, than in three other border states with less frequent inspections. 21However, within the past few years, more safety inspectors have been hired, border inspection facilities have been improved, and the number of inspections of Mexican trucks within the southern border zones has increased substantially. The rate of Mexican trucks placed out of service for vehicle safety violations also has declined. 22