We all sense that driving too close and too long next to a tractor-trailer behemoth may not be the best thing for one’s health or life expectancy. Those big rigs can crush a passenger car as fast as you can say “Breaker, Breaker.” It’s always best to give them the right of way and let them take whatever lane they want, whenever they want it.
Tractor Trailer accidents are deadly. According to the IIHS (Insurance Institute for Highway Safety) one in ten highway crash deaths involve a big truck. And the interesting thing here is that most of those deaths involved in big rig crashes are the passenger car occupants and not the truck driver. We’ve been driving the wrong vehicle all this time. Of course, just by looking at a tractor-trailer you can tell what you’re up against. Those big trucks are like tanks and they are difficult to stop. They have to travel 20 to 40% farther than a passenger car in order to come to a full stop. They are similar to big cargo ships in the ocean. It takes those huge container carriers up to ten miles to slow down and finally stop at their port destination simply because they are so heavy and the momentum that they’ve built up is hard to control. So, truck braking can be an element in the cause of a truck crash.
Another factor in tractor-trailer accidents can be driver fatigue. Arguably, this is one of the bigger crash risks since truck drivers don’t always follow the rules when it comes to being behind the wheel for a set number of hours. Drivers of large trucks are legally not allowed by federal regulations to drive more than 11 hours at a time. Of course, with families to support, house payments to be made and delivery deadlines to meet, many truck drivers simply ignore the rules and continue driving way past the allowable mandated hours. It’s hard to blame them on a human level because most of us, if we were in the same predicament, might do exactly the same thing. However, it’s not hard to blame a truck driver who deliberately chose to break the federal hours of service regulations just to get somewhere on time and who, by the way, fell asleep at the wheel, crashed into an SUV and killed three people and injured two. It wouldn’t be hard to blame him at all and that’s why it’s imperative to speak to a lawyer as soon as possible and pursue a lawsuit against the truck driver, the trucking company and their insurance company.
Your Personal Injury Attorney will do everything humanly possible to make sure you are properly compensated for your injuries and property damage. If you have been in a tractor-trailer accident then you know what pain and suffering really is. Your lawyer understands that kind of grief because he or she has seen it scores of times and that makes him not only highly experienced but also compassionate toward your case. Your attorney knows that when a passenger vehicle gets into an accident with a big rig, the passenger vehicle always loses. He knows that 97% of the deaths of those involved in large trucks vs. passenger vehicles were occupants of the passenger vehicle. In other words, even though the truck driver, through fatigue, or slow breaking or underriding, is the culprit, he rarely gets seriously injured or killed.
(Underriding is when a passenger vehicle hits the back of a large truck and goes partially or wholly under the truck or trailer).
The truck driver is basically safe in his ‘tank’ and is definitely not as vulnerable as any of the passenger vehicle passengers that surround him. Since he’s driving that tank he should know that he is responsible for its operation and maintenance and responsible for making sure that it runs perfectly and that it responds to his commands. He is also responsible for making sure that he follows the hours of service regulations set by the federal government and he should also be aware of all other vehicles on the road.
Truck drivers can become distracted just like people who are driving passenger vehicles on the road around him although the consequences are a bit more severe to say the least. The Trucker can be texting or talking on his radio or his cellphone and become distracted enough to cause an accident. Being distracted, even for one second is enough to snuff out someone’s life forever or cause permanent injuries that the victim will have to live with for as long as they live. If you have been in an accident with a big rig and you believe the driver of the truck was texting or using his phone instead of paying attention to the road, your Personal Injury Attorney will do everything possible to find out the truth for you. The driver’s cellphone will be thoroughly examined and the time and date stamp will be noted and compared to the time of the accident. By the way, as far as texting and driving goes, some courts are also pointing their fingers at the person or persons who sent messages to the driver in car accidents as well as tractor-trailer crashes. They also check the time stamp of the text or call and if they can prove that the sender knew or was reasonably sure that the driver was driving and would answer the text or call anyway, then that person, the sender, can also be held liable for the accident and for the injuries, property damage and/or deaths that occurred.
The enormous power of tractor-trailers is unleashed and uncontrollable when they get into accidents, especially with passenger vehicles. You can watch tractor-trailer accidents all day long on YouTube because many of them are caught on cellphone cameras or stationary closed circuit cameras in the area of the crash. A lot of the trucks on the videos seem to come out of nowhere and their power and overwhelming strength is awesome. They just destroy everything that is in front of them. Cars are crushed, along with their inhabitants, busses are smashed to pieces and bridges and buildings that are unfortunate enough to get in the way of a runaway big rig are mowed down as if they are made of cardboard.
There is no end to the cycle of deadly crashes on the highway, whether they involve just cars vs. cars or whether they include the much more fatal element of tractor-trailers. By the way, tractor-trailer is defined by the Cambridge Dictionary as: “A powerful vehicle for moving heavy loads, especially over long distances, consisting of a separate part at the front for the driver attached to a large rectangular container on wheels.”
Tractor-trailers, just by definition are powerful enough to move heavy loads over long distances and that means that if it hit a car, which is not necessarily a heavy load in the context of a big rig, it could move it with ease like a killer whale does when it tosses seals in the air right before it’s eaten. That’s an appropriate analogy because the big rig tractor-trailer is a potential killer on par with the orca. The only difference is the tractor-trailer is not a predator. The deaths and injuries caused by big rigs are mostly accidents that could have been prevented.
As we mentioned above, distractions play a big part in highway crashes no matter what kind of vehicles are involved. Truck drivers could avoid many accidents, along with serious injuries and deaths to car passengers if they didn’t break the federal hours of service regulations. Many of the tractor-trailer accidents are caused by driver fatigue because the truck driver has been behind the wheel far too long in one 24-hour period and his mind and body are both ready to hit the sack. But instead of giving in to those real physical signals that are telling him to get some sleep, he will push himself and drink coffee or take some medication that promises to keep him alert and awake for another few hours. He rationalizes the whole procedure by saying he’ll only do it this last time and he will stop soon and get some sleep. But, of course, when the accident happens and there are bodies strewn across the highway, thanks to him, what is he going to do then?
There’s really not much for him do at that point. Depending on witnesses and a thorough examination of the accident scene, he could be arrested at the site or actually be released and free to go. Just because he is free to leave the scene doesn’t mean that he is not guilty of a crime or is not liable for the injuries, property damage or deaths that he caused. He could be arrested at a later date and charged with causing the accident if the investigators find enough evidence to support an indictment against him.
Your Personal Injury Attorney will also be investigating the accident scene and conducting in-depth interviews with all persons who were involved and any witnesses who were there. He will come up with his own conclusions and may find that the truck driver is totally guilty. Your Personal Injury Attorney will then either take the case to court or sue the truck driver, the trucking company the driver was working for along with their insurance company.
Accidents can also be caused by maintenance errors or omissions. The truck driver is responsible for maintaining his tractor-trailer in excellent condition. He has log books to fill out and those will tell him what needs to be looked at on his truck and when things need to be tested for safety, etc. His truck’s brakes must be checked on a regular basis simply because they are used so much. He can burn a large percentage of his brake pads off just by driving downhill on a mountain pass. If his brakes give out, whether he’s on a mountain road or surface street, that means that his cargo ship, so to speak, is out of control and the only way it is going to stop is by running into another vehicle or a building – or, if he’s lucky, an open, empty field.
However, no one should depend on luck when they are behind the wheel of an eighteen wheeler because it hasn’t seemed to work up to now. Instead of luck or good fortune truckers should depend on themselves and how they maintain their tractor-trailers. A well tuned and maintained truck is a sure way for them to feel confident that at least a broken-down truck won’t be the cause of any accident they might be in.
Weather is also a factor in tractor-trailer accidents. Rain, snow, fog, wind are all elements in their business that come up on a regular basis for truck drivers. If you know your truck then you understand its shortcomings and its limitations. If the tractor-trailer’s profile is too high to drive in windy conditions, the driver should take the initiative and sit it out at the truck stop. Just outside of Albuquerque on the I-40 a few years ago, traffic was stopped and the wind was howling at around 60 miles per hour or more. The slow moving caravan of hundreds of impatient drivers in their cars inched forward as they passed five big rigs that had just been blown over on to their sides by a speeding gust of wind.
Those drivers should have sat it out for a day but they thought they could get through it okay. It might not be overconfidence that pushes a truck driver to drive when and where he shouldn’t, it’s the pressure of his job. If you’ve ever talked to a trucker most of them are very loyal to the company they work for but they are even more focused on doing a good job and delivering their cargo on time and in one piece. Perhaps they should listen to that inner voice, however, that tells them to wait until tomorrow because the weather is so dangerous.
What about snow and ice? Well, those road conditions are difficult to drive on for most people including big rig drivers. Snow and ice can make their lives miserable and can put other people’s lives in real danger. If a trucker gets in his tractor-trailer and heads down the road while all of his trucking associates have decided to wait the storm out – guess what…If he causes an accident by slipping and sliding against a passenger car or whatever else might be in his way, he could be held liable for any injuries or deaths that occur. Of course, your Personal Injury Attorney won’t hesitate to get to the bottom of it in a hurry and he will make sure that all the facts are pursued so he can win the case for you. His goal is to get your medical bills paid and for you to be fully reimbursed for any work time missed along with any future medical treatments if necessary.
The trucking industry is heavily regulated by federal and state laws. That means that truck drivers are also regulated by those laws. For instance, drivers can only drive his truck a maximum of 11 hours per day. He can work up to 14 hours if that includes, non-driving time, break times and loading time. After the 14 hours are reached then the driver isn’t allowed to drive again until he takes a 10-hour break. A driver must take a 30 minute break from driving after eight hours behind the wheel. In total, a driver may not drive over 70 hours in one week.
The truck driver is required to keep and maintain a log stating what he did each day that he drove. Things, like stopping for fuel, taking breaks, the weight and description of his load and other things are all entered into his logbook. By the way, if you’ve been in an accident with a tractor-trailer, one of the first things your Personal Injury Attorney is going to do is file a court order to subpoena that logbook. He will then scan it thoroughly for any evidence of wrong-doing as far as breaking federal or state laws regarding driving a big rig. He will be looking for discrepancies as far as the driver’s breaks, his driving time that week and anything else that might help him win your case for you. He will also check to make sure that the logbook itself was filled out properly and consistently and according to the letter of the law. If it wasn’t there is a good chance that your case will be settled rapidly.
An interesting point that should mentioned as a cause of tractor-trailer accidents is driver aggression. That is a subject that isn’t talked about very often but when it does come up there are usually horrible stories attached to it. One story that was particularly horrendous happened about ten years ago on a California freeway. It was rush hour and the mother was driving her three kids home. There ages were 5, 4 and 2. Traffic was stop and go with occasional bursts of speed to give people hope. The mother’s car was in front of a big rig that was carrying 40,000 pounds of electrical equipment and traveling between 60 and 70 miles an hour when he crashed into the back of the car killing the three kids, all of whom were restrained in car seats. They died instantly and the mother survived. It was the most horrible crash scene many of the firemen and first responders had ever seen. They all said that the images would probably always be in their memories.
At the time, some of the witnesses said that the truck driver seemed to be very aggressive, honking his horn and getting angry each time traffic and the car ahead of him would slow down. Once the flow of traffic began to pick up the trucker started speeding up until he was going faster than anyone on the road at the time. The crash stopped his aggressiveness but it also stopped three very young lives from getting any older.
In court, the truck driver plead guilty to manslaughter and received a three year sentence of which he served only one year. Miraculously, the grieving parents had triplets a year later.
Driver aggressiveness and uncontrolled anger can change lives forever, especially if the driver is operating a huge mass of steal that doesn’t stop very easily. That was one accident that could have been prevented. The driver should have done a reality check and asked himself what he was there for. Hopefully, the answer would have been: “To get to my destination safely without harming anyone in the process.” That was an ideal answer to a question that is never or rarely asked. We depend on truckers to bring products to stores and factories so we can have better lives. We all understand the pressures that they are working under and we also understand that the vehicles they drive can be potential killing machines. There must be a happy medium in this industry. Perhaps just following the federal and state regulations and getting enough rest between shifts behind the wheel could do it.
Accountability, however, is a major point in a country ruled by law like ours. We want things delivered by truck on time but we also want our families to be safe on the road. We don’t want to have to fear driving next to a tractor-trailer because of its unpredictability. We want our driving experience to be predictable and sane, that’s all. But, if that can’t be accomplished 100% of the time (and nothing can be) then call a Personal Injury Attorney for help in trying to make an abnormal situation into something that is manageable. He can help you bring sanity back into your life by winning your case and getting you back on your feet.
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