While a variety of factors contribute to big-rig trucking accidents, many of these are largely preventable. A large truck can weigh up to 80,000 pounds, depending on whether it is loaded or empty. The cargo in the truck could also be hazardous, resulting in additional injury in the event of an accident. The United States Department of Transportation estimates that there are over half a million truck accidents each and every year.
The number of fatalities from truck accidents vary from year to year. However, in 2010, 3,413 people died in accidents involving large commercial trucks. Seventy-two percent of these deaths were occupants in another vehicle, 13 percent were those on motorcycles, bicycles or pedestrians, and 14 percent of the fatalities were truck drivers. While large commercial trucks accounted for 4 percent of the registered vehicles on the roadways, they accounted for 9 percent of collision deaths.
While it is widely believed that driving under the influence of alcohol and drugs on the part of the truck driver is responsible for many commercial truck accidents, in fact, statistics do not bear this out. Only a small portion—between one and three percent of the total truck accident fatalities are the result of drugs or alcohol.
Driver fatigue is one of the top reasons for trucking accidents. Although there are federal regulations in place which spell out the maximum number of hours drivers can legally drive, many times these laws are circumvented by drivers who are pushed into driving impossible hours by a trucking company whose biggest concern is their financial bottom line. It is estimated that at least 13 percent of the trucking accidents in the United States are caused by driver fatigue. This number is likely much higher because most drivers would not want to admit they fell asleep at the wheel or were overly fatigued.
Just as with regular auto accidents, distraction has moved steadily up the ladder to become a major factor in trucking accidents, accounting for 18 percent or more of commercial truck accidents. Distraction comes in many forms; visual distraction occurs when a person takes their eyes from the road to look at their cell phone screen, looks at the radio or GPS or looks at a passenger or child in the vehicle. Manual distraction occurs when the hands are off the wheel, engaged in another task. Truck drivers are well known for eating while driving, meaning their hands are engaged in something other than driving.
Cognitive distractions occur when a person is thinking about something other the road ahead and the cars around them, or when they have the radio up at full blast, oblivious to the potential hazards around them. Cell phone use involves all three types of distraction, which is why it is particularly dangerous. Despite the fact that more and more cell phone driving laws are being implemented, it is still estimated that at any given moment thousands of drivers are using a cell phone, whether talking or texting.
When a trucker suddenly slams on the brakes of the truck, the trailer momentum does not slow at the same speed as the attached truck, causing the trailer to swing out and “jackknife.” You can imagine how dangerous such an accident would be to the vehicles around the truck, even in relatively light traffic. Jackknifes can also occur from brakes which are poorly adjusted, improper downshifting, turning too quickly or accelerating on slick surfaces.
Since most truckers are required to a thorough training program, we tend to think that they are fully trained and experienced from the moment they get behind the wheel of their truck. Like most things in life, however, there is a steep learning curve regarding driving an 18-wheeler. It is no easy feat to maneuver a huge vehicle which can be loaded with difficult or even hazardous loads. Drivers are generally given specific instructions on maintaining their trucks, securing their loads and how the different loads can increase the chances of accidents occurring. Truckers must learn how to handle these huge vehicles no matter the weather conditions, the heaviness of traffic, or time of day. Those who will carry toxic waste or hazardous materials will need even more training.
The companies who operate the 18-wheelers which travel across our nation are responsible for ensuring their fleets are well-maintained. Drivers bear the responsibility for regularly inspecting their vehicles, especially the tires and brakes before driving on public roads. Any accident caused by malfunctioning equipment which can be traced to poor vehicle maintenance can place the liability for the accident squarely on the maintenance company.
The Lake Charles, Louisiana personal injury attorneys of Hoffoss Devall have extensive experience with trucking accidents and can determine the appropriate course of action to assist victims of truck accidents in receiving equitable compensation for their injuries. It is very important that you speak to a Hoffoss Devall attorney as quickly as possible following your accident to ensure your rights are fully protected prior to settling your truck accident claim.