FindLaw KnowledgeBasePublished: 2011-01-05
When a truck crash happens, rarely is the accident merely a fender-bender. Most of these collisions result in major damage to smaller vehicles, as well as serious injuries to drivers of those vehicles. Furthermore, a large number of these crashes are completely preventable and are the result of risks that are well known to the trucking industry. State and federal government officials who are charged with regulating truck safety have not been as proactive as they should have been over the past two decades with regard to addressing these known risks.
The result is a lot of unnecessary preventable death and mayhem on our highways. The National Highway Transportation and Safety Administration (NHTSA) report that approximately 5,000 people each year die as a result of a trucking accident, which is equal to the number of people who would die in 26 major plane crashes. The American public would never stand for it if the Aviation Industry caused so many deaths, but for some reason, it has always been “acceptable” for the Trucking Industry to kill thousands of people. According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), the federal agency that oversees the trucking industry, these truck crashes and accidents cost roughly $19 billion each year.
NHTSA numbers also show that commercial trucks only make up 4 percent of all registered vehicles, yet are responsible for 11 percent of all fatal accidents. Because these accidents are so catastrophic and cause so much damage, regulators should have a real sense of urgency in improving safety regulations that govern the use of trucks on our highways and in enforcing the law. Every day, more people are killed in preventable truck crashes because of inadequate regulations and lax regulation enforcement.
One of the main reasons for the severity of these crashes and accidents is simply the large size of the 18-wheelers. Truck drivers do not have the maneuverability or ability to stop that is possible in smaller vehicles. Many of these trucks weigh 80,000 pounds, some even more than that. A truck carrying that much weight will require a lot of distance to be able to come to a complete stop. Also, if the truck tries to stop too quickly or makes an evasive turn that’s too sharp, the load could shift, causing a rollover. The large disparity in mass between a large truck and a smaller vehicle, from a physics standpoint, means that when a crash occurs the “change in velocity” (or “Delta V”) is almost all transferred to the smaller vehicle. This is what results in the catastrophic injuries and deaths that are so common in the trucking industry.
The FMCSA is in the process of implementing new safety rules that will roll out in 2011. Drivers and motor carriers are expected to be held more accountable for violations of these rules. Factors that cause many accidents, such as fatigue, excessive driving time, speeding or distracted driving, are supposed to receive additional emphasis under this new program. One of the biggest problems with enforcement of the hours of service rules has been that there is no effective way for roadside enforcement officers to check the true hours driven since driver falsification of their driving logs is so rampant in the industry. This problem could be eliminated almost overnight if the FMCSA would simply require motor carriers to use the technology that currently exists, but strong industry pressure has kept such regulations from being implemented. The FMCSA should immediately pass a regulation that requires all motor carriers to utilize Electronic On Board Recording Devices (EOBRs) on all of their equipment.
Even with these additional safeguards in place, all drivers need to be alert to protect themselves from any potential accident. If you or someone you know has been injured in a trucking accident, discussing your case with an experienced attorney can help you make sure that your rights are protected, and that the appropriate parties are held accountable.