Truck accidents are inherently dangerous due to the large size of commercial big rigs. Some of the more common causes of trucking accidents that we see include the following:
There are federal regulations prohibiting interstate commercial truckers from texting or using hand-held mobile phones when behind the wheel. Violations of these rules come with steep penalties for drivers, including fines and possible driver disqualification. If you suspect that a truck driver was texting while driving, we can attempt to subpoena cell phone and data records to establish your case.
Drunk (or drugged) driving
Operating a large truck safely requires intense and sober concentration. In South Carolina, commercial drivers with a commercial driver’s license (CDL) can be charged with a DUI and have their license revoked if they have a blood alcohol content (BAC) level of .04 percent or higher. This standard is stricter than the legal BAC limit of .08 for non-commercial drivers. If you or a loved one were injured by a truck driver who was under the influence of alcohol or any other intoxicating substance, you may be entitled to additional compensation such as punitive damages.
Drowsy driving is a serious problem in South Carolina and nationwide.
More than half of adults admit to driving while drowsy, and many of those say that they’ve fallen asleep at the wheel. Conservative estimates from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) say that drowsy driving causes 100,000 accidents per year and 1,550 fatalities. Drowsiness is a factor in an estimated 2.5 percent of fatal accidents in the U.S. In addition to painful injury and death, these accidents result in approximately $12.5 billion in losses.
With so many drivers engaging in this behavior, it can be easy to underestimate how dangerous drowsy driving is. What’s more, these estimates may not fully demonstrate the severity of drowsy driving, as it’s difficult to accurately report. Experts say, however, that driving while drowsy is just as dangerous as driving while drunk, and drowsy truck drivers can cause devastating accidents.
From a legal perspective, drowsy driving is a more complex issue than driving under the influence. There is no test available that measures drowsiness, and many police officers lack the training necessary to properly identify drowsiness as a factor in accidents. Each state has its own way of reporting fatigue in accidents, but not all of them have a specific code to identify it, and self-reporting from drivers is unreliable.
Drowsy driving may also be a factor in crashes that involve other causes, such as driving under the influence or distracted driving but may not be included in the reports. Moreover, truck drivers may be more susceptible to driving drowsy due to the inherent nature of their work. Many truckers work long hours, often driving overnight, and push themselves to meet stringent delivery deadlines. Despite federal “hours of service” rules that prohibit drivers from driving too long on the road without sleep, truck drivers often disregard these rules to comply with their employer’s directives.
Driving while fatigued impairs a driver’s judgment and makes it more difficult to pay attention to the road. While drowsy driving is dangerous in any type of vehicle, it’s even more dangerous for truck drivers, as the size and weight of their vehicles can cause much more damage in the event of a wreck. Truck drivers’ erratic hours also make them more susceptible to drowsy driving, so it’s essential for companies, as well as drivers themselves, to ensure drivers get sufficient rest between trips. When they fail to do so, an accident can happen, and they can be held liable for any injuries that occur as a result.
Drowsy driving prevention tips for truck drivers
There are steps truckers can (and should) take to prevent drowsy driving accidents.
First and foremost, drivers should have a full night’s sleep before hitting the road. The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety reports that people who sleep 6 to 7 hours per night are twice as likely to have an accident as those sleeping 8 or more hours.
Also, the human body is programmed to sleep at night, so drivers should avoid trips during this timeframe whenever possible. Long-haul truck drivers may not always have this luxury, but they should take frequent rest breaks and always adhere to the federal hours of service regulations.
Drivers should evaluate their own condition to ensure that they’re able to drive safely. Below are signs that a driver is fatigued:
- Frequent yawning
- Eyes closing
- Nodding off
- Forgetting the last few miles of driving
- Missing turns or road signs
- Drifting or weaving in lane
If a truck driver starts to experience these symptoms, they should pull over and rest before getting back on the road.
Failure to maintain truck
Trucking companies and truck drivers are required to adhere to a strict maintenance and inspection schedule. Federal laws enforced by the FMCSA require routine maintenance and inspection to prevent dangerous mechanical failures from occurring on the roadways. Despite these laws, trucking companies often fail to abide by them in an attempt to cut costs. Failure to properly maintain a tractor-trailer can result in catastrophic brake failure, tire blowouts, trailer hitch problems, shifting cargo and other dangerous conditions that can result in a crash.
Failure to follow federal regulations
Although failing to adhere to any regulation may be evidence of negligence, one of the most commonly ignored regulations is the “hours of service” requirement. The federal Department of Transportation (DOT) mandates that truckers should only drive a certain number of continuous hours. Drivers are required to log all rest breaks and time spent sleeping while on a trucking run. No one should be permitted to cut corners when it comes to safety.
Negligent hiring and/or training
If a trucking company hires someone who is not qualified to drive, that company can be held liable for its own negligence. Trucking companies are required to perform background checks and drug testing. Not only are they required to do so prior to hiring, but they’re also required by the federal government to routinely drug test drivers throughout the term of their employment.
Poor road conditions
In certain cases, the government can be held liable for truck accidents. To prevail in this type of case, one must prove that poor road conditions—such as a missing guard rail, erosion, pothole, confusing signage or faulty design—caused the truck accident.
Regulations strictly govern how much weight a truck can carry. Trucks that are overloaded can cause tire blowouts and jackknife accidents. Some trucking companies hire a separate cargo loading company to load their trucks, which means that determining liability in such cases can involve multiple companies and be particularly complicated.
Vehicle equipment failure
Truck accidents are commonly caused by failure of a piece of equipment, such as a truck’s tires, hitch, or front or rear brakes. If a defective truck part is to blame for an accident, the manufacturer of the part may hold some degree of liability.
Types of Truck Accident Injuries
Injuries from accidents involving trucks can be devastating. The size and weight of trucks put other vehicles at a disadvantage, and the resulting impact can cause many different types of injuries. These are often more severe than those suffered in other collisions and, in some cases, can prove fatal.
Cuts and lacerations
Truck accidents often involve lots of shattered glass, severed metal and flying objects that can cause cuts and lacerations. While some cuts are minor and heal on their own, others can be quite painful and can leave permanent scars. Laceration injuries affecting the eyes or face may cause lasting damage.
Musculoskeletal injuries are common in auto accidents, particularly in severe collisions involving a tractor-trailer or semi-truck. Drivers or passengers may suffer from muscle strains and sprains that require lengthy rehabilitation. The force of impact may also result in broken bones. In some cases, victims may sustain multiple fractures. These injuries may seem minor compared to others, but they can take a long time to heal and prevent victims from returning to work.
Sometimes an injury is so severe that the tissue cannot be saved. Limbs that are crushed or burned may have to be partially or completely amputated to preserve healthy tissue. Hands, arms, feet or legs may even be severed due to the force of the crash.
Head and neck injuries
The tissue surrounding the head and neck is very fragile and can seriously affect mobility if it’s damaged. Injuries to this part of the body (like whiplash) are common during truck accidents and can range in severity, but trauma to the structural systems in these areas can affect other areas of the body and result in debilitating pain or paralysis.
Spinal cord injuries
Injuries to the bone, muscle or nerves in and around the spinal cord are extremely dangerous. The severity of a spinal cord injury may not be apparent at the crash scene, and an X-ray may not reveal the full extent of the damage. These injuries often require an MRI to diagnose correctly and may need extensive surgery to correct. The victims may be left with partial or complete paralysis.
Blunt force trauma to the head during a truck accident can result in a traumatic brain injury (TBI). Such injuries can range from relatively minor concussions to permanent neurological damage. TBIs can impair speech, motor skills, memory, cognitive function or even personality, and the effects may be permanently life-altering.
When a truck collides with another vehicle, damage to the fuel lines or tank can cause a fire or explosion—especially if the truck is carrying flammable materials. Severe 2nd- and 3rd-degree burns can be extremely painful and may require multiple graft surgeries to fix. Victims are often left with permanent scarring, and tissue may never be fully repaired.
Exposure to hazardous materials
Hazmat trucks may be carrying substances or materials that are dangerous, such as toxic chemicals. These can cause serious damage to the eyes, lungs and skin tissue if victims are exposed. Even people not involved in the wreck can be impacted when a hazardous substance is released in a truck accident.
Internal injuries and organ damage
Injuries to internal organs—including the bladder, spleen, kidneys, liver and pancreas—are difficult to diagnose and treat. The longer it takes to treat, the greater the risk of these injuries becoming fatal or resulting in permanent health problems.
Trucking accidents are 10 times more likely than other types of collisions to result in fatal injuries. Victims’ families may be able to pursue a wrongful death suit against those responsible for the accident.