The size and weight of these 18-wheelers and construction trucks make them difficult to control and tough to stop when road conditions or traffic changes suddenly. Add a sleepy, impaired, distracted or unhealthy truck driver, and it is no wonder why serious, even deadly, truck accidents occur on an all-too-frequent basis.
Such a prediction may seem unfair to the extent that it places so much potential liability on truck operators for serious and fatal crashes. Certainly, truckers do not commit every negligent, reckless and harmful action on interstates and roads. Other drivers and pedestrians have the propensity to create safety risks, but big rig operators are held to a higher standard for safety, attentiveness and sobriety because their vehicles can inflict so much more harm and damage. They are held to a higher standard because they must hold and maintain a commercial driver’s license to legally operate a tractor-trailer.
The history of serious injuries and deaths resulting from tractor-trailer wrecks form the basis for why the USA has comprehensive federal motor carrier regulations governing interstate truckers, whether they are crisscrossing I-81 (Interstate 81), I-264, I-64, I-664 or other major highways in the United States.
In fact, the rules for operating a truck and transporting people and products are generally much stricter than those for driving a car or riding a motorcycle. The Virginia truck accident injury lawyers with Shapiro, Appleton & Duffan work every day to hold truckers and truck companies to these high standards. For example, the firm obtained a $21 million structured settlement for a young girl who suffered permanent brain damage when a commercial truck driver rear-ended her family’s car. The at-fault tractor-trailer operator claimed a medical emergency caused him to fall asleep while driving and to almost completely crush the car while traveling at 40 miles per hour through a red light. However, a violation of the maximum hours of service or lack of sleep likely caused the tragedy.
Truckers Must Get Adequate Rest and Sleep
Falling asleep at the wheel is one of the most-preventable job hazards for commercial truck drivers. It is also one of the most frequent causes of big rig wrecks. Recognizing this, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) imposes hours of service limits on truckers who drive across state lines. The latest update to FMCSA rest and sleep rules went into full effect during the summer of 2015, limiting a truck driver’s work week to 70 total hours and requiring an uninterrupted 34-hour period out of the driver’s seat before a new work week begins. The FMCSA also restricts most truckers to 11-hour shifts followed by 10 hours of rest. Regulators also focus on the rest period between work shifts, as some truckers use the rest time to travel to-and-from a remote base of operations.
Many states impose shorter hours of service, with some mandating rest stops of 15 minutes or longer throughout a single shift. However, many truck drivers flout national and local regulations often doing so with the knowledge and encouragement of the trucking company that employs them. A sad example of this comes from the wreck in New Jersey that left comedian Tracy Morgan with debilitating injuries and his friend dead. Their limo bus was hit from behind by a Walmart big rig operated by a driver who had not slept for nearly 30 hours. Details from a federal investigation and a wrongful death settlement with Walmart revealed that drivers had incentives to earn more by working around the clock for days at a time.
Sleepiness is risky even when a truck driver does not fall asleep, because just being tired makes it easier to become distracted. Truckers depend on GPS devices, on-board computers, smart-phones and other electronics to reach their destinations and stay in contact with clients and dispatchers. Any factor that increases the already high degree of distraction needs to be eliminated to the maximum degree possible. Fortunately for our Virginia truck accident injury lawyers, a careful investigation can allow our team to analyze the “digital trail” of some, or all, of these devices in order to piece together total service or rest hours, by correlating credit card receipts, cell phone billing records, as well as on-board GPS and tracking software.
Truckers Must Be in Good Health
The FMCSA also sets guidelines for licensing truck drivers that require operators of semis and common carriers such as charter buses to pass physicals. States interpret and implement commercial driving licensing requirements for assessing vision, hearing, muscle and bone strength, mental function, and overall health differently. Though, truckers are still at risk of developing serious health conditions, especially if the truck driver develops an addiction to amphetamines, or other prescription medications.
Federal authorities and states police also work actively to detect and deter drunk and drugged driving among truckers. Interstate truck drivers can be subject to random blood, breath and urine tests. Chemical screenings are routine after most crashes involving commercial trucks. Maximum blood alcohol concentration of .02 or .04 are typically enforced. Failing a drug and alcohol test can result in loss of a commercial driver’s license, losing one’s job and jail time if impairment plays a role in causing a wreck that results in injury or loss of life.
The equipment truck driver’s use must also meet high standards established by federal and state authorities. Cabs, engines, tires, brakes and trailers must all undergo regular, documented maintenance and pass both scheduled and spot inspections. Companies and drivers that do not keep their rigs in good repair risk others’ health and lives negligently.
Truckers Must Carry Insurance
When truck drivers do cause a serious wreck resulting in personal injuries or death, there must be an investigation into the available insurance coverage. In addition to commercial vehicle liability, which equates to regular car insurance, interstate truckers and trucking companies normally must carry damage policies, trailer insurance, a workers’ compensation-like package known as OCC/ACC coverage, and cargo insurance. Interstate truckers must be registered with the U.S. Department of Transportation, and are given an official DOT placarded number once registered. Your Virginia truck accident lawyer can investigate all of the available coverage that can be accessed to ensure you and/or your loved ones receive restitution for your medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering, and so forth.
The FMCSA sets minimum liability amounts for most commercial vehicles, and states have their own rules for how drivers, equipment and loads must be insured. Recently, minimums such as that of $1 million for hazmat transporters have been criticized as inadequate for compensating accident victims. As of the date of this article, the United States Congress is considering increasing the insurance requirements for interstate truckers.
If truckers and trucking companies are not held to the highest standards for safety and liability, the victims of the personal injuries or deaths caused may not be fully compensated for the harms and losses suffered.
Richard N. Shapiro is a truck injury attorney at Shapiro, Appleton & Duffan based in Virginia Beach, Virginia. He is certified as a Civil Trial Advocate by the National Board of Trial Advocacy, a prolific inventor and product designer, and has litigated wrongful death, trucking, faulty products, railroad and medical negligence claims throughout the Eastern United States.
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Company Name: Shapiro, Appleton and Duffan
Contact Person: Richard
Address:1294 Diamond Springs Rd
City: Virginia Beach
Country: United States