The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) estimates more than 4,000 fatal large truck accidents and more than 100,000 truck crashes resulting in injuries across the nation each year. Truck accidents are often devastating life events for those involved. The size and force of a truck, especially at high speeds, leads to increased property damage and more severe injuries which are more likely to be fatal. Extensive recovery times, a pile of medical bills, and lost wages from missing work due to injury and hospitalization often go hand-in-hand with truck accident injuries.
Truck accidents occur for a variety of reasons, most of which are preventable. If you have suffered injury or lost a loved one in a truck accident, contact the skilled truck accident attorneys at Boohoff Law in Seattle at (877) 999-9999 for a free consultation to discuss the specifics of your case. Below are some of the common causes of truck accidents in Washington and across the nation.
Driving Under the Influence of Drugs or Alcohol
The FMCSA holds commercial vehicle driver, including truck drivers to higher standards than states hold average motorists. Those who hold commercial drivers licenses (CDL) are subject to random drug tests as required by federal law, and face license suspension, license revocation, and job loss if caught using drugs behind the wheel.
Even prescription drugs can have adverse effects on a truck driver and lead to an accident, if not taken as directed. While drug use does happen among truckers, alcohol use is far more common and more likely to lead to a truck accident. Trucks need more space and time to maneuver and alcohol impairs the senses, making it more difficult for a driver to control their truck.
Alcohol can also cause fatigued drivers to fall asleep at the wheel, with deadly consequences. Truckers who register a breath alcohol level in excess of 0.04 will get cited with a DUI and face penalties, and repeat offenders often lose their CDL.
Anything which takes a trucker’s mind, eyes, or hands away from the road or wheel can lead to a severe truck accident. Washington’s distracted driving laws concerning cell phone use are arguably the most strict in the United States. Drivers cannot use a hand-held cell phone while driving, stopped in traffic, or at a stoplight, unless they are calling 911. They can, however, use a hands-free function, which requires one-touch use. This parallels the strict laws implemented for truck drivers by the FMSCA.
While hand-held cell phone use is illegal, truck drivers can also be distracted by other things such as programming a GPS, adjusting the radio or climate controls, eating and drinking, personal grooming, daydreaming, and reaching for something on the floor or passenger seat. Although these things are not illegal to do while driving, they do put other motorists in danger for accident and injury.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports that drowsy driving most often occurs between midnight and 6:00 a.m., or late in the afternoon when a person’s circadian rhythm sometimes requires a nap to carry on with the rest of the day. With long hours, many truck drivers suffer from a lack of sleep, but other factors also lead to fatigue, including:
- Untreated sleep conditions such as insomnia and sleep apnea—research shows truckers struggle with healthy eating and obesity more than any other profession, making them more likely to develop sleep apnea.
- Untreated medical issues such as high blood pressure and diabetes, which might cause a driver to feel drowsy or fatigued.
- Prescription medications and over-the-counter medications, which cause drowsiness.
- Night driving, which is common for many truckers.
- Truck parking shortage, which requires truckers to continue driving to find a place to stop and sleep when they are tired.
The FMCSA has implemented Hours of Service (HOS) regulations to reduce the number of fatigued truck drivers on the road. HOS regulations strictly govern the amount of time a driver can operate and must rest each day and week. When drivers violate these rules by their own accord or their employer encourages them to break the rules, they put other motorists at risk for a severe accident. Even nodding off for a few seconds can result in a deadly truck accident. HOS rules include:
- Drivers can operate 11 hours per day only after 10 hours off-duty.
- Drivers may not be on duty, driving or stopped, for more than 14 hours per day.
- Drivers must take a 30 minute break after eight hours of driving.
- Drivers cannot operate more than 60 hours in seven days or 70 hours in eight days; they restart their weekly clock after 34 off-duty hours.
Trucks are responsible for carrying the goods we want and need across the nation. Drivers often have demanding schedules and must meet pick-up and delivery cut-off times. It’s difficult for trucks to speed too far over the speed limit on the interstate because their weight prohibits it, and they can’t easily pick up speed in city traffic; however, hurried truck drivers do sometimes drive too fast for conditions. The FMSCA reports most large truck crashes occur at speeds between 50 and 55 miles per hour. Even when trucks are traveling the speed limit, rain, snow, ice, and heavy traffic can make it difficult to control the truck, potentially resulting in an accident.
The demanding schedules of truck drivers also cause rushed and impatient drivers to follow other vehicles too closely. In drivers’ education, instructors tell students to maintain a two-second gap between them and the vehicle they are following, but large trucks require much more of a cushion. Depending on the size of their load, a truck might need up to 400 feet to stop when traveling at 55 miles per hour. In comparison, the average passenger vehicle only needs about 140 feet to stop when traveling at the same speed. The FMSCA recommends truckers allow four to five seconds between their truck and the vehicle in front of them. When traveling at higher interstate speeds or driving in inclement weather, drivers of semis and other large trucks need to leave up to an eight second gap to avoid striking the vehicle in front of them. When a truck rear-ends a car, it’s not a little fender-bender. Injuries and fatalities can and do occur.
All vehicles have blind spots, but the larger the vehicle, the larger the blind spots, making large trucks and semis especially dangerous. The average semi is about 75 feet long, creating large spaces of limited or no visibility for truckers, who do not have rearview mirrors. Motorists who ride in a truck’s blind spot put themselves at risk for an accident. It is the truck driver’s responsibility to clear their blindspots before changing lanes or making a turn, but motorists can protect themselves from negligent truckers quickly passing them and not following them too closely. Those who share the road with trucks should also be aware of blind spots directly next to both sides of a truck’s cab; drivers cannot see low vehicles who are right next to them. If a trucker doesn’t clear his blind spots or drives aggressively, they can easily strike another vehicle in their vicinity, causing a dangerous accident.
Traffic Law Violations
Some truck drivers operate under the notion that they are the only vehicles on the road, or they are the biggest vehicles on the road, so they don’t need to follow all the traffic laws or watch for other traffic. In addition to driving under the influence, cell phone use, and speeding, other traffic law violations by truckers might also lead to an accident. They include:
- Failure to yield to other motorists who have the right of way can cause a traffic collision. In some cases, drivers might not yield because they don’t have enough space or time. In other cases, a vehicle might be in their blind spot or they are distracted by something.
- Failure to obey signs and signals can cause severe accidents leading to catastrophic injuries. It’s not likely a truck driver will intentionally disobey a stop sign or traffic signal, but distracted truck drivers can easily miss them and cause an accident. If a tractor-trailer runs a red light and a car runs into them, a fatal underride collision might occur.
- Making an improper turn might lead to a truck driver sideswiping, or smashing into a nearby vehicle. Most large trucks, especially semis have to swing wide when making a turn. Inexperienced truckers might not make their swing wide enough, or fail to check their mirrors and blind spots to ensure they have room for the swing, putting nearby vehicles at risk for an accident.
Truck/Truck Part Defects
When a truck manufacturer or truck part manufacturer put defective trucks or truck parts on the road, mechanical failure might occur causing a driver to lose control of the vehicle, which might result in an accident. Steering issues, brake failure, and tire blowouts happen most frequently. In fact, tire blowouts are the most common cause of rollover collisions in large trucks. These mechanical issues are not always a result of a defect, but when they are negligent truck manufacturers and truck part manufacturers might be held liable in a Washington court for damages related to an accident or injuries. Any party in the chain of distribution for a truck or truck part might share liability depending on the circumstances of the accident and whether the defect occurred during design, construction, or distribution.
Poor Truck Maintenance
The FMSCA requires owner/operators and trucking companies to do regular inspections and preventative maintenance to ensure trucks are roadworthy and safe, as well as keep immaculate maintenance records. When owners don’t perform the necessary inspections or work on a truck, they put unsafe trucks on the road, which can breakdown and cause an accident at any moment. Some situations where poor truck maintenance might lead to a severe accident include:
- Old tires. Truckers put on hundreds of miles per week. Their tires must be changed and rotated regularly and filled to the right level, or they might blowout causing a trucker to lose control of the truck and perhaps cause an accident.
- Bad brakes. Braking systems require regular upkeep such as changing worn brake pads and changing and filling fluid. Tractor-trailers typically have air brake systems, which also need regular maintenance. When brakes aren’t properly maintained, and fail on the road, the results might be deadly.
- Burned out lights. Sharing the road with trucks require other motorists to be able to see them. When truck owners don’t replace broken or burned out headlights, tail lights and turn signals, they create a dangerous situation for truckers and other drivers alike. This also includes fixing or replacing mandatory reflectors intended to make it easier for motorists to see trucks at night, especially in poorly lit rural areas.
- Worn axles. An 18-wheeler has a total of eight axles, each of which must be periodically tested for their weight-bearing capacity. Failure to regularly perform these tests might result in one or more axles breaking on a loaded truck and causing a severe breakdown, which might lead to a multi-vehicle collision.
Hire a Skilled Seattle Truck Accident Lawyer
Being involved in a truck accident often comes with physical and emotional pain, as well as financial stress. If another party’s negligence caused you to suffer harm in a truck accident, you deserve to be compensated for your losses. An experienced truck accident attorney can guide you through the complexities of the legal process, communicate with insurance companies and other parties to the defense, negotiate a settlement, and aggressively litigate when necessary. Your attorney will also investigate your case to uncover facts to support your claim; he or she might check driving logs, review truck maintenance records, and obtain the driving history of the truck driver.
Contact the skilled truck accident lawyers at Boohoff Law today by email or call us at (877) 999-9999 to learn about how we can assist you after a truck accident in Seattle.