What Will Happen After a Trucking Accident in Missouri?
According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, in a recent three year study, large trucks were responsible for the deaths of more than 10,823 people and 242,000 injuries. These large trucks represent a class of vehicles weighing over 10,000 pounds and are primarily used for commercial purposes. They are commonly referred to as semi-trucks, 18-wheelers, or tractor trailers.
The weight of these large trucks make any crash a serious event. 18-wheelers are heavier, larger, and take up to 40% longer to stop than the average automobile. Accidents involving 18-wheelers are approximately 25% more likely to result in fatalities than accidents involving other types of passenger vehicles.
Despite these facts, insurance carriers for trucking companies will attempt to make every accident look like it’s either the fault of the other driver or circumstances that were beyond the truck driver’s control. Because of the size differential – a tractor-trailer may weigh as much as 80,000 pounds, whereas most cars weigh less than 4,000 pounds – truck drivers account for fewer of the deaths and injuries arising from such accidents. The drivers of cars involved in these crashes are far more likely to be hurt or killed.
Given the fact that a semi is heavier, longer and harder to control than a car, the expectations of those who voluntarily get behind the wheel of a big rig are also much higher. The devastation caused by these extremely heavy machines has resulted in growing special rules and regulations directed only to commercial motor vehicles, as well as divisions of our government whose sole job is to protect the public from the dangers of having these increasingly large vehicles share our roads.
Common Causes of Truck Accidents
A variety of factors involving truck drivers can lead to accidents. Some of the most common ones are:
- Cell phone use
- Driving too fast for conditions
- Falling asleep at the wheel
- Failure to remain in the proper lane
- Failure to obey the rules of the road
- Wet or icy road conditions
- Making an improper turn
- Operating the truck in a careless or imprudent manner
- Passing with insufficient room
- Alcohol use
- Drug use
What are the Federal Regulations for Truck Drivers?
The United States Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) was established in 2001. Their primary mission is the prevention of injuries and deaths related to commercial motor vehicles. The FMCSA enforces safety regulations, monitors safety systems, targets high risk drivers and carriers, as well as works to spread safety awareness.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration enforces a large number of rules and regulations with respect to truck driver regulation, vehicle regulations, company regulations, Hazmat regulations, and regulatory guidance. Below are a few categories and examples of the stringent requirements placed on semi-truck drivers in an effort to protect the public.
Federal Trucking Regulations Prohibit Texting and Driving
Federal regulations prohibiting the holder of a commercial driver’s license who is engaged in interstate commerce from texting while behind the wheel went into effect on Oct. 27, 2010.
These rules were enacted after the Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration concluded that texting while driving poses a hazard to the public. One study revealed that texting drivers take their eyes off the road for an average of 4.6 seconds during a six-second period. In other words, a texting truck driver moving at 55 mph travels more than the length of a football field, 371 feet, without looking at the road!
Furthermore, the FMCSA found overwhelming public support for a ban on texting while driving. Safety advocacy groups and the American Trucking Association also supported a texting ban. The rules prohibiting texting while driving apply to:
- Trucks that weigh 26,000 pounds or more
- Vehicles designed to transport 16 or more people including the driver
- Vehicles used to transport certain quantities of hazardous chemicals
- School bus drivers
Federal Regulations Prohibit Drug Use and Require Drug Testing
Glancing into the rearview mirror and spotting a semi barreling toward your car’s back end is a disconcerting experience for just about any driver. Aggressive tailgating by the driver of a tractor-trailer is also worrisome. And a trucker who is driving fast and aggressively while under the influence of drugs is the scariest prospect of all.
Unfortunately, some commercial truck drivers do take drugs and then get behind the wheel of a vehicle that may weigh as much as 80,000 pounds. Reaction time is slowed, drowsiness is a danger and judgment is impaired. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration requires commercial truck drivers to undergo drug testing for the following substances:
- Opiates, including opium itself and derivative drugs such as heroin
- Amphetamines and methamphetamine
- Phencyclidine (a.k.a. PCP)
Trucking companies are required to administer a drug test to each applicant as part of the pre-employment screening process. In addition, drug testing is required when a trained supervisor has a reasonable suspicion that the driver has used drugs. Finally, a drug test must be administered after a truck driver has been involved in an accident.
Blood-Alcohol Limits for Truck Drivers is Regulated by the FMCSA
Because tractor trailer accidents have the potential to cause so much more damage than the average automobile collision, their drivers are held to higher standards of behavior behind the wheel. For example, a truck driver may face alcohol-related charges for having a blood alcohol level over.04 percent. For noncommercial drivers 21 and older, the threshold for driving under the influence of alcohol is .08 percent.
Under the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration regulations, a semi driver who has a .02 percent blood alcohol level is subject to disciplinary action. The driver will also be banned from driving an 18-wheeler for 24-hours. Semi drivers are also required to provide a blood sample after any accident involving a fatal crash to test for the presence of alcohol.
Federal Rules Require Truck Inspection, Repair and Maintenance
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration requires motor carriers to systematically inspect, repair and maintain their trucks. The regulations set forth in detail the parts and accessories that must be inspected and kept in safe operating condition. Some of the parts and accessories covered by the rules:
- Time and frame assemblies
- Suspension systems
- Wheels and rims
- Steering systems
In addition to the inspection requirements, the FMCSA regulations require motor carriers to maintain a record of these inspections. Such records must include:
- Identifying information for the vehicle (e.g., make, serial number, year, tire size)
- Inspections that were performed, including the nature and the date
- Due dates for the next inspections
The rules require motor carriers to retain these records for one year; the carrier must keep the records for six months after relinquishing ownership or control of the vehicle.
After a crash involving a semi, it is important to contact a lawyer quickly. Repair, inspection and maintenance records should be obtained as soon as possible. These records may contain important evidence regarding maintenance or a failure to maintain the truck properly.
Federal Rules Regulate Hours-of-Service for Truck Drivers
Truck drivers are paid to transport property or carry passengers to a particular destination, and a tight schedule can mean long hours on the road. Even though federal regulations limit the time that the driver of a bus or tractor-trailer is allowed to remain behind the wheel, rules are sometimes broken and a driver ends up working for much longer than is allowed by law.
When this happens, fatigue becomes a real danger. It only takes a fraction of a second for a tired bus or truck driver to make a mistake and seriously hurt or kill innocent victims.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration imposes different hours-of-service regulations on commercial vehicles that transport property and commercial vehicles, such as buses, that carry passengers.
For truck drivers who carry property, the hours-of-service rules:
- Impose an 11-hour driving limit after 10 consecutive off-duty hours.
- Set a 14-hour on-duty limit, meaning that the trucker may not drive beyond the 14th consecutive hour after coming on duty after 10 consecutive off-duty hours.
- Forbid driving after 60 hours on duty over seven consecutive days.
- Prohibit driving after 70 hours on duty over eight consecutive days.
- Require any driver using a sleeper berth to take eight consecutive hours in it, plus a separate two hours in the sleeper berth or off duty, or any combination of the two
For commercial vehicle drivers who transport passengers, the hours-of-service rules:
- Set a 10-hour driving limit after eight consecutive hours off duty
- Impose a 15-hour on-duty limit, meaning that the commercial driver may not drive beyond the 15th consecutive hour after eight consecutive off-duty hours.
- Prohibit driving after 60 hours on duty over seven consecutive days.
- Forbid driving after 70 hours on duty over eight consecutive days.
- Require drivers who use a sleeper berth to take at least eight hours in it with the option of splitting the time into two periods, provided that neither is less than two hours.
The Aftermath of a Semi Truck Accident
Trucking companies and their drivers are insured by large insurance firms. These insurance firms enlist the help of aggressive investigators to protect themselves from paying out large claims. The job of the investigators is to prove that the tractor trailer driver’s version of events is true. Their method is to rush to the scene of the tractor trailer accident and collect “evidence” proving that the collision was your fault or the fault of a third party. In order to protect your rights after an accident, you need an experienced Missouri truck accident lawyer who is familiar with these tactics and can successfully counteract them.
Immediately following your accident, the trucking company’s insurance investigators may attempt to take advantage of you in your vulnerable state. Here are some steps you can take to protect yourself:
- Do not give a written or oral statement to any representative of the trucking company
- Do not sign anything
- If possible, take pictures of the scene (skid marks, off road tire tracks, yaw and scuff marks, etc.)
- Get the names and contact information of any potential witnesses
As soon as possible after a truck accident, you should contact a truck accident attorney to ensure that critical evidence is preserved. Some of the evidence that will be preserved will include:
- Data from the “black box.” Many semis are equipped with systems that record such important evidence as the speed at which the truck was traveling at the time of the accident, braking information and engine speed.
- Log books. Truck drivers are required to keep log books detailing the number of miles they drive and the hours they spend off duty.
- Radio recordings. Recordings of communications between a truck driver and his or her dispatcher may contain important information about the events leading up to an accident.
This evidence will help investigators determine whether any Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration regulations were broken and protect your truck accident case.
Experienced St. Louis Truck Accident Lawyers
In today’s society companies are pushing their drivers to drive longer, faster, and cheaper. What might seem like an accident is often the result of violations of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations. It is imperative that injury victims consult with an attorney who is able to uncover repetitive and intentional violations of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations. Large corporations must be held accountable for placing the public in needless and unnecessary danger in the name of company profits.
If you have been injured, or a loved one has been killed as the result of truck or tractor trailer accident, our experienced injury lawyers are standing by to help. Our lawyers have been recognized as Top 100 Trial Lawyers by the National Trial Lawyers Association and are Life-Time Members of the Million Dollar Advocates Forum.
For a FREE consultation, call (855) 402-7247 or (314) 409-7060, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. There is NO FEE unless we win.