Highway Hazards: The Liability of Big Trucks

January 23, 2019 @ 11:59 am

liability of big trucks blog photo

Big rig trucking accidents are on the rise. According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s most recent statistics, the number of large trucks and buses involved in fatal crashes has increased by 29 percent over the last decade. Many of FMCSA’s other statistics on 18 wheelers are equally scary:

  • About 475,000 crashes involving big trucks were reported to the police in 2016.
  • More than 4,300 people were killed in those crashes, and 83 percent of the time, the people who died were not in the truck.
  • Crashes tend to occur on highways, in rural areas and on interstates that run through rural areas.
  • Most crashes involving big trucks happen on weekdays—Monday through Friday.

Trucking Accidents Due to Negligence

Eighteen wheelers are big and difficult to control. News story headlines give the highlights of runs gone wrong. Semis crash into houses. Drivers fall asleep at the wheel. Overturned tankers block traffic for hours as they leak hazardous contents. Drivers park their big trucks on a shoulder or block a lane of traffic, causing other vehicles to crash. Meanwhile, in many cases, people are injured or even killed.

Know the Laws Governing Big Trucks and Their Drivers

Lawmakers are aware of the dangers that semi accidents pose, and they’ve enacted numerous laws to keep our roads safe. Truck drivers and trucking companies are expected to adhere to these rules. When they don’t, they make themselves liable for the harm that often results.

  1. Load Limits: Tractor-trailers have weight, length and width load limits and specifications for loose loads. Loads and all covers must be secured so that they cannot create hazards on the highway. Materials that could spill or blow from a vehicle—sand or gravel, for example—must be covered. Most exceptions to load size and weight allowances require permits. In some cases, escorts are even required. 
  2. Substance Use or Abuse: Drivers are prohibited from consuming alcohol or drugs within 4 hours of performing any safety-sensitive functions like driving their truck, servicing or inspecting their truck, loading or unloading or waiting for assistance, for example. Drivers are specifically prohibited from using any Schedule I drug, any amphetamines or pep pills and any narcotics or narcotic derivatives.  
  3. Driver Illness or Fatigue: Federal law specifically forbids a driver from operating a commercial truck if fatigue, illness, or any other cause or condition would impair the driver’s alertness or ability to drive. Likewise, carriers are forbidden from making ill or fatigued drivers complete a run. The law recognizes that illness and fatigue make driving unsafe. 
  4. Driver Qualifications: Commercial driver licenses fall under three different classifications, and additional endorsements may be required for certain vehicles and types of loads. Endorsements require extra skills tests and fees for each certification. Some endorsements require medical exams, prohibiting health conditions like insulin-controlled diabetes, mental problems, substance use or poor vision or hearing. 
  5. Driver On-Duty Time: Federal law limits drivers’ on-duty hours. What’s important to recognize is that those on-duty hours include everything from dispatch wait time to inspections or repairs and loading or unloading, as well as actual driving time. Generally, drivers cannot drive for more than 11 hours following 10 straight hours off duty. Most drivers transporting commercial property adhere, however, to the 60/70 limit, which limits drivers to 60 or 70 hours on duty for 7 or 8 consecutive days, respectively. 
  6. Truck Maintenance and Repair: Commercial drivers are not allowed to operate vehicles that are in poor condition or are unsafe. Because of this, each driver must inspect their truck at the beginning of each day and report any issues. They must also review the previous report to ensure that identified issues were fixed. 
  7. Electronic Devices: Federal law prohibits commercial drivers from using hand-held electronic devices—like phones—while driving. It also prohibits texting while driving. 
  8. Stopping, Standing and Parking: Federal law mandates that commercial trucks that must stop on the shoulder or in a lane of traffic due to an emergency must activate hazard lights immediately and set up hazard warnings at designated distances within 10 minutes. This is required for highway situations as well as scenarios involving hills, curves, or other conditions with poor line of sight or limited visibility. Louisiana, in particular, bars vehicles from stopping or parking on the sides of roads. If a vehicle makes an emergency stop, it must leave sufficient room passing vehicles, be visible for 200 feet in either direction and display sufficient hazard warnings. 
  9. Left-Lane Travel: States regulate left-lane use for commercial drivers. In Louisiana, big trucks are limited to using the left lane for making left turns or passing slower vehicles. Trucks can also use the left lane if right lanes are congested. However, trucks are not allowed to impede other vehicles in the left lane.

Getting Compensation After a Big Rig Wreck

When truck drivers or trucking companies fail to follow the rules, they contribute to the dangers of the highway. When truck drivers park their truck roadside and obscure exits or road intersections and a crash occurs, often they can be held liable. When people are harmed due to their negligence, truck drivers or their carrier companies owe compensation.

If you’re dealing with the aftermath of an 18-wheeler accident, contact the attorneys at Morrow, Morrow, Ryan, Bassett & Haik. Our attorneys are committed to getting you the compensation you need to cover lost wages, medical bills and the ongoing care you may need. Contact us through our website, or call 1-800-356-6776 to schedule your free consultation today.