We’ve all seen a tractor-trailer truck or semi-truck lock up its brakes and try to stop on the highway. The brakes squeal and smoke emanate from the tires. The nose of the truck cab shoves down under the force. The passengers in the cars around the truck cringe and try to separate from the truck out of a fear that the truck won’t be able to stop, or worse that it will jack knife and cause an even bigger wreck. Large, heavy Tractor trailer trucks or semi-trucks cause serious injuries and death when they are involved in an accident.
In many truck accident cases, lawsuits are filed against the truck driver’s employer – the trucking company – rather than the driver as an individual, since it is ultimately the company’s responsibility to ensure that its drivers and vehicles are operating safely.
Yes. First and foremost, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (“FMCSA”), a division of the Department of Transportation, issues regulations for commercial motor vehicles governing weight limits, driver rest periods, continuous operating limits, loading requirements, and quality control measures.
Texas issues specific commercial driver’s licenses to persons who qualify to operate and drive large trucks and semis. Several of the requirements to obtain a commercial driver’s license are set by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.
In addition to federal law, truck drivers must follow all state and local traffic laws when driving through Texas and its cities. The same laws and rules that apply to passenger vehicles also govern commercial trucks and tractor-trailers. Trucks on the road cannot speed, cannot follow too closely, cannot engage in reckless driving, cannot cross solid lanes to pass, and cannot violate traffic signs and signals.
Often, the negligence of the truck driver causes the accident and seriously injures any person in a car he/she hits. For example, truck driver inattention or distraction can lead to delayed reactions and accidents. There are many causes of truck driver distraction:
Truck companies frequently advertise to obtain new drivers. Unfortunately, if a driver has a commercial driver’s license, many truck companies do not put the new truck driver through a training program. Rather, the truck company relies upon basic, introductory, truck driver training courses designed to help the new driver pass the federal and state license requirements. These basic licensing programs are not enough, and do not substitute for experience and time behind the wheel. Insufficient training and inexperienced drivers are often factors in serious truck accidents that cause injuries or death.
Texting while driving has been banned in many states, and the FMCSA has issued regulations banning texting while driving for all drivers of commercial vehicles including tractor-trailers, semis and 18-wheeler trucks. However, texting while driving remains a problem for truck drivers who have a need to stay in contact with their dispatchers, contact the company receiving the cargo, or who need to get specific directions to make a delivery.
Driver fatigue and long hours on the road also lead to truck accidents. The law places limits on the hours and continuous driving time that and operator can drive a truck. In order to overcome delays caused by traffic or weather, or in order to meet company scheduled deadlines, truck drivers often cheat and ignore these time limits. The limits were created to ensure the drivers can safely operate these heavy trucks; ignoring them often causes the very accidents that the hour limits were designed to prevent.
Newton’s First Law dictates that a truck in motion will continue in motion unless acted upon by an external force. A typical tractor-trailer or other large truck can weigh as much as 80,000 pounds by law. A fully loaded tractor-trailer weighing 80,000 pounds traveling under ideal conditions at a speed of 65 miles per hour will take 525 feet to stop (almost the length of two football fields). Due to the sheer size and weight of a tractor-trailer, accidents occur because there isn’t enough room for the truck to make a sudden stop.
Semi-trucks have different brakes than the regular passenger vehicle. Most passenger vehicles on the road have hydraulic brakes, which are liquid, faster and more instantaneous. Semi-trucks have air brakes, which have a lag time. Think of your garden hose and when you turn the nozzle on, the water does not automatically come out the end of the hose. Rather, you turn the nozzle, you wait while the water travels through the hose, and then after the hose fills up the water comes out the end. It is the same concept with these brakes. The truck driver hits the brake, the air has to be built up and reach everywhere on the truck, and then the brakes are applied. Large trucks need more distance and time just from the heavy loads alone, but they also have brake lag that plays a role in their ability to stop and the time it takes to stop.
Speed plays a critical factor in the ability to bring a tractor-trailer to stop. Each mile per hour over the speed limit translates into additional feet added onto the tractor-trailer’s required stopping distance. If a driver is hurrying to make a deadline or arrive before the receiving dock closes, the driver may speed. This not only violates highway regulations, but it impacts the safe operation of the truck by increasing the room it needs to stop.
Federal regulations require rigorous inspection and maintenance of tractor-trailer trucks and semis. Despite this, studies by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration show that a significant number of accidents occur due to maintenance issues. Specifically, the FMCSA found that brake, tire, and tire pressure issues were the leading causes of accidents resulting from mechanical failures.
The maintenance of the truck and trailer mechanical systems, coupling systems, and brake systems plays a crucial role in the ability of a truck to make a controlled stop in an emergency situation. If the tractor and the trailer have not been properly maintained, the lag time for braking may increase and require even greater stopping distances for the truck – something that often isn’t present by the time the truck driver observes, processes, and determines that he / she has to make an emergency stop. If the trailer does not stay stable during the sudden stop, the trailer can jackknife or cause the driver to lose control of the truck cab, resulting in accidents.
Cargo weight and stability will affect the handling and performance of the truck under stopping conditions or when making evasive maneuvers. If the truck’s cargo has been overloaded or is not properly balanced, it affects the stability of the truck and may lead to an accident. When the cargo suddenly shifts, the center of gravity of the truck will abruptly change and may result in a jackknifed tractor-trailer, and overturned trailer, or a loss of control of the tractor-trailer.
Cargo loading, strapping, and instability also becomes a serious problem on flatbed trailers. On these type of trucks, when the load shifts the strapping will often fail allowing the cargo to come off the trailer bed. The resulting debris creates dangerous obstacles on the roadway for other drivers.
The type of load being carried matters as well. Tanker trucks have a higher center of gravity than other commercial trucks and may overturn if a driver rounds a curve too quickly, and causes a liquid load to shift. Cargo spills that involve toxic chemicals can harm people and property, and may do lasting damage to real property. HazMat spills are costly to clean up as well as dangerous, and their effects can be widespread, particularly if they affect bodies of water or the water table.
Federal regulations instituted by the FMCSA govern the stowage and security of cargo. In general, the regulations require the trucking company to firmly secure the cargo using tiedowns, inflatable dunnage bags that fill space between articles of cargo or between cargo and the wall of the vehicle, shoring bars, or a combination of these devices. Cargo that may roll must be secured and held in place by wedges, chocks, a cradle or other means that will not come unfastened or loose while the vehicle is in transit.
The regulations for the Inspection of Cargo, Cargo Securement Devices and Systems requires that every trucking company, its officers, agents, and employees responsible for driving commercial motor vehicles, or hiring, training, or dispatching drivers, complies with these cargo rules.
The personal injury lawyers at the Stilwell Law Firm in Houston, Texas have experience with commercial truck, tractor-trailer, semi and 18-wheeler accidents. Proper investigation is critical to determine responsibility.
The police reports at the scene provide a beginning point for the investigation, but we often find a need to go back to the scene to measure skid marks, evaluate roadway conditions, and examine “witness” marks made by vehicles as they impacted barriers or came to rest on the roadway.
We obtain a court order allowing us to access, download, and inspect the electronic control module or the electronic data recorder for the vehicle, if such a device was installed. These devices can record a few seconds of data immediately before, during, and after an accident. This data, once downloaded, can be evaluated to determine things such as:
In the hands of an experienced truck accident attorney and an accident reconstruction expert, the information obtained from an EDR can help explain (1) pre-crash vehicle dynamics and system status, (2) driver inputs, (3) collision timing, (4) vehicle crash signature, (5) restraint usage/deployment status, and (5) post-crash data such as the activation of an automatic collision notification (ACN) system.
We evaluate the weather conditions and, when necessary, consult with meteorological experts to determine the impact or role the weather played on driving conditions, tire response, and stopping distances.
The FMCSA requires driver logs, maintenance logs, and records of cargo loading, strapping, and inspection. Our personal injury lawyers subpoena and obtain these logs to determine whether the regulations were followed, and, more importantly, who could have prevented the accident had they done more than a cursory check of the vehicle and its cargo.
As noted previously, driver fatigue may play a role in the cause of the accident. We obtain and check the physical or electronic driver logs showing the hours of service for the truck driver involved in the accident. Each driver of a commercial motor vehicle is required to keep a record of working hours using a log book, outlining the total number of hours spent driving and resting, as well as the time at which the change of duty status occurred. In lieu of a log book, a motor carrier may keep track of a driver’s hours using Electronic Logging Devices which automatically record the amount of time spent driving the vehicle.
Trucking companies are required to, and do, possess substantial insurance policies that protect the driver and the company from personal injury and death claims following an accident. These insurance policies may carry millions of dollars of insurance coverage, and the insurance companies have a list of attorneys who they immediately call following an accident.
You need experienced truck accident attorneys like the lawyers at the Stilwell Law Firm. The earlier you call us to discuss your claim, the better we will be able to help you. We have the experience that you can lean on in your time of need. We work on a contingency fee basis, which means that if we don’t recover, you owe us nothing. Call us today for a free consultation toll free at 844-931-3111 or at 713-931-1111.