Commercial vehicles are a vital part of our national economy. Flatbeds and semi-trucks haul everything from furniture to produce, and tankers transport petroleum from Houston’s many refineries out to the rest of the country, allowing people to enjoy a high standard of living.
However, commercial vehicles are also quite dangerous. They typically weigh 20 to 30 times what a passenger vehicle weighs—and for this reason, they can cause catastrophic injuries if they slam into a passenger vehicle on the road. While those who operate these vehicles must pass stringent tests to obtain a commercial driver’s license, not everyone practices safe driving habits routinely. If a trucker’s negligence injured you, the law may entitle you to compensation. Contact Stewart J. Guss, Injury Accident Lawyers, today.
1. Driving While Impaired
Trucking is often associated with long hours, stress, and extended periods away from home. Some truck drivers resort to using drugs or alcohol to cope with these conditions or to stay awake during long hauls. The substances most commonly used include alcohol, amphetamines (speed), cocaine, and marijuana. Each of these substances affects the driver's capacity to drive safely. Alcohol and marijuana can slow reaction times and induce sleepiness, while cocaine and amphetamines can cause risky behaviors such as speeding or tailgating.
Truckers returning to work post-injury may also feel the pressure to work through their pain, leading to the abuse of prescription painkillers. These medications can cause fatigue and decreased concentration, both of which increase the likelihood of accidents on the road.
Trucking is a stressful job. Truckers work long hours for average pay and live away from their families for long stretches of time. Unsurprisingly, some truckers turn to drugs or alcohol to help them deal with the stress and poor working conditions or stay awake. Truckers are known to take the following drugs while driving:
- Amphetamines (speed)
While driving under the influence (DUI) of alcohol is the most well-known type of impairment, each of these drugs can prove potentially fatal to other drivers on the road. For example, alcohol and marijuana can slow reaction times, reduce reaction times, and induce sleepiness. Cocaine and amphetamines can give drivers a temporary high but cause other health problems; they can also encourage truckers to engage in risky behaviors, such as speeding or tailgating.
Truckers who were injured on the job also might feel pressure to return to work as soon as possible because they need the money or fear getting fired. These drivers are at risk of abusing prescription painkillers to help them get through the day. However, these painkillers also have serious side effects, such as fatigue or decreased concentration, which make wrecks on the road more likely.
Fatigue Can Be Just as Dangerous as Driving Under the Influence
In addition to the use of substances such as alcohol and drugs, driver fatigue, or drowsiness, is another source of driver impairment that falls under the category of negligence. Truck drivers often work long hours with irregular sleep schedules, pushing them into periods of drowsiness while on the road. The impact of fatigue on a driver's alertness, response time, and overall cognitive function can be as severe as the effect of alcohol or drugs.
One alarming statistic from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is that fatigued driving is responsible for approximately 100,000 motor vehicle crashes a year in the United States. The effects of sleep deprivation can slow reaction time, impair judgment, and increase the risk of falling asleep at the wheel.
Factors such as the monotony of long drives, the use of sedating medications, and untreated sleep disorders like sleep apnea also significantly contribute to driver fatigue. To combat this, regulations have been put in place by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), limiting the number of consecutive hours a truck driver can operate without rest breaks. These regulations are referred to as Hours of Service (HOS) regulations.
However, due to the pressures of tight deadlines and the desire for higher earnings, some drivers and their employers might choose to ignore these regulations, putting themselves and others on the road at risk.
Monitoring and enforcing adherence to these regulations can be a challenge. Hence, it's critical for victims of truck accidents to engage experienced legal counsel who can investigate the possibility of fatigued driving and Hours of Service violations. Driving while fatigued is as dangerous as driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. If a fatigued truck driver has caused an accident, their negligent behavior should be held accountable.
2. Distracted Driving
The next time you drive to the Astrodome or the Museum of Fine Arts, check out how many people are either talking on their phones, texting, or emailing behind the wheel. You’ll probably see quite a few who feel the urge to shoot off a message or read someone else’s text while driving. They should resist that urge. Texting or talking on the phone dramatically decreases your attention and increases the likelihood that you’ll get in an accident.
Studies show that distracted driving is even more dangerous for truckers. Consider the following statistics:
- Truckers who text behind the wheel are 23 times more likely to crash or get into a near wreck than an undistracted driver.
- A trucker who dials a phone is 5.9 times more likely to have an accident. By contrast, drivers of passenger cars who dial a phone are only 2.8 times more likely to have a wreck.
- A trucker who reaches for a cell phone increases his crash risk by 6.7 times. By contrast, the risk increases only 1.4 times for a car driver.
Fortunately, federal law prohibits using hand-held cell phones and texting or emailing while behind the wheel. Truckers can use a hand-held cell phone if they pull over to the side of the road, and they can use handless devices while driving. Nevertheless, some drivers take the chance of using a hand-held phone while out on the road, which can lead to injuries suffered by unsuspecting drivers.
In addition to cellphone use, a driver distracted by other everyday items or events can be deadly while operating a tractor-trailer or large commercial vehicle. Other distractions prevalent in truck driving accidents include:
- Taking your eyes off the road
- Grooming or applying makeup
- Reaching for objects in the cab
- Adjusting the radio
While distracted driving laws can help reduce distractions like these, it’s up to the driver to follow safety regulations or risk involving themselves in a serious accident and possibly facing penalties for their behavior.
3. Speeding and Other Aggressive Driving
Many truckers are under enormous stress to get to their destinations on short deadlines, which can cause them to speed and engage in other aggressive driving tactics: swerving, running red lights, tailgating, and rapidly changing lanes. When a tight deadline combines with drug or alcohol use, truckers can easily slam into an unsuspecting vehicle, and even your best defensive driving skills might not help you avoid a costly wreck.
Aggressive driving behaviors can sometimes escalate into road rage. Road rage is not just aggressive driving taken to an extreme; it's a criminal act of intentional violence enacted by a driver on the road. This can manifest in various ways, such as purposefully tailgating, cutting off other drivers, obscene gesturing, shouting threats or insults, or even resorting to physical violence.
The escalation from aggressive driving to road rage often follows a pattern. Initially, a driver may exhibit aggressive driving habits due to stress, frustration, or a lack of time. As tension builds, these behaviors may escalate, resulting in the driver expressing their frustration through honking, flashing headlights, or shouting.
If an aggressive driver perceives another road user as the cause of their stress, they might start to direct their aggression towards that individual. This can result in retaliatory or defensive behavior, where the driver attempts to 'teach the other driver a lesson'. This is the point at which aggressive driving transitions into road rage.
The consequences of road rage are far-reaching and can result in severe damage, injury, or even death. According to a recent study, over a seven-year period, road rage was a contributing factor in 218 murders and 12,610 injury cases.
4. Improperly Secured Cargo
When cargo is improperly secured, it can come flying off the truck and strike vehicles, forcing them off the road. According to an AAA report from 2014, flying debris caused more than 200,00 crashes that resulted in more than 500 deaths and another 39,000 injuries. Common flying debris includes:
- Sheet metal
- Tow trailers
Improperly loaded cargo can also unbalance a large truck as the cargo shifts around inside it. Because of this imbalance, trucks are at a greater risk of rolling over if gusts of wind hit them. Semi-trucks can also jackknife or spin around if the driver tries to make a sudden turn with imbalanced cargo.
Proving Trucker Negligence
To win your lawsuit, you’ll need evidence to convince a jury that the trucker was negligent. Truckers are unlikely to admit that they did drugs, sped, or carelessly secured cargo, so you’ll need a skilled traffic accident lawyer who knows how to ferret out the necessary evidence. For example, your lawyer will know how to subpoena telephone records to uncover whether the driver talked on the phone or sent a text message when the accident took place. Your traffic accident lawyer can also question the truck driver under oath in a deposition. A lawyer can also request medical records that might show a pattern of drug or alcohol addiction. All of this persuasive evidence could prove that a trucker’s negligence behind the wheel caused your accident.
Call a Houston Truck Accident Lawyer Today
If a negligent truck driver injured you or your loved ones, the law might entitle you to compensation. The team at Stewart J. Guss, Injury Accident Lawyers, has helped countless innocent victims get the compensation they deserve, so they can begin repairing their lives. Contact us today for a free, no-risk consultation with one of our Houston truck accident attorneys at 866-497-2616. We don’t charge you any fees upfront, and we don’t get paid until you get paid.