While we hate to sound like a broken record, we feel compelled to remind anyone reading this to be particularly cautious when driving near a large commercial vehicle. It makes little difference if you live in Baltimore, Rockville, Germantown or the District, being involved in a traffic accident with a much larger commercial motor vehicle can lead to life-threatening injuries or even death. As Maryland personal injury experts, I and my legal staff have seen too many of these large-vehicle wrecks not to advise caution when approaching any 18-wheeler, gasoline tanker truck, automobile hauler, or even a municipal or charter bus.
Injuries sustained by occupants of a passenger car or light truck accident, or a motorcyclist injured by a large truck or other massive motor vehicle can be serious and extensive. From contusions and deep lacerations to multiple fractures, internal organ damage and closed-head trauma, many of the injuries received in these kinds of collisions can lead to other complications, lengthy hospital stays and even death. Head and neck injuries have been known to eventually cause severe paralysis or even paraplegia. Considering the choice between a possible lifetime of 24-hour assisted care versus allowing a big rig semi a wide berth, we know what we our choice would be.
Many traffic accidents involving trucks result from driver fatigue. In fact, a Federal Highway Administration’s study showed that fatigue makes trucking accidents all the more possible. According to experts in the field, although most individuals require more than seven hours of sleep a day to function well, the average trucker reportedly gets less than five hours on average. This is shocking, especially considering the fact that there are regulations in place designed to preclude this kind of situation. Sadly, it apparently does not always help; at any one moment all across our country, there are conceivably hundreds of truck drivers operating their vehicles while in an overly fatigued state, if not completely impaired by lack of sleep.
If that didn’t already feed our worst of our fears, consider that a study coming out of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and National Institute on Drug Abuse illustrated another serious problem: Of 168 truck drivers killed in fatal trucking-related injury accidents, in nearly two-thirds of cases it was determined that the trucker had at least one drug detected in their system, if not more. About a third of those cases included detectable levels of psychoactive drugs or alcohol in the victim’s bloodstream.
It’s not hard to remember these facts when we hear of fatal traffic accidents involving commercial vehicles. While not every trucker is actively violating state and federal laws, the preponderance of information from studies like that cited are chilling reminders of the dangers out there on Maryland roadways.
Fatal crashes like the one we read about last November are wakeup calls for every driver who cares about keeping his or her family safe on the road. According to news reports, a truck driver accused of causing a fatal out-of-state accident that took the life of a Maryland woman and her daughter stated to the court that his brain essentially “shut off.” We don’t know how to take this, but it would seem that something was seriously wrong if the driver continued to operate his vehicle while apparently affected by a lack of sleep or some other cause.
According to news articles, the crash happened near a stretch of Interstate 79 in Pennsylvania and involved a tractor-trailer that was being operated by a West Coast-based trucker. The defendant in the fatal accident case was charged with two counts of vehicular homicide after 57-year-old woman and her 21-year-old daughter, both from Hughesville, MD, were killed when his big rig left its lane of travel, crossed the median of the highway and then crashed into the victims’ car traveling on Rte 70 at the time.
Based on reports, an investigation was ongoing at the time of the article; however, court records indicated that one of the officers noted that one possible cause of the deadly crash may have been the trucker falling asleep at the wheel of his vehicle. The man was being held on $1 million bond due to being a potential flight risk.
Tractor Trailer Driver: My Brain Shut Off, CBSLocal.com, November 28, 2012
Truck driver charged in deadly crash in Washington Co., WPXI.com, November 26, 2012
WTRF.com UPDATE: Victims’ names released in Western Pa. tractor trailer crash, WTRF.com, November 25, 2012