As professionals, commercial truck drivers are responsible for the safe operation of their rigs. However, this in no way should suggest that trucking-related traffic accidents cannot happen. In fact, tractor-trailers and commercial delivery trucks collide with passenger cars, SUVs, minivans and motorcycles with alarming frequency. The reasons are varied, but driver error usually tops the list of suspected causes of 18-wheeler wrecks.
As Maryland personal injury lawyers, I and my legal staff follow news articles and television reports regarding some of the more dangerous and deadly big rig road accidents. Aside from driver error, defective equipment can be a cause of some truck-car collisions. Due to the shear size and mass of a semi tractor-trailer, injuries and property damage resulting from a commercial truck wreck tend to be more severe and extensive than those encountered in passenger car or smaller motor vehicle traffic accidents.
As stated earlier, truck drivers are considered professional drivers and as such these individuals are required to obey specific federal and state commercial vehicle safety laws, including those specified by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSR). As part of these regulations, there are a number of requirements that are supposed to limit or reduce instances of driver fatigue, which has proven to be a common cause of trucking-related accidents in the past.
When it comes the vehicles themselves, mechanical inspections mandated by state and federal law can also go a long way toward preventing a large number of traffic accidents involving trucks and other passenger vehicles. Because of their size, commercial vehicles typically have a large number of moving parts and carious safety components which need to work in concert to allow the driver to operate the vehicle safely on public roads.
Numerous cases of equipment failures that caused or contributed in part to serious or fatal trucking collisions have been litigated over the years. Under federal law, trucking operators are required to conduct pre- and post-trip vehicle inspections and also to record the results of those inspections in a log book for future reference. Should a trucker fail to adequately inspect every aspect of a commercial truck’s basic mechanical components for wear or defect, that driver may be guilty of negligence should one of those components fail and cause a serious or fatal roadway accident.
These regulations state that a commercial truck driver is required to inspect his truck and assure that all major functional components are in proper working order. While this is the law, it is not uncommon for many drivers to perform only a cursory check, noting a nominal inspection time in the vehicle’s log book. In cases where there has been a mechanical failure that resulted in a traffic accident, discovering that a trucker may have failed to adequately perform the proper mechanical and safety checks can be central to a plaintiff’s suit against the truck driver or owner of the commercial vehicle.
This information is obtained by a personal injury lawyer through what is known as the discovery process, during which the attorney representing the victim attempts to get the negligent trucker to provide a detailed description of his pre-trip vehicle inspection and perhaps uncover discrepancies that can make a strong case against the defendant.
Typically, we will ask a truck driver to provide us with the exact amount of time he spent on the inspection of various components on the vehicle, including the following:
— Vehicle tires
— Straps/chains used to secure the load
— Vehicle horn
— Windshield wipers
— Rearview and sideview mirrors
— Braking system (including connections to the trailer brakes for all axles)
— Parking and/or handbrake
— Steering wheel and mechanism
— Forward lighting systems, brake lamps, safety reflectors and marker lights
Of course, if the time spent by the truck driver’s inspection of these and other vehicle systems is in conflict with that indicated in the vehicle’s log book, the discrepancy may call into question that trucker’s credibility, which can be a factor when the case goes to trial.