Articles Posted in Trucking Safety News

The mass production of cars that are equipped with autopilot technology is now a reality. For the most part, the technology works well and is generally accepted to be safe. However, many are concerned that the increased prevalence of these vehicles will result in a spike in Maryland truck accidents.

In fact, earlier this month, another fatal collision involving a Tesla vehicle occurred on a Florida highway. According to a recent news report, the crash occurred when an eastbound semi-truck came to a stop at a stop sign. After the semi-truck entered the intersection in preparation to make a left-hand turn, a south-bound Tesla crashed into the side of the truck. Apparently, neither the car’s autopilot technology nor the driver of the Tesla saw the truck enter the highway.

The collision sheared the roof off of the Tesla, and the car continued in auto-pilot mode for another 500 yards before coming to a complete stop. The driver was pronounced dead at the scene by emergency responders.

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Truck drivers spend countless hours on the road each year. In fact, due to the manner in which most truck drivers are compensated, a driver is incentivized to stay on the road for long stretches of time in order to get to their final destination as soon as possible. However, there is a clear tension between a truck driver’s ability to drive safely for hours on end and his ability to get to his final destination as quickly as possible.

As a matter of fact, a large percentage of all Maryland truck accidents are caused by drowsy truck drivers who have stayed on the road past the time when they are able to safely operate their rig. To combat fatigued driving, the federal government has promulgated regulations that require truck drivers to maintain a certain amount of rest each day and between longer trips. Until recently, truck drivers were able to maintain their own paper rest logs.

According to a recent news report, recently passed federal regulations will soon require truck drivers to install and maintain electronic rest logs to better keep track of the time they are spending on the road. The push for these new requirements arose after authorities realized that too many fatal trucking accidents were caused by drowsy driving.

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Of the many causes of truck accidents, equipment failures are among the more common. Large trucks rely on a number of components and systems to run properly. If any one of these systems is compromised, the truck may not operate according to the driver’s expectations. Obviously, this can then result in the truck driver losing control of the vehicle, resulting in a serious or fatal truck accident.

Due to the risks inherent in operating a large truck, the law places a duty on all truck drivers to maintain their vehicles in a safe manner. The level of the duty somewhat depends on which type of truck is being operated and which cargo is being transported. For example, truck drivers transporting hazardous materials have an increased duty to maintain their vehicles in a safe condition to avoid the spilling of the hazardous cargo.

Generally speaking, a truck driver’s duty to inspect and maintain his vehicle extends to the systems that are easily inspected and those for which failure can result in serious problems in the vehicle’s operation. These systems include the tires, brakes, cargo area, and lights and signals. If an accident is caused by a truck driver’s failure to inspect his vehicle, that driver may be held financially liable for the injuries caused as a result. This may even be the case if the truck driver was not issued a traffic citation.

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Truck drivers have always been under constant pressure to get to their destinations as quickly as possible. And the fact that some truck drivers push their physical limits to make better time and increase their profits is nothing new. However, after actor and comedian Tracy Morgan was seriously injured in a truck accident in New Jersey last year, truck driver fatigue has finally gotten the attention it deserves.

Resting Requirements for Truck Drivers

Truck drivers all must abide by certain state and federal regulations when it comes to how much time they spend resting and how much time they spend out on the road. The nuances of the rules are confusing, but suffice it to say that drivers need to take short breaks every few hours to rest their eyes, as well as longer breaks every few days to “reset” their system between long hauls.

To enforce these requirements, state and federal governments require that truck drivers maintain logs of their driving and rest times. These “rest logs,” however, have historically been the focus of some controversy because they can easily be changed or forged.

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Truck driver fatigue is one of the major causes of truck accidents across the country. In fact, about 18% of all truck accidents list driver fatigue as at least one factor in the accident. The result is that truck driver fatigue results in hundreds of accidents each year, as well as dozens of fatalities.

The U.S. government takes truck driver fatigue very seriously and recently re-examined the regulations regarding the necessary amount of rest drivers must get. One requirement is that drivers take at least a 30-minute break within the first eight hours of driving. Another is that drivers take longer breaks between long trips, ensuring that they get substantial periods of actual rest. In the past, drivers have been able to keep their own paper logs, documenting the time they spend on the road versus the time spent resting.

However, this system lends itself to abuse. Over-worked truck drivers are often pressured by their employers to get from one destination to another as quickly as possible. This encourages truck drivers to get as little rest as they can. In some cases, truck drivers have fraudulently filled out their rest logs or kept two sets of rest logs in order to get around the requirement and to make their employer happy.

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Every accident involving a semi-truck has the potential to result in serious injury or death. However, under-ride accidents present some of the highest risks. An under-ride accident occurs when a car or smaller truck rear-ends a large semi-truck, which is higher off the ground. As the vehicle coming from behind collides with the truck, the force of the collision sometimes sends the smaller vehicle underneath the semi-truck. These accidents are notorious for causing serious head trauma and even decapitation in some cases.

Not only do under-ride accidents present a high risk, but also they are remarkably common. Of the 400 deaths each year caused by cars colliding with the rear of a semi-truck, roughly one-third of them are due to under-ride accidents.

Aside from driving safely, semi-truck owners are also responsible for keeping their vehicles safe. This includes performing all necessary maintenance as well as installing required safety features. When a truck driver fails to keep their truck safe, they may be held liable for any accident caused by their negligence.

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With drunk or otherwise intoxicated driving being one of the leading causes of serious and fatal truck accidents, lawmakers have started to consider new methods of drug testing truck drivers. The newest method, hair-follicle testing, has been proposed recently but is being met with some harsh criticism.

According to one news source, hair-follicle testing can detect drug use up to 90 days in the past, whereas urine testing generally can only go back a couple of weeks, depending on the drug. This could be useful in both criminal and civil contexts, when either an injured accident victim or a prosecutor wants to determine if a truck driver was under the influence at the time of an accident.

Not everyone agrees, however, that the new method of testing is a good idea. The AFL-CIO’s Transportation Trades Department (TTD), which is essentially the truck drivers’ union, opposes the new method, claiming that it is not as scientifically accurate and also that there may be racial implications in the test’s use.

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If you have been paying attention to the headlines recently, you will have noticed a trend of more and more semi-truck wrecks in the news. For whatever reason, it seems as though this year more than others there is an increasing number of serious or fatal accidents involving large trucks.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety recently published a report stating that in 2012 over 3,500 people lost their lives in accidents with big trucks. The vast majority of the fatalities were other motorists, rather than the truck drivers themselves. In fact, truck driver fatalities represented only 17% of the total fatalities. While trucking companies like to place the blame on other drivers, it is certain that many of these accidents are the fault of the truck driver or the truck company. That does not mean that drivers should not take precautions while on the road, however.

A recent article by Consumer Affairs has taken the issue of highway driving head-on, publishing a “how to” list of things motorists can do to be safe while sharing the road with big trucks.

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As a highly regulated industry, one would expect that all commercial trucking firms would follow the laws of the state, as well as federal regulations, yet it is sometimes frightening to find that some of these operations are not always run in a safe and proper fashion. By this we mean to say that, from time to time, a commercial trucking company may cut corners to the point of reduced safety of their vehicles and possibly poor choices in terms of who they choose to drive those large trucks.

Of course, anyone who reads the newspaper or watches the evening news will note from time to time that trucking-related traffic accidents can be traced back to poorly maintained vehicle equipment or questionable employee screening. As Baltimore personal injury lawyers, I and my colleagues have seen the result of accidents that may have been caused by improperly maintained vehicles or truck drivers who may have been impaired — either through drugs or alcohol, or due to drowsiness resulting from excessive service hours and insufficient sleep.

Having seen the kind of injuries inflicted on innocent victims by events surrounding bad trucking-related traffic accidents, it is not hard to understand why the government will shut a commercial firm down after many instances of safety infractions and, possibly, fatal or near-fatal car, truck or motorcycle crashes involving a big rig, semi or large commercial box truck.

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The next time you hit a fog bank, encounter white-out blizzard conditions or get stuck in a torrential rain storm, please remember that the prudent course of action is to slow down, turn on your emergency flashers and be prepared for any and all possible accident situations. This is not always easy, even for experienced drivers like police officers, EMS drivers and truckers, but it’s a wise idea to be prepared.

As Maryland auto accident attorneys and personal injury lawyers, we have seen the results of too many car, truck and motorcycle accidents not to take seriously any circumstances that can even remotely lead to a traffic crash or roadway collision involving cars, bikes or commercial trucks. Don’t let you or a loved one become just another line in a list of highway accident statistics and please use caution when poor weather strikes.

This advice goes as much to drivers of private vehicles as it does to professional truck drivers. In fact, in many cases, a commercial truck that loses control on a slippery stretch of roadway can cause much more serious and extensive damage to people and property that any passenger car, minivan or sport utility vehicle ever could.

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