The number of drivers on our roadways is constantly increasing. Motorists in small passenger vehicles must share the roads with large commercial trucks. This poses some unique safety risks that all drivers must be aware of when operating any motor vehicle.

There are federal safety rules in place for drivers of large trucks aimed at increasing safety and reducing commercial vehicle accidents. These rules are important for protecting both truck drivers and the public in general. Unfortunately, when these basic safety rules are not followed, tragic accidents are often the result.

Safety Regulations for Commercial Truck Drivers

The U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has Hours-of-Service (HOS) regulations that limit when and how long a commercial motor vehicle (CMV) driver may drive. These limits are in place to ensure that drivers get enough rest between shifts to operate a vehicle safety and to limit the number of truck-related accidents and fatalities.

The rules vary slightly depending on if the CMV driver is carrying passengers or property. However, all CMV drivers have a limit of 60/70 hours on duty during a 7/8 day period (consecutive days). Additionally, drivers carrying property may have a 14 hour on-duty shift, but cannot drive more than 11 hours of that time (after 10 hours off-duty) and drivers carrying passengers cannot drive more than 10 hours during a 15 hour on-duty shift (after 8 hours off-duty). Also, drivers must have 34 hours off-duty when finishing a 60/70 on-duty time period, often called a 34-hour restart. Drivers that fail to follow HOS rules may face fines and additional consequences by state law enforcement and the FMCSA.

Unfortunately, compliance with HOS rules can be difficult to verify. Currently CMV drivers are required to log their time and many drivers do this honestly and diligently. Alas, there are some drivers who keep incorrect log information or multiple sets of logbooks. There are numerous reasons for failing to follow HOS rules, from taking additional shifts for monetary gain to pressure on drivers from trucking companies. Currently the FMCSA is considering proposed changes to the HOS rules, including additional limits to on-duty and driving time for CMV drivers. Final rulings on the possible HOS regulation changes should take place on July 26, 2011.

Common Causes of Commercial Trucking Accidents

There are many factors that lead to motor vehicle accidents, including inattentive or distracted drivers and hazardous road conditions. However, there are some common causes particular to large trucks that often lead to accidents with smaller passenger vehicles. Some common causes of truck accidents may include:

  • Jackknifing or turning accidents
  • Driver fatigue
  • Drivers ignoring or failing to follow hours of service regulations
  • Misloaded, overloaded or improperly loaded rigs
  • Improperly maintained trucks
  • Poor or inadequate driver training
  • Drivers operating under the influence of alcohol or drugs
  • Failing to obey traffic rules, such as speeding
  • Reckless or aggressive driving behavior
  • Failing to follow appropriate precautions due to weather conditions

Drivers of passenger vehicles must also exercise caution when sharing the road with an 18-wheeler. Drivers must remember that large trucks have certain limitations due to their weight and size, including limited visibility and more time required to brake and accelerate. When other motorists forget these limitations and pull out in front of a truck or drive too closely behind or beside a commercial vehicle (driving in “no zones”), accidents can occur.

Severe Injuries Caused by Car vs. Truck Accidents

Accidents between commercial trucks and passenger vehicles often result in severe injuries, and in some cases death. The main reason for the severity of injuries is due to the disparity in weight and size of large trucks (typically around 80,000 pounds, depending on the type of freight) and passenger vehicles (typically around 3,000 pounds). Based on this difference, smaller passenger cars often don’t stand a chance when involved in an accident with a large truck, semi or tractor-trailer.

As a result, driver and passengers often suffer catastrophic injuries. Some common types of injuries suffered by accident victims include brain injuries, neck, back or spine injuries, burns, disfigurement, organ damage, amputation and paralysis.

Truck Accident Victims Entitled to Compensation

If you have been injured due to an accident involving a commercial truck, you may be entitled to compensation for your damages. Likewise, if your loved one has been injured, you may be entitled to pursue damages on his or her behalf. The damages available will depend on the nature and extent of the injuries. Some common types of compensation may include, lost wages, loss of future income, current and future medical costs, loss of quality of life, disfigurement and pain and suffering. If the injuries sustained in a trucking accident prove fatal, the decedent’s family members may also be entitled to damages for their own losses, including loss of consortium.

It is important to speak to a knowledgeable personal injury attorney to discuss the circumstances surrounding your accident in the injuries suffered. A lawyer can investigate your claim, answer any questions you may have and help you determine the best legal option for you and your family.