Truck accidents are typically more dangerous than car accidents. The weight of tractor-trailers and other heavy trucks affects stopping distance. A 4,000-pound car traveling at 65 mph needs 316 feet to stop. An 80,000-pound tractor-trailer traveling at the same speed needs 525 feet to stop. Faced with an emergency, a passenger car driver might be able to stop in time to avoid a collision, while a truck driver might not.
In addition, a heavy truck produces more force than a car traveling at the same speed. That’s why head-on collisions with trucks often defeat crumple zones, airbags, restraints, and other safety devices that protect passenger car occupants in head-on collisions with another car.
Since the potential for serious injuries is greater when a collision is caused by a truck, careful driving is a must for truck drivers. Unfortunately, while most professional truckers are safe drivers, many are not.
Driver Fatigue Increases the Risk of Long-Haul Driver Accidents
Driver fatigue is a significant cause of truck accidents. While any driver can become sleepy, most automobile trips are relatively short. The Department of Transportation’s most recent National Household Travel Survey found that the average American takes three trips per day by car. Each trip averages about ten miles.
Long-haul drivers, on the other hand, travel hundreds of miles each day. Schedules very widely, but drivers typically travel at least 500 miles per day. It isn’t unusual for drivers to travel 600 to 650 miles. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) enforces federal laws that govern truck transportation. The FMCSA requires commercial drivers to be “off duty” for 10 consecutive hours before they are allowed to be “on duty” for 14 consecutive hours. Drivers cannot generally be “on duty” for more than 60 hours in a 7-day workweek.
During their duty time, drivers are not allowed to drive more than 11 consecutive hours and must take a 30-minute rest break after 8 consecutive “on duty” hours. Drivers can nevertheless extend their driving time in bad weather. In addition, drivers who depart and return to the same terminal within a 24-hour period can drive for 11 hours during a 16-hour “on duty” period.
Do those rules eliminate fatigue as a cause of truck accidents? Unfortunately not. Some drivers falsify their time logs, although electronic logging devices — long resisted by the trucking industry — are making it more difficult for drivers to cheat. More importantly, the fact that a driver is “off duty” does not mean that the driver is sleeping. Even when drivers get a good night’s sleep, it is difficult to maintain concentration while driving for 10 hours a day. The FMCSA estimates that driver fatigue is a factor in 13% of all large truck accidents.
Other Factors Increase the Risk of Long-Haul Driver Accidents
Truck drivers often face pressure to meet tight delivery schedules. Some drivers speed to meet deadlines while staying within their driving hours. According to the FMCSA, speeding is a factor in nearly a quarter of all large truck accidents.
Long-haul driving is a difficult job. Trucking companies are finding it difficult to find enough qualified drivers to meet their needs. They sometimes hire drivers who have not been properly trained for the job. In some cases, companies don’t even verify that the driver has a valid commercial driver’s license.
Most passenger car drivers take care of their vehicles. Trucking companies save money by delaying routine maintenance of their trucks. Equipment failures, including brakes and tires, account for a significant percentage of truck accidents.
Given the number of miles traveled by long-haul drivers, it isn’t surprising that they have a higher risk than most drivers of being involved in a serious traffic accident. Truck accident injury lawyers can help accident victims recover compensation when a truck driver or truck owner was responsible for the victim’s injuries.