Traffic is an almost constant source of irritation for residents of Fort Lauderdale as the streets in and around the city have swelled in recent years with ongoing high-rise development and steady population growth. In fact, community surveys reveal that satisfaction with traffic flow in Fort Lauderdale was at 39 percent in 2012 but plunged to 15 percent in just a few years.
With traffic comes the usual issues, including poorly timed traffic lights, aggressive drivers, and congestion created by accidents and disabled vehicles. With accidents and disabled vehicles on Fort Lauderdale roadways comes the presence of tow trucks as well. While tow trucks are vital for ensuring that disabled vehicles are removed from the street so that traffic can again flow normally, these large trucks pose hazards of their own.
Were you injured due to an accident with a tow truck caused by the careless or reckless actions of the tow truck driver or another party? Were you injured as a tow truck driver by the carelessness or recklessness of another roadway user? If either of these scenarios pertains to you, an experienced Fort Lauderdale personal injury attorney can help you make sense of the process of seeking compensation for the expenses and impacts of your injury through Florida’s truck accident claims process.
The Hazards Associated with Tow Trucks in Fort Lauderdale
You’ll find several types of tow trucks along the roadways in Fort Lauderdale, with varying sizes as needed to haul different types of vehicles from motorcycles to tractor-trailers. Even the smallest of tow trucks is substantially larger than the average passenger car. The size discrepancy leads to an increased risk of accidents producing severe injuries or even death.
This risk is a lot higher for the occupants of smaller passenger vehicles than for the tow truck driver. However, tow truck drivers face other extreme dangers, such as being struck by another vehicle while working along the roadway.
The hazards to other drivers that are associated with tow trucks are similar to that of other large trucks, such as tractor-trailers, dump trucks, or even buses, including:
- Wide turns: The length of the vehicle often causes the driver to have to swing into an adjacent lane to complete a sharp turn. This can pose risks to the occupants of vehicles in those lanes. One common accident that occurs as the result of a wide-turning large truck is a squeeze play, which involves a vehicle turning alongside a truck that becomes trapped between the truck and the curb due to the truck’s wide turn.
- Blind spots: A blind spot is an area around the vehicle that the driver cannot see through the use of their mirrors. It is instead required to physically turn and look over their shoulder to ensure the lane is clear. All vehicles have blind spots, but large trucks have significant ones on all four sides. If the driver fails to look over their shoulder when turning or backing up, the occupants of another vehicle or even other roadway users such as pedestrians and bicyclists are in danger.
- An increased stopping distance: No vehicle can stop instantaneously. Instead, the brakes work to slow and eventually pull the vehicle to a complete stop. The heavier the vehicle is, the longer a distance it will travel after the driver has depressed the brakes. Because a tow truck is generally about four times heavier than a passenger car, it will travel a longer distance before coming to a stop, and there is a risk that it will not stop in time to avoid a collision.
- Rollaways: Operating a tow truck requires training and the ability to pay attention to detail to ensure that the disabled vehicle that the tow truck is going to tow is properly anchored and not at risk of coming loose and rolling off the truck into traffic.
Causes of Fort Lauderdale Tow Truck Accidents
There are several ways an accident involving a tow truck can occur. However, most are a direct result of driver error. Some of the more common causes of tow truck accidents include:
Distracted driving is a major cause of motor vehicle accidents and a danger that has increased substantially in recent years due to the popularity of texting. Texting is of great concern to traffic authorities, as it presents all three types of driving distractions, including manual distractions, which cause the driver to take their hands from the wheel; cognitive distractions, which take the driver’s thoughts away from safe driving; and visual distractions, which cause the driver to look away from the road. Other common driving distractions include eating, drinking, smoking, visiting with passengers, and talking on the phone.
One of the biggest risks to tow truck drivers occurs when they are roadside, outside the truck, loading up a disabled vehicle when a distracted driver passes by. The risks to tow truck drivers and other emergency vehicles such as police cars, fire department trucks, and utility vehicles of being struck by inattentive drivers prompted Florida and nearly every other state in the nation to adopt a Move Over law.
Florida’s Move Over Law requires drivers, when they encounter these types of vehicles, to do one of the following:
- Move over a lane, if possible, to place more space between their car and the emergency vehicle.
- If it is not possible to move over, the driver must slow down to a speed that is 20 miles per hour less than the posted speed limit. On roads where the posted speed is under 25 miles per hour, traffic must slow to 5 miles per hour when passing by a tow truck.
Of course, tow truck drivers can be at fault for distracted driving as well, dealing with distractions such as communications with dispatchers as well as all of the common distractions listed above.
Tow truck drivers often work at night, which is peak time for driver fatigue, due to the Circadian rhythm, which is the body’s instinctive urge to sleep during hours of darkness. Their jobs can be physically exhausting, as a lot of work is sometimes required to get the disabled vehicle properly loaded onto the truck.
Additionally, these drivers are dealing with other stresses, including working on the roadside in proximity to drivers who are not familiar with the state’s Move Over law or choose not to obey it. Likewise, drivers who encounter tow trucks on the roadway during the late-night hours are also up and active when their body is programmed to sleep and can also be the cause of a tow truck accident.
Sleep apnea is another common cause of driver fatigue and can impact either the tow truck driver or other roadway users. Sleep apnea is a condition in which the person briefly stops breathing while asleep. These pauses in breathing can last more than ten seconds at a time for some sufferers, and can occur hundreds of times in eight hours of sleep.
The condition often results in the sufferer not feeling well-rested, even if they had the required amount of sleep for optional functioning. Nearly one-third of all commercial truck drivers suffer from this condition.
Driver fatigue produces deficits in the skills that drivers need to operate their vehicles that are very similar to driving with an alcohol impairment limit of .08, such as difficulty controlling their speed and maintaining a travel lane, poor gear changes, inability to pay attention, and even microsleeps, which are brief periods of unawareness occurring while the driver is driving.
Alcohol/ Drug Impairment
Most tow truck drivers are required to obtain a commercial driver’s license (CDL) to operate the vehicle on Fort Lauderdale’s roadways. To maintain the CDL, the driver must submit to periodic, random drug and alcohol screenings. Additionally, because they’re operating a commercial motor vehicle, the legal impairment limit for the driver is 0.04—about half the level of intoxication experienced by individuals with a blood alcohol content of .08, which is the legal limit for other drivers.
While this means fewer impaired tow truck drivers compared to non-commercial drivers, some tow truck drivers feel tempted to violate these rules, believing that they are sober enough to work and that no one will know.
Drug impairment is also a concern, as illicit drugs such as those that the driver is screened for are not the only ones that can have intoxicating effects and impact driving ability. Over-the-counter and prescription medications can also cause impairment to the tow truck operator’s ability to do their job safely, such as extreme drowsiness, difficulty exercising good judgment, and difficulty controlling the vehicle.
The term speeding refers not only to driving over the speed limit, but also to driving too fast for the conditions of the road, and it is one of the most common factors in all types of motor vehicle accidents. Speeding endangers others by making it harder to stop in time to avoid an accident, increasing the risk of losing control of the vehicle, and making it harder for others to gauge whether a safe gap in traffic will allow them to cross a roadway or turn left on a solid green light.
Unfortunately, not only does speeding increase the likelihood of an accident, it increases the force of the accident, resulting in more severe damage.
Speeding tow truck drivers are extremely dangerous, as these large trucks are already difficult to maneuver, particularly when transporting another vehicle. When other vehicles pass by a tow truck parked on the side of the road faster than what is safe or legal, they place the truck driver at risk of a collision.
If You Were Injured in a Fort Lauderdale Tow Truck Accident...
Tow truck accidents are often serious or even deadly due to the size difference between the tow truck and other vehicles on the road. If you were injured in a tow truck accident—whether as the occupant of another vehicle struck by a tow truck or you were a tow truck driver whom another vehicle struck —you can seek compensation for your injury.
Florida allows claimants four years to file a truck accident lawsuit. You can recover the cost of medical expenses, lost wages, loss of future earning capacity, property damages, and physical or emotional pain and suffering.
A Fort Lauderdale truck accident attorney can help you understand how the truck accident claims process works and provide you with information about how they can pursue your claim for you.