We rely on truck drivers and trucking companies to transport the goods we need and want throughout the entire United States. Yet, large semi-trucks on the road sometimes cause catastrophic accidents. When truck accidents occur, drivers and passengers in smaller vehicles often suffer severe or fatal injuries.
In fact, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMSCA) estimates approximately 450,000 crashes involving large trucks happen each year, including well over 300,000 crashes resulting in injuries and more than 4,000 fatal crashes. The steady increase of fatal truck accidents across the nation since 2009 is just as alarming.
The vast majority of semi-truck accidents are preventable and would not occur but for the negligence or carelessness of a truck driver or some other party related to the truck involved. Truckers and trucking companies know this, but their continued failure to invest in measures that would prevent deadly crashes puts the public at risk for accidents and injuries. Below we provide a broad overview of several steps truckers, trucking companies, and truck manufacturers can take to make trucks more accident safe.
Electronic Logging Device (ELD) Compliance
The FMCSA, tasked with regulating the trucking industry, implemented Hours of Service (HOS) regulations for commercial truck drivers long ago. Before the introduction of electronic logging devices (ELDs), truckers recorded the number of hours they drove at a stretch manually in a logbook. If a driver was having a bad day and running behind, almost out of allowed hours for driving before taking a mandated rest, or if the driver simply wanted to keep driving beyond the legal maximum allowed hours, the driver could simply fudge the number in the logbook.
ELDs prevent drivers from fudging numbers by automatically recording a driver's hours of service, including mandatory breaks and rest times. Some ELDs connect to the ignition of a truck, meaning if a driver has not taken a mandatory rest, the truck will not start. ELDs make it difficult for truckers and trucking companies to violate HOS regulations. That keeps the public safe by reducing the odds that a truck driver will take the road while dangerously fatigued. Still, ELDs cost money to install and maintain, and trucking companies (like any company) do not like added cost.
Although the vast majority of trucking companies had no desire to put ELDs in their trucks, the FMCSA made doing so mandatory recently for all trucks that haul cargo across state lines. Many states have followed suit for trucks that transport goods only within a state’s borders. That is good news. Preliminary data since the adoption of the ELD requirement shows a reduction in the number of large truck crashes, suggesting one of the best ways to make a truck more accident safe is to install an ELD.
Install Collision Warning Systems (CWS)
Over the last several years, collision warning systems have emerged as a driver-assisted technology that can prevent catastrophic motor vehicle accidents. Many auto manufacturers have integrated them into passenger vehicles. Unfortunately, the same is not as true of large commercial truck manufacturers, many of whom have missed out on the opportunity to make their trucks safer by installing these technologies in new rigs.
Collision warning systems alert drivers when the risk of an accident rises, making them especially useful for semi drivers prone to feeling fatigued behind the wheel. Trucking companies can retrofit existing trucks with collision warning systems, but this is often more costly for companies with large fleets than simply replacing an old truck with a new one that has a CWS.
Install Automatic Emergency Braking (AEB) Systems
Another driver-assisted technology that makes a truck more accident safe is an automatic emergency braking system (AEB). AEB systems work in tandem with collision avoidance systems. When a crash is imminent, the AEB system applies the brakes to slow the vehicle or bring it to a complete stop if necessary. Even though many trucking companies have installed these systems, their use is still not widespread and the FMSCA does not require them.
Unfortunately, this means that motorists who share the road with drowsy or inattentive truckers must pay the price. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates that current AEB systems, if mandatory, could prevent more than 2,500 truck accidents each year and future systems could prevent over 6,000 crashes per year.
In one study that collected data from 12,500 tractor-trailers for more than 30 months, researchers found that AEB systems led to a 71 percent decrease in rear-end collisions and a 63 percent decrease in truckers driving too closely to the vehicle in front of them.
Install Blind-Spot Warning (BSW) Systems
Tractor-trailers have large blind spots that extend 30 feet to the rear, 20 feet to the front, and along both sides of the trailer. The largest blind spot extends from the passenger side across two lanes of traffic to the end of the trailer. For truck drivers to share the road safely, they must clear their blind spots before they turn or change lanes. Failure to do so leads to deadly accidents.
Blind-spot warning systems are another driver-assisted technology that use cameras, radar, and/or ultrasonic sensors placed on the side of a truck to detect vehicles traveling in a truck’s blind spots. When the BSW detects a vehicle, it sends a warning to drivers to prevent the driver from changing lanes and causing an accident.
Install Lane Departure Warning (LDW) Systems
Two of the most common truck driver behaviors that lead to deadly and dangerous truck accidents are driving while distracted and drowsy driving. The FMCSA outlawed handheld devices in commercial vehicles in 2009, so truckers rely on headsets and hands-free features on their phones to take calls while driving.
Yet, all it takes is one text or a quick glance at email to swerve into oncoming traffic or off the road. Other distractions that plague truckers include eating, drinking, reaching for something, daydreaming, and focusing on events outside their big rigs.
Drowsy driving also leads to trucks leaving their lanes when drivers nod off behind the wheel. Drowsy drivers do not have to fall asleep to drive poorly. In fact, FMCSA research concerning the relationship between sleep deprivation and the safe operation of a vehicle found that drivers who go without sleep for 18 hours suffer from the same level of impairment as someone who has a 0.08 blood or breath alcohol level, which is twice the legal limit for commercial drivers.
Another new technological advance that helps make a truck more accident safe is lane departure warning (LDW) systems. LDW systems include mounted cameras that monitor road markings. If an inattentive or drowsy truck driver drifts around on the road, the LDW system sounds an alarm and provides visual alerts to warn the driver to get back in his lane.
Use the Latest Stability Control Technology
Loaded semi-trucks are top-heavy and prone to rollovers if truck drivers are not careful during operation. In 2015, the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) issued a mandate to create a new safety standard requiring heavy trucks over 26,000 pounds to have electronic stability control (ESC) systems.
ESC automatically controls an unstable truck to maintain direction and stability when a driver cannot steer or brake adequately to prevent a crash. Full ECS systems use multiple sensors to recognize roll and directional instability. The system intervenes in a truck driver's actions in different ways depending on the situation. Typically, systems rely on automatic brake technology involving the steer, drive, and trailer axles.
According to the NHTSA, ESC prevents more than 50 percent of truck rollovers not caused by the truck striking an object or driving off the road. The NHTSA also estimates that on a yearly basis, ESC prevents up to 1,759 crashes, more than 600 injuries, and approximately 50 fatalities, making ESC an effective way to make a truck more accident safe.
Complete Regular Inspections and Repairs
The FMCSA requires truck drivers to perform pre-trip and post-trip inspections every day to ensure trucks remain roadworthy. A mechanical failure at a critical moment can cause deadly truck accidents. Even with this in mind, rushed truck drivers sometimes cut corners and skip inspections, putting others on the road at risk.
According to FMCSA regulations, drivers must assess the following components of a truck during an inspection:
- Brakes and brake lamps
- Headlamps, tail lamps, and lamps on projecting loads
- Turn signals
- Truck frame and the bodies of vans and trailers
- Tires, wheels, and rims
- Windshield wipers
- Coupling devices
- HAZMAT signage and loading
- Steering mechanism
- Exhaust system
- Fuel System
- Previous driver's vehicle inspection report
Truck drivers can only report mechanical issues and request repairs. Responsibility for maintenance and upkeep lies with the truck owner, trucking company, and/or the company responsible for truck maintenance. Accidents happen when those parties fail to uphold their obligation and send drivers out on the road with unsafe equipment. Those responsible for truck maintenance must also carry out annual inspections and perform preventative maintenance such as changing the oil or replacing worn belts and hoses.
The previously listed driver-technologies rely on one or more systems on a truck. Poor maintenance not only causes immediate issues but extends to added technologies, potentially resulting in disaster.
Worn and poorly maintained tires represent a particular danger to truckers and the motoring public. Tire blowouts are the leading cause of semi rollover accidents and also can lead to a jackknife accident if the driver loses control of the truck. If a rollover or jackknife occurs at high speeds and/or in heavy traffic, nearby vehicles are at risk for not only a collision with the truck but for a deadly multi-car collision. Trucking companies and their maintenance teams have a legal duty to rotate and change out old tires to prevent a blowout.
Following Best Practices for Loading and Securing Cargo
Cargo spills are among the most dangerous of truck accidents. In a high-speed accident, cargo flies all over the road. If it doesn't land on nearby vehicles, it certainly creates an obstacle. In heavy traffic and traveling at medium to high speeds, spilled cargo causes passenger vehicles to crash or rollover when they cannot stop quickly enough to avoid it.
Additionally, cargo that is loaded improperly without regard to the truck's center of gravity can create more instability for a truck. Stability control systems can only do so much. Trucking company employees who load trucks need proper training and must execute their job perfectly to keep trucks accident safe. Additionally, drivers have a responsibility to know the weight of their load and ensure their load is secure to prevent spillage and rollovers from overloading or insecure cargo.
Install Underride Guards
Underride guards are steel bars or flaps that hang from the back and sides of large semi-trailers to prevent smaller passenger vehicles from sliding underneath the trailer in a collision. Underride collisions occur when the truck keeps moving while a vehicle is lodged beneath the trailers. This type of accident typically causes significant damage to smaller vehicles. Most drivers and occupants involved in underride collisions do not survive. Trucks are loud and sometimes a driver might not realize another vehicle struck the trailer.
Installing underride guards does not prevent accidents, but it does mitigate the devastation that accompanies an underride collision and greatly increases the likelihood of survival for occupants of the smaller vehicle. A law to require mandatory underride guards may someday take effect. In fact, a proposed law known as the Stop Underrides Act calls for the installation of the rear, side, and front underride guards for all trailers and semi-trailers that weigh more than 10,000 pounds.
Contact a Truck Accident Attorney Today
Truck accidents lead to catastrophic or fatal injuries that cause physical pain, emotional distress, and financial burden for accident victims and their families. If you have sustained injuries in a truck accident, you deserve compensation from anyone at fault. Contact a skilled truck accident lawyer today for a free consultation.
The Levin Firm
1500 John F. Kennedy Blvd,
Two Penn Center, Suite 620
Philadelphia, PA 19102