When Truck Drivers Break the Law
Truck accidents are some of the worst accidents we see. Because of their size, commercial trucks can cause devastating injuries when they collide with passenger vehicles and motorcyclists. According to statistics by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), over 4,000 large trucks were involved in fatal crashes in 2015. This is an 8% increase over the previous year. Meanwhile, an astounding 87,000 large trucks were involved in crashes that caused injury, and 342,000 trucks were involved in crashes that caused property damage.
With numbers like these, motorists on the road must exercise extreme caution so that they do not collide with a vehicle that weighs up to 40 tons. Unfortunately, truck safety does not seem to be improving. Truckers regularly break the law, and injured motorists pay the price.
Hours of Service Limits
Responding to ever-increasing truck accidents in the 1990s, Congress adopted the hours of service rules for commercial truckers. These rules limit the amount of time a trucker can drive, mandating necessary rest periods so that truckers do not become tired. Fatigue is one of the most common causes of truck accidents. For this reason, the rules require rest periods between consecutive hours of driving.
According to the current hours of service rules, truckers must:
- Drive a maximum of 11 consecutive hours only after having 10 consecutive hours off. If a driver is on the road from 8:00 am to 7:00 pm, then he or she must not go back on the road until 5:00 am the next day.
- Not work more than 14 hours of the day. This rule works in conjunction with the one above but acknowledges that some truckers must do jobs, such as loading cargo, even if they are not driving. If you do 4 hours of loading or other duties, you can only drive 10 consecutive hours that day, not 11.
- Drive only when 8 or fewer hours have passed since the last 30-minute rest break.
- Be on duty no more than 60/70 hours in 7/8 consecutive days. A driver must have at least 34 consecutive hours off before the clock restarts.
Unfortunately, some truckers violate these rules repeatedly. Truckers are even known to doctor their log books to show that they were taking breaks when they were actually racing to their next delivery point.
Driving while under the influence of drugs or alcohol is another problem for commercial truck drivers. A study from 2013 found that a large percentage of truckers from around the world used amphetamines, cocaine, alcohol, and marijuana. About 30% admitted to using amphetamines while around 50% admitted to drinking while behind the wheel of a rig. One study found that 12.5% of U.S. truckers tested positive for alcohol use.
Using alcohol or drugs carries negative side effects that impair the operation of a large vehicle. For example, cocaine and amphetamines might increase wakefulness and concentration, but can also increase hallucinations and dizziness and alter spatial perceptions. Meanwhile, marijuana and alcohol induce sleepiness and dampen reflexes.
The FMCSA has attempted to deal with drug and alcohol use by requiring that truckers have periodic testing for substance use. If a trucker returns a positive sample, the trucker should be removed and cannot begin working again until they have undergone an intense evaluation by a Substance Abuse Professional (SAP) and successfully completed any counseling or course prescribed by the SAP. The trucker must also take and pass another breath or urine test, in addition to unannounced periodic follow-up tests.
Nevertheless, accidents continue to occur because of drugs or alcohol. In November 2017, a trucker in Indiana slammed into three other vehicles, including a school van. The driver told the police that he had used marijuana and heroin before the crash and still had marijuana in his cab. Fortunately, all the victims of the accident survived.
Truckers, like everyone else, can easily become distracted while driving. To reduce distracted driving, the FMCSA created a rule that prohibits drivers from using hand-held cell phones while driving. Some drivers are still tempted to make a call or send a text while their rig is in motion. Unfortunately, it only takes a fraction of a second for an accident to occur.
The trucking industry thrives on speed. The faster goods arrive at a location, the more money a trucker can make. The trucking industry creates incentives for truckers to drive while tired—and also to drive too fast even when fully rested. To that end, some truckers engage in the following:
- Cutting people off
- Running red lights
- Disobeying traffic laws
This conduct increases the risks of an accident. When coupled with drugs or alcohol use, truckers all too often lose control of their vehicles and slam into other motorists.
If you have been involved in a collision with a commercial truck, you might be able to sue for financial compensation. Most of our clients bring negligence lawsuits where they claim that another driver breached their duty to drive carefully, and thus caused our client’s injuries.
To prove negligence, you will need to show that the trucker did not operate his or her vehicle in a safe manner. To that end, your lawyer will look for evidence of negligence, such as positive drug test results or fraudulent entries in the trucker’s log book. Sometimes, truckers use their cell phones in areas that they do not record on the log book, so we can pull their phone records to show they were on the road even though they had exceeded maximum consecutive driving hours and should have been resting.
Speak With a Clearwater Truck Accident Lawyer
Devastating truck accidents can cause tens and hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage. At Dolman Law Group, we fight to recover full and fair compensation for our clients’ injuries. Contact us today for a free consultation by calling 727-451-6900 or submitting an online form.
Dolman Law Group
800 North Belcher Road
Clearwater, FL 33765