Nashville motorists drive alongside large trucks every day. Massive tractor trailers are a vital part of Tennessee’s economy, as people depend on them to distribute freight across the state and throughout the country. Many drivers don’t realize, however, that tractor trailers pose a serious threat to other motorists on the road. Weighing up to 80,000 pounds, the sheer size of tractor trailers alone is enough to cause substantial damage in a truck accident. A truck accident lawyer in Tennessee knows that devastating truck collisions can lead to catastrophic injuries and even death to innocent motorists.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the number of people killed in large truck accidents across the nation increased from 3,211 deaths in 2009, to 3,802 deaths in 2012. Large truck collisions in Tennessee alone were responsible for killing 107 people in 2012. This was a substantial increase from the 86 fatalities that occurred in similar accidents in 2009. Tractor trailer accidents cause approximately 104,000 injuries each year. State and federal organizations are struggling to put a stop to the rise in large truck accidents in Tennessee and across the country.
U.S. truck driver shortage
The American Trucking Association reported that there are approximately 35,000 unfilled commercial truck driver jobs in the U.S. This shortage of truck drivers is expected to grow over the next decade, as the ATA predicts a surge in commercial truck driver demand. By the year 2025, the amount of freight tonnage to be distributed in the country is expected to grow by 23.5 percent. In order to keep up with demand, trucking companies will need to hire around 100,000 new truckers each year.
Qualified truckers have become harder to find. Not only does the job require people to leave their homes and families for significant periods of time, but many believe that the pay is not enough to compensate people for their time. With more freight to deliver and less drivers to deliver it, existing truckers may be forced to pick up the slack. Whether truckers spend too much time behind the wheel or are simply not qualified to operate a large truck in the first place, they end up putting the lives of other drivers and pedestrians at risk.
Drowsy truckers behind the wheel
The exact number of truck accidents that are caused by drowsy truck drivers each year remains unknown. Although some accidents are obviously caused by truck driver fatigue, many truck drivers avoid admitting that they fell asleep behind the wheel for fear of legal repercussions.
National media stories involving big rig accidents are abundant. Just last summer, comedian and actor Tracy Morgan was involved in a tractor trailer collision when a large truck rear-ended his limousine. Comedian Jimmy Mack was killed in the accident. Morgan, as well as several other passengers in the limousine, sustained serious injuries. According to Bloomberg Business, the truck driver had been awake for 24 hours before falling asleep at the wheel. The trucker failed to notice that traffic on the New Jersey Turnpike had come to a stop, and he smashed into the back of the limousine. Not only did the truck driver face several charges as a result of the accident, Morgan filed a third-party lawsuit against the trucking company for negligence.
Hours of Service regulations
In an attempt to decrease the number of drowsy truckers on the road, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration reduced the amount of hours that truckers could spend behind the wheel. The revised the Hours of Service regulations to limit truckers’ driving time to 11 hours each day and 70 hours each week. Drivers are also required to take a 30 minute break within the first eight hours of their driving shift. Once truckers have worked a full 70-hour week, they must take a 34-hour rest until they are able to restart their week.
Truckers may be tempted to violate federal regulations in order to pad their paychecks and shorten the amount of time they have to spend away from home. Some trucking companies schedule drivers to work overtime in order to meet strict deadlines and move more freight, a fact known by a truck accident lawyer in Tennessee.
Truck driver negligence
In addition to fatigued truck drivers, distracted and untrained truckers can wreak havoc on the road as well. Commercial truck operators spend a substantial amount of time sitting behind the wheel each day, and may use their cellphones or even watch movies while driving. When truckers take their eyes off of the road, they are unable to respond to driving hazards, including objects in the road, slowed traffic, bad weather conditions, traffic signals and other motorists’ unexpected driving behaviors. For example, if a motorist pulled out in front of a large truck and had to brake suddenly, a distracted truck driver may not be able to respond to the unexpected behavior in time.
A distracted truck driver left four young women dead and injured several others in a devastating Oklahoma truck accident. According to the NY Daily News, the trucker drove his tractor trailer straight across the highway median and into a bus that was traveling in the opposite direction. The bus was carrying a women’s softball team that was traveling home from a game. A preliminary investigation conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that the truck driver didn’t attempt to stop during the accident. The trucker admitted that he was distracted by something in his cab when the accident occurred.
In 2012, over 171,000 truck drivers were placed out of service when the FMCSA discovered that they were driving with too many violations. That same year, more than 2.1 million tractor trailers were taken off of the road for excessive violations that threatened motorist safety.
When equipment fails
Trucking companies and truck drivers are responsible for maintaining their fleet of tractor trailers. Trucking companies should perform regular inspections on tractor trailers to ensure everything is working properly. Truck drivers should also inspect their trucks before taking them out on the road. Low tire pressure, faulty braking systems and other critical malfunctions may cause the driver to lose control of his or her truck.
Advanced safety technology, such as forward-looking radar, blind spot sensors, collision-avoidance systems and interactive cruise control, is available to tractor trailer manufacturers. Yet, the ATA estimated that a small 10 percent of all large trucks are equipped with these life-saving devices. Even trucks that have safety technology on board are at risk, as the equipment can fail to work properly in some situations.
Bad weather conditions
Bad weather conditions can create a problem for even the most conscientious trucker. High-profile tractor trailers are prone to tipping over in extremely windy conditions. Icy, wet or snowy roads may cause a truck to slide or jack-knife into another vehicle. Bad roads can increase a big rig’s stopping distance as well.
Commercial vehicle enforcement in Tennessee
There are six commercial vehicle inspection locations in Tennessee that are operated by the state Highway Patrol Commercial Vehicle Enforcement Division. The department patrols state roadways, looking for trucks that are committing dangerous traffic offenses. Officers also randomly inspect tractor trailers and verify truckers’ log books to ensure they are operating under federal and state regulations.
Safe driving tips
While some tractor trailer accidents are unavoidable, safe driving practices may help to reduce the likelihood that a motorist will become involved in a truck accident. When sharing the road with large trucks, motorists should:
- Avoid pulling out in front of a large truck. Due to their size, tractor trailers require a longer stopping distance than passenger cars.
- Stay out of the blind spots. Truckers cannot see vehicles that are directly in front of or to the left of them. The blind spots behind and to the right of tractor trailers are especially large, and drivers should stay out of them if possible.
- When passing a large truck, motorists should do so quickly and on the left-hand side.
- Allow for wide turns. Trucks may need to swing wide when making turns, and motorists should avoid cutting them off or driving too close.
- Drive defensively, especially in bad weather conditions.
Motorists are often unaware that the trucker driving next to them is intoxicated, drowsy or distracted. Furthermore, a popped tire or faulty brake system may cause a truck to act erratically. Drivers should be fully prepared to respond quickly in these situations.
Tractor trailer accidents can leave victims with severe injuries, disabilities and emotional trauma. People may suffer from traumatic brain injuries, broken bones, spinal cord injuries and paralysis as a result of the forceful impact. Victims of truck accidents may have to deal with amputated limbs or certain mental conditions, such as post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety. Some people may not be able to work because of these injuries, which can make it difficult for them to pay for costly medical bills and daily living expenses. A truck accident lawyer in Tennessee may be helpful in getting tractor trailer accident victims compensation for their injuries.Categories