As with any accident, there are many factors that can contribute to an 18-wheeler collision. Driver behavior, vehicle malfunctions, and road conditions may all play a role in the incident. However, the nature of the commercial trucking industry creates some special conditions that frequently factor into commercial vehicle accident cases. In particular, drivers exposed to high-stress working conditions are often pressured or encouraged — directly or indirectly — to drive in a way that is unsafe and may ultimately cause accidents.
If you have been involved in an 18-wheeler collision, it’s important to understand the circumstances that led to your accident, including whether or not a driver’s behavior or the practices of their employer came into play. Here are a few common causes of commercial vehicle accidents to consider.
According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), speeding factors into a majority of driver-caused 18-wheeler accidents. Unfortunately, the commercial trucking industry indirectly encourages drivers to speed, as many drivers are paid by the mile rather than by the hour. Drivers are frequently forced to wait long hours at dropoff points before they can unload freight and may attempt to make up for this time by driving over the speed limit. In fact, data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reveals that over 21 percent of all large-truck drivers involved in fatal accidents had at least one prior speeding conviction on their record.
Speeding may seem like a minor infraction, but in an 18-wheeler, driving over the speed limit can quickly create very dangerous conditions. Semi trucks, which often weigh as much as 20 times more than passenger vehicles, are much more difficult to stop. For instance, a passenger vehicle traveling at 65 miles per hour needs approximately 316 feet to come to a complete stop, compared to 525 feet for a large truck. The braking systems on large trucks also make speeding more treacherous: while smaller vehicles typically use highly responsive hydraulic brakes, 18-wheelers rely on air brakes, which are less sensitive and therefore may add to a large truck’s stopping time.
The bottom line is that when commercial truck drivers fail to follow speed limits, they put themselves and those on the road around them at risk for serious accidents.
Commercial drivers are also more likely to drive while fatigued. The FMCSA estimates that approximately 13 percent of commercial truck drivers involved in fatal accidents were fatigued at the time of the incident. While federal and state laws do regulate mandatory rest periods for drivers, many drivers still do not get adequate rest. And drivers are sometimes encouraged by employers to ignore mandatory rest periods.
Commercial vehicle operators also frequently drive overnight, and that fact alone makes them more prone to falling asleep at the wheel. Studies have shown that attentiveness levels are impacted more by the time of day than by the amount of time one has spent on a particular task. In other words, a driver who drives for four hours in the middle of the day is much more likely to be alert and focused than one who is operating a vehicle at night.
Driver distraction is a factor in many collisions — according to the CDC, approximately nine deaths and more than 1,000 injuries each day can be directly tied to distracted driving.
Like other types of vehicle operators, commercial vehicle operators are prone to behaviors that distract them from the road, such as texting or talking on the phone, or eating and drinking. And these behaviors vastly increase the risk of a serious accident.
For instance, the FMCSA has found that commercial drivers who admit to using their phones while driving are six times more likely to experience a “safety-critical event,” such as a crash or near crash. Furthermore, driver inattention and/or distraction was found to be the second most common behavioral factor in fatal commercial motor vehicle accidents. Understanding whether or not driver distraction played into your accident may be a critical part of your case.
Driving Under the Influence
Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for commercial drivers to abuse alcohol and/or drugs while driving. In one study, for instance, over half of truck drivers surveyed admitted to driving after drinking, while approximately 30 percent said they had used amphetamines.
Drivers face stressful working conditions that put them at risk for impaired driving. For instance, drivers are often pressured to work long shifts with little sleep — hence their tendency to abuse stimulants like amphetamines. Drivers also spend days on the road, away from emotional support systems and their loved ones. Experts hypothesize that these conditions lower drivers’ abilities to cope with stressful situations, motivating them to use alcohol and drugs.
According to the FMCSA, in 2017, almost 4 percent of commercial vehicle drivers involved in fatal accidents tested positive for alcohol, while 2.5 percent had a blood alcohol concentration of over 0.08, the legal limit in all 50 states in the US. That may seem like a small percentage, but it translates to hundreds of alcohol-impaired drivers on the road.
Motor Carrier Negligence
The last and perhaps most nefarious factor that may play a part in your commercial vehicle accident is the issue of motor carrier negligence. As professional trucking companies, motor carriers assume responsibility for the safe operation of their business — and therefore, by extension, may be responsible for the behavior of their drivers.
However, there have been many cases of motor carriers openly neglecting their duty to protect both their drivers and other motor vehicle operators on the road by pressuring drivers to work long hours without adequate rest. Motor carriers may offer bonuses for drivers who arrive at their destination early or, in some cases, encourage drivers to break the law by falsifying records documenting rest periods and on-duty hours.
Neglected vehicle maintenance, improper driver training, and poor hiring practices may also play a part in an 18-wheeler accident case. For this reason, many accident victims in these cases choose to hire a skilled 18-wheeler accident lawyer. An experienced attorney can request information documenting the business practices of the motor carrier in question, helping you to understand whether poor management was a factor in your case.
At FVF, we are committed to helping accident victims like you understand their rights and options in Texas 18-wheeler accident cases. Contact us today for a free case evaluation — and begin taking the first steps to recover from your accident.