If you are driving along one of South Carolina’s interstates or other major highways, it is common to encounter large commercial trucks. Due to the immense size of semi-trucks, it is much more likely that those who are involved in accidents with these trucks will suffer serious injuries.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), in a single recent year, 3,964 people were killed in wrecks that involved a large truck. Alarmingly, 67 of those deaths occurred in South Carolina. Further, 71 percent of the time, the person who is killed in a wreck involving a commercial truck is the driver or occupant of a vehicle that is not the large truck. Shockingly, another 95,000 Americans were injured in wrecks involving a large truck that same year.
Below, we will discuss eight of the most common factors that can contribute to commercial truck accidents:
1. Driver fatigue and hours-of-service rule violations.
There are many federal regulations that determine how long drivers are allowed to drive and how often they must take breaks. For instance, commercial truckers are restricted to driving an average maximum of 70 hours in a work week and they are required to take a 30-minute break during the first eight hours of a shift. Further, drivers are restricted to working only 11 hours a day total and these hours must be within a specific 14-hour workday. Finally, once a driver has worked 70 hours in the work week, they are required to rest for 34 hours before beginning another driving shift. All of these regulations are meant to reduce driver exhaustion. Unfortunately, some drivers are encouraged by their employer to violate these rules, often leading to driver fatigue. This fatigue, and the impairing impact that it has upon driving skill and attention, is one of the largest contributors to accidents that involve commercial trucks.
2. Pressure to meet unrealistic schedules.
Like all companies, commercial trucking companies strive to make a profit. This focus on making money can lead to pressure upon drivers to go further and drive faster, something that can lead to dangerous driving conditions. Due to the fact that truckers are paid by the mile, even independent drivers feel financial pressure to drive for long stretches – stretches that are sometimes unsafe. Notably, truckers like to say that “if the wheels aren’t turning, you aren’t earning.” This saying is certainly a reflection of the overall pressure truckers feel to push themselves to the limit when driving.
3. Prescription and over-the-counter drug abuse.
Over-the-counter and prescription medications are a danger for anyone who gets behind the wheel, due to the fact that they can cause drivers to feel sleepy, dizzy, or unfit to drive in other ways. Due to the sheer size of their vehicles and the time spent on busy roads at high speeds, these effects are especially dangerous for commercial truckers. Unfortunately, in an attempt to stay awake longer, some drivers abuse legal medications and using them as stimulants. Even though the consequences are often unintended, over-use of these legal medications can create extremely unsafe conditions. Further, the NHSTA reports that 2 percent of the commercial truck drivers who were involved in fatal accidents were legally drunk. Notably, the legal blood alcohol content for commercial drivers is half that of regular drivers.
4. Distracted driving.
Any situation where a driver has their eyes or mind off the road – whether it be due to texting, talking on the phone, eating, watching a movie or any other activity – is a dangerous one. According to Distraction,gov, in a single recent year, 3,154 people lost their lives in car accidents that involved distracted drivers. Further, 424,000 people were injured in accidents that involved distracted drivers. This is an epidemic which keeps getting worse each year. Especially when facing long and often isolated hours on the road, it can be tempting for truckers to fall into the trap of electronic diversions. Alarmingly, some drivers have even been known to watch movies while behind the wheel. In addition, trucking tools, such as dispatching equipment and CB radios, can also quickly turn from helpful devices to dangerous distractions.
5. Maintenance issues or equipment failure.
Even more so than smaller vehicles, it is extremely important for large trucks to be maintained properly and repaired attentively. If parts in a large truck are not in good condition, notably parts such as air brakes, accidents are much more likely to occur.
6. Improperly loaded cargo and unbalanced loads.
When it comes to loading commercial trucks with cargo, it is imperative that the loading is done carefully so that is correctly balanced. If a truck is loaded in an unbalanced way, it is much more likely to be involved in a rollover accident. Further, overloading a truck with cargo, a practice that is not only unsafe but also illegal, increases the likelihood that the trucks will become unbalanced. Overloaded trucks are also unable to stop as easily as properly-loaded trucks, making accidents much more likely.
7. Reckless driving, including speeding.
Due to their size and weight, commercial trucks require extra space to stop or avoid collisions, especially when they are traveling at high speeds. Thus, reckless decisions such as driving a truck above the speed limit, making dangerous or improper lane changes, or driving at a speed that is unsafe for the conditions can all make accidents more likely or more difficult to avoid.
8. Poor driver training.
Handling and operating a commercial truck is very different from driving a typical passenger vehicle. For instance, semi-trucks and other heavy trucks turn, handle, and stop differently. Thus, to safely drive a large truck, drivers need to undergo training and get practice behind the wheel. Unsurprisingly, improper or insufficient training can increase the likelihood of accidents. For example, 20 percent of commercial truck crashes occur when a driver is attempting to turn or negotiating a curve, according to the NHTSA. Comprehensive and thorough training of drivers helps truckers learn to properly make turns and handle curves, something that decreases the likelihood of accidents throughout their careers.
We are all dependent on the work that commercial truck drivers do and most of these drivers take pride in safely operating their vehicles. However, like any profession, there are bad apples amongst truckers, and the harm they can do due to the size of their vehicles can be devastating. When investigating a case involving a commercial truck accident, an experienced South Carolina truck accident attorney will work with experts to investigate a host of possible accident causes, including those that we have listed above. Attorneys may also inspect driver logs, examine so-called “black box” data recorders, investigate any involvement of either drugs or alcohol, and look into any possible violations of the federal and state trucking regulations.
If you or a loved one has been injured in an accident involving a large truck, it is imperative that you contact a knowledgeable truck accident lawyer as soon as possible to get an independent investigation started before critical evidence is permanently lost. At the Joye Law Firm, we have extensive experience representing persons who have been injured in trucking accidents, or families who have lost a loved one due to these accidents. Experience matters in these cases and our track record speaks for itself as our firm procured dozens of verdicts and settlements in excess of $1 million in trucking accident cases. Contact us any time.
- NHTSA – Truck Safety Facts
- Distraction.gov – Facts and Statistics
- (Firm page: https://www.joyelawfirm.com/accidents/truck-accident-lawyer/)