A Houston Truck Accident Lawyer Can Help
Trucking accidents are some of the most serious on the road. Their size, combined with the long hours their drivers are on the road, create situations ripe for an accident.
Accidents happen even when truck drivers are trying to be as safe as possible on the road. But under the conditions that most truck drivers face, it is nearly impossible for them to bring the optimal level of alertness that is necessary to ensure everyone’s safety.
Please browse the information on our site to learn more about truck accidents. A Houston truck accident lawyer at Kirkendall Dwyer LLP is always available to discuss the specifics of your case, and advise you as to the best way in which to proceed.
Prescription and Over-the-Counter Drugs
When talking about truck safety, it is important to remember that truck drivers are the most important part of the equation. Truck drivers are faced with making the same instantaneous decisions that other drivers are, except because they are on the road for hours on end, they are even more vulnerable to the challenges of the road.
While it is commonly thought that driver fatigue contributes the most to trucking accidents, the biggest problem is actually use of prescription and over-the-counter medications. According to a recent study by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, in accidents caused by driver error, 44% of them involved truckers who were taking prescription or over-the-counter medications.
All medications, whether prescription or over the counter, have side effects. And the most common ones—blurred vision, dizziness, confusion, drowsiness—are the ones that are most dangerous on the road. Federal regulations exist to minimize these occurrences, but unfortunately, they are not always effective.
There are too many ways that truck drivers can get around the regulations, leaving other drivers and passengers on the road in greater danger. For instance, a trucker is required to have a medical certificate from a doctor certifying that he is fit to drive a commercial truck. But there are no uniform standards on how and by whom these exams are done. They are easily forged and often granted by a medical practitioner—this could be anyone from a doctor to a chiropractor to a nurse—who is willing to overlook the most fundamental requirements. And if one doctor won’t grant a medical certificate, truckers can easily ‘doctor shop’ and find another.
Truckers often lead strained and stressful lifestyles, turning to junk food to fill their long hours on the road. A poor diet often then leads to a struggle with obesity, diabetes, and sleep apnea. Sleep apnea is particularly dangerous because it leads to excessive sleepiness during waking hours, which poses a serious threat on the road.
There are too many truck drivers on the road that are in poor health, or who are under the influence of prescription and OTC drugs that create extremely hazardous driving conditions. Federal regulations are not doing enough to minimize this problem, and unfortunately, the consequences can be deadly.
Similar to drug regulations, there are strict regulations pertaining to truck drivers and alcohol. The following rules apply to truck drivers:
- Truck drivers with a Commercial Driver’s License can be charged with a DUI with a blood alcohol level of .04.
- The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration does not allow truck drivers to have had alcohol four hours prior to the beginning of their shifts.
But how effective are these regulations? Do they keep truckers with alcohol in their systems off the roads? One of the unfortunate aspects of routine testing is that truckers usually know exactly when they are going to be tested. As a result, they are able to adjust their behavior so that they will pass their tests and be able to stay on the road.
To add to this problem, it is also remarkably easy to fake test results. Studies have shown that there are numerous methods truckers can use to ensure they have clean test results, from using fake identification to send someone else into the test, to using synthetic urine or clean-urine kits off the internet.
There are a few trucking companies who are taking safety seriously and are implementing stricter tests that are harder to dupe. These tests, an example of which is hair testing, have yet to become industry standards, and an individual who fails a test at one company can easily go to a less stringent company, pass their tests, and appear to be clean. The trucking industry has an average annual driver turnaround of 70 – 90%. Stricter industry standards are desperately needed.
If you were in an accident with a truck and believe that alcohol, prescription drugs, or over the counter drugs contributed to the accident, contact a Houston truck accident lawyer as soon as possible.
Most of us have had to drive long hours at one time or another. It is hard to forget the feelings of boredom and exhaustion that can set in as the hours slowly pass by behind the wheel. Now imagine that you are behind the wheel of an 80,000 pound vehicle instead of a 4,000 pound car, and that day after day you are behind the wheel for hours on end.
This is just one of the challenges that truck drivers face as they get behind the wheel each day or night. Getting behind the wheel is always a big responsibility, but the consequences of a truck driver’s every action is magnified in scope, and the simplest distraction can turn into a devastating accident.
According to the FMCSA, a distraction occurs “any time a driver diverts his/her attention from the driving task.” Distraction can take a variety of forms: eating while driving, talking or texting on a cell phone, smoking, or adjusting the radio.
Cell phones are particularly dangerous since they involve almost all of the senses: they require a driver to look at the screen, to listen to whoever is on the other end, to use his hands and fingers to work the phone, and most importantly, to use his mental focus somewhere other than the road.
Another dangerous distraction is a driver’s unfamiliarity with his route. Truck drivers find themselves in new cities and towns all the time, and unless he has planned and familiarized himself with his route, he will find his attention split between driving and trying to find his way.
The FMCSA’s Large Truck Crash Causation Study revealed that 10% of truck crashes occur as a result of distraction. Another study estimates that the numbers are actually much higher, and that 80% of truck crashes had driver distraction as a contributing cause.
Distraction can lead to a driver gazing at what is happening on the road without actually seeing it. Because the truck is so big and does not respond immediately like a car, driver attention is critical. There is very little room for error.
Federal regulations are in place to reduce fatigue related accidents as much as possible. The FMCSA has instated hours of service regulations that all truck drivers must comply with. There are three maximum duty limits that must be followed at all times:
- A driver may be on-duty for 14 consecutive hours if he has been off-duty for 10 or more consecutive hours. Naps or breaks count towards the 14 consecutive hours.
- During the 14 consecutive hours that a driver can be on-duty, a driver is only allowed to be driving for 11 total hours.
- There are also limits on how many hours a driver can be on-duty in a 7 or 8-day period. A driver can not drive after being on duty for 60 hours in 7 consecutive days, and 70 hours in 8 consecutive days.
These regulations exist to help ensure that truck drivers are not pushed to work hours that are unsafe. Often it is a trucker’s employer that will push him to finish just a few more deliveries, but just as often it is the trucker himself that will want to work longer hours, unconcerned that he is fatigued. Fatigue impairs a driver’s performance, and we all depend upon a truck driver’s performance to keep us safe on the roads. Even a well-rested driver will feel lulls at certain times of the day. Our bodies are programmed in this way. But a fatigued driver will experience these lulls so strongly that they are almost impossible to resist.
Fatigue does not just hit during the long, last hours of a driving shift. It can also strike during the first hour, when a driver is still feeling the pull of sleep from a nap or a night’s rest.
Fatigue can affect a driver’s response time, memory, attention, mood, and judgment. Being awake for 18 hours is equivalent to having a blood alcohol level of .08, which is considered legally intoxicated, and is twice the permissible level for truck drivers.
If you were involved in an accident with a truck driver, a Houston truck accident lawyer can take the necessary steps to secure the information needed to prove driver fatigue. This can be done by checking the company’s hours of service logs. However, it is critical that you contact an attorney as soon as you can, because these logs are often deleted after a certain amount of time has passed. Your attorney might also be able to find useful evidence by checking a driver’s trip tickets or bills of lading (documents that accompany deliveries). This evidence can lead to establishment of driver liability as well as the company’s negligence. Contact a Houston truck accident lawyer today for help.
Driver Action on the Road
Driving Too Fast
Just as the effects of distraction are amplified when a driver is behind the wheel of a massive truck, so are the effects of a driver’s actions. Often a trucker will encounter harsh conditions on the road, and for the sake of everyone’s safety, he would be best served by slowing down. Such conditions may include wet or icy roads, heavy fog, poorly maintained roads, construction zones, and heavy traffic. But with the pressure of having to make stops and deliveries on time, a driver may think he is skilled enough to drive fast and still maintain the appropriate level of safety.
This is not the case. In an instant, poor driving conditions can cause a trucker to lose control and collide with other vehicles on the road. Trucks with loaded trailers are particularly vulnerable at high speeds because they have higher centers of gravity. Suddenly hitting the brakes can cause the load to shift and the entire truck to skid or rollover.
Inadequate Surveillance and the “No-Zone”
Inadequate surveillance occurs when a driver fails to take into account every aspect of a situation before he makes a maneuver. He might not observe his surroundings carefully enough before taking a turn, or he might fail to look at all.
Eighteen wheelers have massive blind spots, also called ‘no-zones’. A passenger car can be completely invisible to a driver when it is in the blind spot, and there are many such blind spots in every direction. According to studies, accidents between cars and 18-wheelers are 60% more likely to occur when the car is in the truck’s blind spot of no-zone. Truck drivers need to be properly trained to drive their trucks, and need to call upon their training in every such situation. A truck driver needs to maintain full attention on the road so he may be able to anticipate the actions of other drivers on the road. He must exercise extra caution while doing seemingly simple things such as making a turn or changing lanes.
If you were in a car accident with a truck, it is quite possible that inadequate surveillance contributed to the accident. It is important that you note down the details of your accident as soon as you are safely able to do so. Time and the shock you have likely undergone can erode the fresh memories that are important in building your case. A truck driver can and should be held responsible for any of his actions that contributed to your accident.
There are some situations even the most skilled and attentive truck driver can not avoid, and this is where it is important that a truck driver be trained enough to act quickly and appropriately to avoid or minimize serious consequences. A properly trained driver should be able to utilize braking and steering maneuvers.
Did a truck driver’s actions contribute to your accident? A Houston truck accident lawyer from Kirkendall Dwyer LLP can provide the immediate information you need to help you began your recovery.
Call a Houston Truck Accident Lawyer at Kirkendall Dwyer LLP today
If you have been involved in an accident with an 18-wheeler, you need an attorney that is willing to investigate every aspect of a trucker’s negligence. Whether this may be the use of drugs or alcohol, the presentation of fraudulent medical certificates, or driving while fatigued, you need an attorney that can delve into every aspect of your accident. These are complex accidents that often have multiple causes. If you want to recover the full amount that you deserve, a Houston truck accident lawyer at Kirkendall Dwyer has the necessary resources and skills.