Articles Posted in Commercial Vehicle Accidents

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For good reason, truck drivers and bus drivers are subject to federal regulation of their hours of service. Driving any motor vehicle requires one’s full attention, and studies have shown that driver fatigue greatly reduces drivers’ reaction times, even to the point of fatigued driving being as dangerous as drunk driving.

That is why the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, or the FMCSA, requires truck and bus drivers to limit their hours of service and take rest breaks in order to avoid fatigue. The FMCSA also requires these drivers to keep accurate logs of their hours of service. However, the hours-of-service regulations for property-carrying drivers and passenger-carrying drivers differ somewhat.

For example, property-carrying drivers have to comply with an 11-hour driving limit, while passenger-carrying drivers have a 10-hour driving limit. Truck drivers are allowed to reach that maximum of 11 hours only after being off duty for 10 consecutive hours, and bus drivers are allowed to reach the 10-hour maximum only after being off duty for eight consecutive hours.

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There are many different ways people get around here in New York City. One form of transportation in the city that many people use are taxis. When a person is a passenger of a taxi, they generally hope that the ride will go smoothly and uneventfully. 

Unfortunately, incidents sometimes occur in which this hope of a taxi passenger is thoroughly smashed. One such type of incident are taxi accidents. When a taxi a person is a passenger of ends up in a collision, the person can end up having to deal with extensive injuries. 

Now, what the compensation and liability situation is for a New York City taxi accident in which a passenger was injured can vary based on many things, including:

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Statistics show that many crashes with large commercial trucks are caused by drivers in smaller vehicles. For example, accidents happen when drivers of passenger vehicles drive in large trucks’ blind spots — sometimes called “No-Zones” — or abruptly change lanes in front of a truck, or improperly merge into a lane occupied by a truck, or pull out in front of a truck that, because of its weight and speed, is unable to stop in time.

However, not all drivers of large commercial vehicles are skilled and patient while behind the wheel, and far too many serious accidents are caused by truck drivers. Speeding, distracted driving, fatigue, impaired driving — these are all behaviors that truck drivers should avoid but too often do not. 

In addition to the truck driver’s individual negligence, sometimes a trucking company’s system of compensating drivers factors into why a crash happened. If a compensation system encourages drivers to break the speed limit and operate their vehicles for long periods of time without taking a break, then the risk of a crash may be increased significantly.

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Many factors contribute to injurious truck accidents, but truck driver error is the leading cause. An error could take the form of speeding, impairment, inexperience, failure to keep an eye on blind spots, improper loading of cargo and going around a curve too quickly. When these errors cause injury or death to other motorists, the driver and other parties in the trucking industry may be held liable.

As we discussed a while back, brake and tire failure are also common contributors to truck accidents in New York and throughout the country. In fact, to reduce the amount of wear on their front brakes, some truck operators disconnect them and instead use downshifting and the trailer brakes to control speed. This is a dangerous practice that puts lives at risk.

An in-depth investigation is often necessary to uncover truck driver error. If you aren’t familiar with the relevant laws and industry regulations, then you likely won’t know what to look for and how to hold the responsible parties accountable. Truck drivers and trucking companies can be quite savvy in covering up mistakes and denying liability.

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We recently discussed the potentially deadly problem of driver fatigue among drivers of passenger vehicles. Basically, sleepy driving is similar to drunk driving, in that one’s reaction times and cognitive processing are slowed down and hindered, and too often innocent victims pay the price. You can read more about the problem of fatigued driving in our recent post, “NHTSA: Drowsy driving causes 1,550 deaths a year.”

The risks associated with driver fatigue can be much greater when drowsy truck drivers are behind the wheel. Because large commercial trucks carry immense payloads at high rates of speed throughout the country, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has established hours-of-service limits for truck drivers to protect against the injurious consequences of driver fatigue. 

As of July 2013, the following hours-of-service limits apply in the trucking industry:

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It is significantly more likely that a collision with a large commercial truck will result in serious injury or death than if the vehicles involved are both passenger vehicles. The reasons for the higher risk are obvious: cars, pickup trucks and other passenger vehicles are physically no match for large trucks pulling enormous loads at high rates of speed. Even the box trucks used by construction and delivery companies can cause total damage to smaller vehicles.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 3,921 people died in crashes with large trucks in 2012. That number represents a 4-percent increase from the year before. Of the truck accident victims who died in 2012, 73 percent were in vehicles other than the trucks, while 18 percent were truck occupants. Those percentages indicate how little protection passenger vehicles provide in crashes with semi-trucks and tractor-trailers.

Despite strict regulation of the trucking industry, negligence on the part of truck drivers and their employers still results in devastating consequences. By law, truck drivers are required to limit their hours of service and take rest breaks. In far too many accidents, however, truck driver fatigue is a factor. Trucking companies must also avoid pressuring truck drivers to work long hours that violate federal and state regulations.

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If you have been injured in a truck accident in New York, then you may be fairly certain about who was at fault for the crash: the truck driver. Reckless driving, truck driver fatigue, distracted driving — unfortunately, these are all behaviors that lead to commercial vehicle accidents and cause extremely serious injuries to victims.

However, in many cases, the truck driver is not the only one liable for damages. State and federal regulations apply throughout the trucking industry, and truck owners, trucking companies and other companies that contract with motor carriers may be liable for injuries suffered in a collision. Often, the key for injured victims is to have a personal injury attorney investigate the accident and identify all of the responsible parties.

For example, a trucking company may be liable for improperly loading cargo. Improper loading can result in rollovers and jackknifing, and too often occupants of smaller vehicles pay the price.

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Federal law currently requires motor carriers in the trucking industry to have a minimum of $750,000 in liability insurance. That amount doesn’t come close to the immense cost a truck accident victim can face after a serious crash. In fact, the law hasn’t been updated since the 1980s and consequently doesn’t reflect inflation and increases in medical costs.

Back in April, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) reported to Congress that the minimum insurance levels in the trucking industry fail to adequately protect motorists from the heavy financial burdens caused by truck accidents. The FMCSA announced plans to address the problem, and now a piece of related legislation has been introduced in Congress.

The Safe and Fair Environment on Highways Achieved through Underwriting Levels Act of 2013, commonly known as the SAFE HAUL Act, would increase motor carriers’ minimum insurance requirements to account for the millions of dollars in damages a truck accident can cause. The bill, which was introduced in the House, would also require ongoing adjustments for inflation.

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July 1 will mark the one-year anniversary of the implementation of federal regulations meant to prevent crashes caused by truck driver fatigue. The rules, which were expected to affect only the most extreme work schedules, reduced the allowable number of hours of service for truck drivers. However, even a cursory glance at recent headlines makes clear that truck driver fatigue is still a major threat to road safety in the United States.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) announced the new regulations in late 2011, and trucking companies were given a year and a half to comply. Before the FMCSA issued its final rule on hours of service, truck drivers could work an average of 82 hours per week. The new rule limited that number to 70 hours.

If a truck driver reaches the 70-hour maximum, then 34 consecutive hours of rest are required before the driver can work again. Those 34 hours must also include two nights from 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. A half-hour break is also required during a truck driver’s first eight-hour shift.

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After an auto accident, gathering all of the relevant information is extremely important if you want your medical bills and other expenses covered. The process of gathering information can be especially complicated if you were injured in a crash with a large commercial vehicle. Multiple parties may be responsible for your injuries, and an attorney with experience in handling truck accident claims can investigate the crash to ensure that you receive due compensation.

In addition to negligent driving, other factors such as defective parts and poor maintenance can result in catastrophic truck accidents. In fact, a report from the Department of Transportation showed that nearly 30 percent of collisions with large trucks involved brake-related issues such as improper adjustments and brake failure.

As we discussed in a previous post, it is important to contact all parties who may be responsible for a crash. After a trucking accident, those parties can include the driver, the trucking company, the brake or tire manufacturer, the company responsible for loading the trailer, and the party who was supposed to conduct regular vehicle inspections and maintenance.

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