Semi-trucks and tractor-trailers pose a significant danger to other cars on the road, due not only to their great size but also to the conditions in which they operate. It’s for these reasons that the U.S. Department of Transportation as well as state agencies, have created numerous safety rules and regulations designed to keep our roads safe.
Despite these rules, semi-truck accidents still present a real threat and are responsible for thousands of deaths every year. It’s important to remember to exercise extra caution around semi-trucks to prevent getting into a potentially deadly accident. If you’ve been involved in an accident with a semi-truck, it’s important to understand the common causes so you can decide how to proceed with a potential case.
What are the Leading Causes of Semi-Truck Accidents in Oregon?
There are several common reasons why accidents with semi-trucks occur. The most common reason is driver error on the part of the truck driver. Factors such as fatigue, not paying proper attention, or substance abuse are common causes of accidents related to driver error. Some safety rules exist to try to mitigate the risk of these accidents, such as rules which limit how long a driver can work.
Unfortunately, we’ve found that oftentimes these rules aren’t properly followed. In fact, it’s not unusual for our attorneys to find that semi-truck drivers have lied about the hours they worked in their log book.
Equipment Failure, Weather, and Loading
Although driver error makes up the majority of accidents caused by truck drivers, there are several other common causes. One cause is truck equipment failure. Equipment failure includes manufacturing errors, such as defective tires, as well as mechanical issues– such as improperly maintained brakes. Even though drivers are required to perform an inspection before every trip, it’s unfortunately often the case that this requirement is ignored.
Another significant cause of semi-truck accidents is the weather. Obviously, since semi-trucks are very large and weigh a lot, they are especially subject to the ill effects of harsh weather. Bad weather conditions can drastically hamper a truck’s ability to brake and maneuver, which can make a traffic accident extremely likely. Extreme temperatures in winter and summer can create more difficult conditions for semi-truck drivers.
Finally, improper loading is another common reason why accidents with semi-trucks occur. A truck’s load must be safely distributed throughout the trailer or it can cause the truck to malfunction. If a load is imbalanced, a semi-truck could even tip over, as wide turns are extremely dangerous for semi trucks – especially one with an imbalanced load. If a load isn’t properly secured, then that load could even fall out of the truck onto the roadway, endangering other drivers.
Accidents Caused by Passenger Vehicles
To be sure, passenger vehicles are also often responsible for accidents with semi-trucks. The main reasons for this are that drivers of passenger vehicles don’t understand or misjudge a truck driver’s limited ability to accelerate, brake, or see them.
Because there are areas behind or to the side of semi-trucks where truck drivers have no visibility at all, drivers of passenger vehicles should always be sure to avoid any unsafe passing. Additionally, drivers should avoid abruptly changing lanes in front of trucks, or merging into traffic without sufficient acceleration.
Drivers who aren’t aware of a semi truck’s blind spots may also put themselves in a potentially dangerous situation. Though they have mirrors, and some new vehicles may even have cameras, a semi truck’s blind spots are still some of the most dangerous places a passenger vehicle can be.
Even the most responsible and conscientious truck drivers can’t do much to avoid an accident if other drivers on the road don’t take the proper care and drive safely around them.
What Rules Must Oregon Truckers Follow?
Most would agree that an important function of government is to protect the health, safety, and welfare of our citizens. From state and federal laws criminalizing unwanted behavior, to rules and regulations that protect the environment, there is a plethora of involvement by government at all local, state, and federal levels.
When it comes to regulating the manner in which commerce is conducted, protecting drivers and passengers on our roadways is abundantly important. In fact, given that our citizens drive millions of miles per year, along with the danger presented by tractor-trailer truck crashes, the importance of regulation can hardly be overstated.
How Are Truckers Regulated?
The United States government has passed regulations which apply to all large trucks involved in interstate commerce. Trucks and truck drivers that are not involved in interstate commerce are subject to the laws of the particular states in which they are located. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) issues regulations which interstate truckers must follow.
These regulations are initially published in a publication called the Federal Register. The compilation of all of these regulations is located in the Code of Federal Regulations (C.F.R.). Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations are located at 49 C.F.R. Sections 350-399. In the next section, we will provide some examples of regulations applicable to truckers and trucking companies.
A Good Reason for Regulation
Unfortunately, deaths across the United States from large truck crashes have increased every year since 2011. In Oregon, deaths have increased every year since 2013. Automobile occupants suffer the majority of these deaths. Moreover, as the population continues to grow, one might expect commerce to continue increasing. With more traffic on the roads, the potential for death and injury increases, and the need for regulation becomes more apparent.
Examples of Regulations
- Hours of Service (49 C.F.R. Sections 395.1 – 395.38) – Semi-truck drivers must comply with regulations limiting the number of hours they may drive. These regulations acknowledge that drivers make more mistakes when they are tired and fatigued.
- Inspection, Repair, and Maintaining Maintenance Records (49 C.F.R. Sections 396.1 – 396.25) – There are numerous regulations which must be met to demonstrate that the tractor and trailer are safe to be on the road. For example, there are specific regulations applicable to lights, brakes, blinkers, and the way in which cargo is secured. Proper records must be maintained.
- Driver Qualifications (49 C.F.R. Sections 391.1 – 391.71)- Driving a semi-truck is serious business. Therefore, drivers must be properly trained and licensed. Drivers must also meet minimum health requirements, to prove that they are in sufficient physical condition to drive these dangerous vehicles.
- Transporting Hazardous Materials; Driving and Parking Rules (49 C.F.R. Sections 397.1 – 397.225) – truck drivers and trucking companies transporting hazardous materials must meet a variety of regulations designed to ensure safety and protect the public. There are also specific rules related to how these big rigs should be parked.
Regulations for Interstate Truckers
Semi-truck drivers engaged in interstate commerce, whether based in Oregon or anywhere else in the country, must follow federal trucking regulations. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration issues these regulations. As the regulations are published, they appear in a publication called the Federal Register. They are then taken from the Federal Register and compiled in the United States Code of Federal Regulations, often abbreviated as CFR. We have provided a convenient link to the online version of the CFR.
Who Is Ultimately Liable for A Semi-Truck Accident?
Anyone who drives a car has likely encountered hundreds, if not thousands, of semi-trucks on the road. Commercial trucking is an important part of both local commerce in Oregon and interstate commerce across the country. We can all thank truck drivers and trucking companies for transporting so many goods that we enjoy in our daily lives.
Unfortunately, the trucking industry is also responsible for large numbers of motor vehicle collisions. In fact, many of us have seen the devastating wreckage of a semi-truck and passenger vehicle on the side of the road.
People involved in semi-truck crashes are often surprised by some of the legal complexities ultimately involved in reaching that goal. Multiple complex insurance policies may apply. The trucking company may use confusing ownership and leasing arrangements. Drivers may be employees or independent contractors.
So, how is liability decided in a semi-truck accident?
Some tractor-trailer truck crashes are caused by the intentional or negligent actions of the semi-truck driver, for which he or she can be held liable. In Oregon alone in 2014, 1400 truck crashes occurred, which resulted in disabling damage to a vehicle, injury, or death. Reviews of these crashes show that they occurred for a variety of reasons, including the following:
- Driver decision errors
- Driver fatigue
- Driving too fast for the conditions
- Physical injuries or conditions of the driver
- Losing control while reaching for items
Truck brokers are, essentially, administrative middlemen. Their job is to match motor carriers with those who need to ship goods. Generally, these brokers complete “paper transactions.” In other words, the broker often never even sees the product being shipped, or the semi-truck carrying the product. Therefore, one might conclude that a broker cannot have liability for a crash.
However, brokers have been held liable for failing to act reasonably in performing a background check on a motor carrier. In fact, in one Oregon case, a jury awarded $5.2 million for such liability. In that case, the plaintiff alleged that the trucking company did not perform drug tests on its drivers, and that the driver who caused the accident was under the influence of drugs.
Oregon law recognizes the concept of vicarious liability. In the employment context, the concept holds that an employer can be held liable for the acts of an employee under certain circumstances. It is sometimes referred to as master-servant liability. A key element is that an employee must be acting within the scope of his employment.
Take, for example, a truck driver who is an employee of a trucking company. If the truck driver is hauling a load as directed by his employer and has an accident, the employer can be held liable for the acts of the employee. On the other hand, if a truck driver is not working, gets in a fight, and strikes another person, his employer would certainly argue that vicarious liability should not apply because the employee was not acting within the scope of his employment.
Determining Liability In A Semi Truck Accident
Ultimately, a period of investigation and discovery will begin when a semi truck accident goes to trial. It will involve reconstructing the site, interviewing both drivers, and attempting to get a full understanding of the entire situation. That way, liability can be fully determined, and the case is one step closer to resolution.
Call with Questions
If you have been involved in a wreck with a semi-truck or other commercial vehicle, the investigation of the accident can be essential to your claim. The ability to hold truck drivers and trucking companies responsible for their actions can rest on understanding the many regulations truckers must follow, and then examining compliance with those regulations. The lawyers at Nelson MacNeil Rayfield have many years of experience with these rules and regulations and would be happy to answer any questions you might have about them.