After a commercial truck accident, it is critical for victims to determine exactly what caused the crash—and specifically, who was responsible. While many different parties may be held liable for the losses of truck accident victims, much attention is rightfully paid to the actions of the truck driver. While truck drivers are not to blame for every truck collision, of course, driver error can often be a cause of these dangerous accidents. The following are only some examples of how commercial truck drivers can be negligent and lead to an accident and injuries.
Driving with Health Issues
To receive or renew a commercial driver’s license, individuals must undergo a thorough medical evaluation and a qualified doctor must agree that the individual is healthy enough to drive a truck. However, new health issues can develop all the time and drivers should know better than to continually operate a large semi-truck with a potentially dangerous health problem. Several health issues can create risks of a driver losing control of a truck, including:
- Cardiac issues that could lead to a heart attack
- Diabetes or epilepsy that could cause seizures
- Conditions that increase the risk of a stroke
- Arthritis or muscle weakness that make it difficult to control the steering wheel or pedals
- Conditions that may affect vision or hearing
- Sleep apnea that can cause chronic fatigue
These are only some of the health issues that should be properly diagnosed and treated and, if the condition cannot be treated so it is safe to drive, the commercial driver should report the problem. Drivers who operate large, 80,000-pound trucks knowing they have possibly dangerous health issues can easily cause severe crashes.
Commercial drivers must follow strict rules when it comes to using technology when they drive. These drivers are prohibited from using a handheld electronic device to text or do anything else that requires touching more than one button. Despite these regulations, many drivers cannot fight the temptation to use their smartphones to stay in touch with loved ones and as entertainment on long shifts.
Texting and phone calls are far from the only source of distracted driving for truck drivers. Having passengers in the truck, eating or drinking, personal grooming, or even listening to engaging podcasts or audiobooks can all cause visual, manual, and cognitive distractions. Even one moment of lost focus can cause a driver to crash into another vehicle.
Driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol is always extremely dangerous. It can be even more catastrophic when an impaired driver gets behind the wheel of a massive semi-truck. Unfortunately, drinking alcohol and using illegal drugs is surprisingly common among certain truck drivers.
Some truck drivers may use alcohol or drugs for entertainment, to self-medicate certain issues, or even to stay awake longer on the road. While the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) sets out significantly stricter rules for truck drivers when it comes to blood alcohol content (BAC) than for other drivers, some commercial drivers violate these rules.
Drunk or drugged driving can cause many issues for drivers—and truck drivers are no different. Impairment can cause the following:
- Lack of focus
- Poor judgment
- Blurred vision
- Slowed reaction time
All of the above can result in devastating crashes. After an accident that resulted in injuries, any truck drivers involved are required to undergo a drug and alcohol test, which can often make proving the cause of the accident easier for victims.
Fatigued driving is a major problem in the commercial trucking industry. Drivers can be on the road for hours at a time, often driving the same routes over and over. Fatigue and monotony can lead a driver to lose focus or even fall asleep while driving. Some studies indicate that fatigued driving can have similar effects as drunk driving.
To combat the problem, the FMCSA sets out limitations on the length of time a driver can be on the road without taking certain breaks. These hours of service regulations are strict yet are important to protect motorists from fatigued truck drivers. In some cases, truck drivers who want to complete deliveries faster will violate these restrictions and can even find ways to cover up such violations. In recent years, high-profile truck accidents have involved drivers who may have been awake and driving for about 24 hours, which is clearly in excess of the regulated allowance.
Truck drivers like to get where they are going quickly and all too often, other motorists may get in the way. Slower drivers, heavy traffic, and other conditions can make truck drivers become impatient, which can escalate to aggressive driving. There are many aggressive behaviors on the road that can be very dangerous, including:
- Excessive speeding
- Weaving in and out of traffic lanes
- Cutting in front of other vehicles
- Flashing lights
- Making obscene gestures
- Shouting threats
- Displaying weapons
Aggressive driving is not only dangerous in itself but it also distracts other drivers. All of these behaviors are likely to cause a crash.
Violating Traffic Laws or Safety Regulations
Truck drivers are expected to follow Florida traffic laws in addition to all of the federal trucking regulations. All of these laws are in place to keep all drivers on the road safe and any violation can put motorists in danger. There are a significant number of violations that can lead to truck accidents and often, police officers will cite drivers for violating the law, which can help the case of a truck accident victim.
Truck drivers are far from the only parties that can be negligent in truck accident cases. In the next part of this series, we will discuss how trucking companies can put motorists at risk and can be held liable for the losses of truck accident victims in Florida.
Attending the prestigious Roy H. Park School of Communications at Ithaca College and earning his Jurist Doctorate from Stetson University College of Law, Mr. Dolman currently focuses on the litigation of catastrophic injury and wrongful death cases—only representing plaintiffs who have been physically injured as a result of the negligence exhibited by an individual or corporation. For his efforts, he has been named a Florida Super Lawyer two years in a row as well as a "Legal Elite Up and Comer" by Florida Trends Magazine.