Tractor-Trailers (often referred to as semi-trucks) are practically a lifeline to our economy and way of life. Large trucks are responsible for transporting a majority of our goods in the United States. There are numerous guidelines set out by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) as well as the State of Florida to limit the number of tractor-trailer accidents. However, due to cutthroat competition; not every trucking company follows the letter of the law or guidelines handed down by Federal or Florida Regulators.
Common factors in Florida truck accidents:
1. Improper load: An improperly loaded truck is far more susceptible to a rollover due to the shift in weight of the cargo. If the weight is not properly distributed through the trailer, the truck is more likely to roll over in a turn or as a result of a quick decisive traffic maneuver. On the other hand, an overloaded truck will have difficulty stopping. Keep in mind that trucks have a much greater stopping distance that a car as a result of weight. As you add additional weight the stopping distance will only increase. In the context of improper loading, the party that loaded the vehicle along with the truck driver will likely share liability. Many trucking carriers will require their drivers to carry excess weight due to profit incentives. Further, we have sadly learned that oftentimes a trucking company will force their drivers to comply with such demands by threatening to use independent truckers. An employed driver does not want to lose his/her benefits from their respective employment. Thus, the trucking company often uses such leverage to get their employed drivers to be complicit in carrying excess loads.
2. Driver fatigue: Subsection 49 CFR 391.41 of the Code of Federal Regulations outlines a number of rules pertaining to the trucking industry. Much of this subsection relates to rules concerning the amount of hours and consecutive shifts a truck driver may undertake. Further, Florida Statute subsection 316.302(1)(b) spells out the number of hours and manner in which drivers log and report their driving to ensure that truck drivers are alert on our roadways. However, many trucking carriers simply ignore both Federal and Florida guidelines in their blind pursuit of profit. We often learn of drivers who work far beyond the allowable amount of consecutive hours. This results in a fatigued and often sleepy driver who becomes a very obvious danger for fellow motorists. Time is money in the world of trucking. Drivers are often stuck at weigh stations for significant amount of time that counts against their allowable driving hours, yet they are not getting paid during such time. In fact many drivers are paid by the mile driven. Thus, there is an incentive for drivers to ignore both Federal and Florida law concerning the allowable amount of consecutive time operating a tractor-trailer. Section 392.4 of the CFR expressly prohibits the use of amphetamines while on duty operating a truck. It further prohibits any use of alcohol while on duty.
Federal law requires the trucking company to maintain records of duty and all supporting documents on each driver for a period of six months. All drivers must retain a copy of each record and supporting document on driving status for the previous seven (7) consecutive days.
3. Improper maintenance: In an effort to save money, it is not uncommon for a trucking company to again ignore Federal and Florida guidelines concerning proper maintenance of the tractor-trailer. Brakes, safety lights and reflectors must be checked regularly. A carrier that fails to routinely inspect such items and keep an up to date log on maintenance of the aforementioned items, runs the risk of being liable for a truck accident. There are a number of claims that can be pursued against the trucking company for lack of maintenance such as the failure to install a back up warning system, failure to make use of safe ingress and egress at the top of the tanker and failure to use proper lights and reflectors to illuminate the sides and rear of the tractor-trailer.
4. Inexperienced or poorly trained driver: At Dolman Law Group, we are committed to obtaining the driver’s employment file as soon as possible to decipher their experience in operating a semi-truck, their employment history including discipline from the employer as well as violations of Federal or Florida law. Further, we will dig into their past employment history to determine whether the trucking company was negligent in its retention of the driver. Were there any red flags in the driver’s past that should have concerned the company?
5. Speeding: Many truck drivers fail to adhere to posted speed limits due in part to unreasonable demands placed on them by the trucking company that has employed their services. Further, we often learn of truck drivers that will rush through a trip in order to complete their work and be done. Unfortunately, trucks require a much greater stopping distance than an ordinary automobile. When you factor in excessive speed, you can see why a truck driver would experience extreme difficulty in reacting to a sudden traffic maneuver or situation. Excessive speed is a contributing factor to many truck accidents in Florida. Section 392.6 of the CFR expressly prohibits a trucking company from scheduling runs by a trucker between locations that would clearly require the driver to travel at an excessive speed. Section 392.71 of the CFR bans the use of radars by truckers or commercial vehicle operators.
6. Drugs/alcohol: Whether it’s the solitary lonely nature of the job or the pressures associated with stringent requirements and constant demands, drugs and alcohol related trucking accidents have become far too common. Stimulants (“uppers”) are used by truckers to stay awake and alert for extended hours. However, truck drivers often overuse stimulants which creates a very dangerous condition.
I have referenced just a few of the many contributing factors behind semi-truck accidents in Florida. If you have been physically injured as a result of the negligence exhibited by a tractor-trailer driver or trucking company, call the injury lawyers at Dolman Law Group for a free consultation and case evaluation.