Even though truck accident numbers are increasing, truck safety has improved over the past two decades. The driver has enhanced accident-prevention technology. However, in the absence of federal regulations that require specific systems, these safety options are optional. It is up to the trucking company to make the investments necessary to keep their trucks from injuring motorists and their passengers.
Economically, investing in safety should make sense for trucking companies. Large lawsuit verdicts threaten to put them out of business. There have been many cases where juries have issued “nuclear verdicts” that bankrupted trucking companies that did not have the assets to pay them.
Many trucking companies will not spend the money it takes on systems that enhance the safety of their trucks, as they are an expense that can cut back on profits. Some trucking companies will regret this choice when their drivers cause severe injuries in accidents that were avoidable with safety technology. Then, the trucking company can face massive liability when one of its drivers causes an accident.
Here are some ways a trucking company can make a truck safer, either through investment in technology or people and processes.
Hire More Experienced Drivers
There are no two ways around it; truck driver wages are increasing as there is a shortage of qualified truck drivers. Experienced operators can command higher wages because there are not enough of them to go around. Trucking companies compensate for spiraling wages by hiring less experienced drivers, who earn less. This is a foolish approach because poor safety will affect the bottom line more.
Hiring experienced drivers is an investment in safety. While these drivers cost more, they have a track record and know-how to operate these large vehicles.
On the flip side, cutting corners to hire newer drivers because they make less puts motorists at risk. It also puts the trucking company in legal jeopardy because these newer drivers have a far greater chance of causing an accident. Truck drivers with less than five years of experience are 41 percent more likely to cause a crash.
Perform Vigorous Checks on Drivers
Trucking companies have many obligations when they hire new drivers. In addition to each driver needing a CDL license and training courses, trucking companies must strictly check on the people they employ. The first check is of the driver’s safety history. Trucking companies must check driving records for three years before hiring a driver. If the driver has a poor safety record, the trucking company should think twice about hiring them in the face of obvious red flags. In addition, the trucking company must perform drug and alcohol tests on their drivers.
Trucking companies should not overlook a history of safety violations because they need warm bodies to throw behind the wheel. After all, operators are driving 80,000-pound vehicles that far outweigh the cars they may potentially hit. Cutting corners on background checks and compromising safety standards can cost far more money than they save.
Perform All Necessary Maintenance
Even the slightest malfunction can cause a severe crash because it is such a large vehicle. The first thing that comes to mind is that one tire blowout can cause the truck driver to lose control of the vehicle and hit another car. There are many maintenance requirements trucking companies and truck drivers must follow.
Before the driver even heads out onto the road, they must perform specific checks of vital parts of the truck. If they find anything wrong, they must report it. They are not allowed to repair their own trucks.
The trucking company has a legal obligation to keep the truck working properly.
Extensive federal regulations govern truck inspections and maintenance:
- Trucking companies must periodically inspect, maintain and repair all vehicles subject to their control
- Accessories and parts must always be in safe working condition at all times
- Truck drivers must not operate commercial vehicles in a manner that might cause a crash or breakdown
When trucking companies cut back on maintenance to save money, it often comes back to bite their bottom line, either due to an enforcement penalty or a lawsuit. Investing in maintenance is a smart way to protect the trucking company from liability.
Follow Regulations in Loading Cargo
Even if the driver does everything right, the truck’s cargo can cause an accident. Again, federal regulations dictate strict measures that crews must follow when loading cargo. Loaders must properly tie down cargo using structures of adequate strength.
Proper cargo loading is critical for several reasons:
- If cargo is unbalanced or moves while the truck is in operation, it can cause a truck rollover.
- Cargo can spill from the truck onto the roadway, causing driver crashes.
Trucking companies may outsource cargo loading, and the third party will be legally responsible if improper cargo loading causes an accident. In addition, you can hold the trucking company responsible if it negligently hired a cargo loader.
Blind-Spot Detection Systems
Trucks have large blind spots both in front and behind them, and along each side of the trailer. The truck driver will have difficulty seeing the first 20 feet in front of the truck and 30 feet behind it. The lack of vision makes it difficult for the truck to change lanes. Inexperienced drivers may struggle when relying on their mirrors to alert them a car is in a blind spot.
A blind-spot detection system has sensors on the mirrors and bumpers that alert a truck driver when a vehicle is in a blind spot. The driver will receive an alert. Then, the system may beep or give another warning if a truck driver changes lanes when a car is in a blind spot. These warnings keep a truck from hitting a driver or forcing them out of their lane when trying to change lanes.
Blind-spot detection systems can be expensive to buy and maintain. The network of sensors is complex, and they often need replacements. However, they reduce the chances of a serious or possibly deadly blind spot accident.
Collision Warning Systems
A collision warning system will alert a truck driver when the risk of an accident rises. This system can help operators who may not see the danger, either because they have made a judgment error or are distracted. Collision warning systems also help truckers on long journeys who may become distracted. These systems do not substitute for following rest rules, but they are another tool drivers have to help avoid accidents.
Collision warning systems are often on newer trucks. Most trucking companies have not retrofitted their older fleets to include this technology because they do not want to spend the money.
Automatic braking systems will apply the brakes when the computer senses a truck accident is imminent. The braking can either stop the truck entirely or slow the truck down to reduce the accident’s severity.
Trucks take far longer to bring to a stop, given their size and weight. If truck drivers are distracted, even a split-second delay in applying the brakes can mean the truck has an accident.
Automatic braking systems can practically end rear-end truck collisions. One study found automatic braking systems cut rear-end collisions by nearly 75 percent. Right now, these systems are not mandatory for trucks. The hope is that future regulations can mandate automatic braking systems to protect the public from tired and distracted drivers who either do not attempt to brake in time or misjudge their stopping distance.
Electronic Logging Device Compliance
Truck drivers must follow strict federal rules about hours of service limitations. Operators must take mandatory rest breaks, and their shifts cannot exceed certain durations. In the past, truckers manually kept a logbook that detailed their shifts. However, manual books are insufficient to protect the public. They may be subject to falsification.
Now, trucks have an electronic system that tracks the time the truck is in operation. Some trucks even have devices that do not allow drivers to start the truck if they violate the federal rules. This system is the equivalent of an ignition interlock that tests drivers with a history of DUI.
This lock is in use on very few trucks. Nonetheless, investing in upgraded technology to keep drivers from violating federal rules because of the delivery pressure feel can reduce fatigued driving accidents. Nonetheless, these devices are not substitutes for good judgment and the driver taking necessary rests.
Lane Departure Warning
Fatigued or distracted drivers may drift out of their lane. Truck drivers may have difficulty stabilizing their truck and keeping it straight. A lane departure warning system will alert the driver when the truck veers out of its lane. This can allow the driver the correct course. If the driver has lost concentration, the sudden sound can force them to regain focus.
These systems have mounted cameras that track lane dividers and the truck’s position. Lane departure warning systems are complicated pieces of technology that require some investment. However, since many truck accidents happen due to drifting trucks, the investment is well worth it because it protects the truck and the trucking company. Lane departure warning systems are perhaps the most effective measures to combat distracted trucking accidents.
Stability Control System
Truck rollovers are a common and dangerous type of accident. There are several causes of rollovers:
- The driver makes a steering error
- The cargo is improperly loaded, causing the center of gravity to shift
- An inexperienced driver misjudges a turn
Stability control systems are a required feature on later trucks in the wake of a 2015 federal regulation. Trucking companies can still retrofit older vehicles with this crucial device.
The stability control system can prevent rollovers by performing two major functions:
- Manipulates the engine throttle
- Manipulates the brakes over each wheel
Studies show these devices can prevent thousands of truck accidents each year. NHTSA has proposed making stability control systems mandatory for passenger cars and light trucks. These systems are also mandatory for trucks built after 2015, although trucking companies are not required to retrofit older trucks to install this system. However, for purposes of safety, trucking companies should consider this investment.
Accidents involving a car that ends up under a truck are extremely devastating. These accidents can shear off the top of the car, decapitating motorists.
Underride guards help lessen the chance a car driver can end up under the truck when they crash into the back of a tractor-trailer. These guards are not yet a requirement by law, but there is proposed legislation for such requirements that legislators may enact in the future. Underride guards do not require a large investment, but they can cut the risk of a catastrophic accident.
Again, it is up to the trucking how much to spend on certain safety features when they are not a federal requirement. Trucking companies must comply with all federal rules, but they may not want to pay for the “extras.” They may regret it when they face an angry jury and a sympathetic plaintiff who suffered serious injuries in an accident.
These safety devices lower the chances that a truck driver can be negligent and can save an operator from their lack of skill or poor judgment. If the truck driver was negligent, and you or a loved one suffered injuries, you may have the right to financial compensation. First, you need to contact an experienced truck accident lawyer for a free consultation.
A lawyer can determine whom you can hold liable for your losses. That is often the trucking company. Even if trucking companies took all possible safety measures, they are still liable for the mistakes and negligence of employees – the truck drivers. You want a truck accident attorney who knows how to investigate truck crashes, gather evidence of negligence, and prove liability so you can seek compensation.
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