Addressing Causes of Fatal Truck Crashes

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Several common causes of catastrophic trucking accidents are the subject of potential legislative fixes currently making their way through Congress.

The U.S. House of Representatives is working on a five-year roadmap for improving the nation’s infrastructure, including addressing crumbling bridges and roads.  Defective and improperly maintained roadways often contribute to serious car and truck crashes.

But this latest effort to improve our nation’s physical infrastructure – and other separately proposed bills - include measures that go beyond unsafe roads in tackling other contributing factors in deadly semi-truck crashes.

Distracted Truck Drivers and Rear-End Crashes

Some lawmakers are backing efforts to mandate crash-avoidance technology on 18-wheelers. These efforts are not new; they were proposed in previous legislation but dropped amid heavy trucking opposition.

The Protecting Roadside First Responders Act requires automatic emergency braking systems on new, large commercial trucks.  These systems automatically detect obstacles ahead and warn the driver to brake.  If the driver takes no action, the system slows down the rig automatically.

Truck drivers distracted by their cell phones or other causes may not slow down when approaching traffic tie-ups, leading to catastrophic rear-end crashes.  The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety last September reported that Automatic Emergency Braking (“AEB”) systems reduced rear-end truck crashes by 41%.

The National Transportation Safety Board, the federal agency that investigates catastrophic air, road, boat and railway accidents and provides recommendations on how to prevent them, earlier this year urged the trucking industry to adopt AEB systems as part of its “Top 10 Most Wanted List of Transportation Safety Improvements for 2021-2022.”  The NTSB wants all new vehicles – including commercial tractor-trailers – to have AEB systems as a way to avoid serious crashes.

Speeding Truck Drivers

Another item on the NTSB’s 2021-2022 Top 10 safety improvement list is eliminating speed-related crashes, noting that between 2009 and 2018, speeding drivers accounted for one-third of all motor vehicle accident deaths.

Newly proposed federal legislation – the Cullum Owings Large Truck Safe Operating Speed Act of 2019 - calls for speed limiters on commercial trucks to slow down speeding truck drivers, who pose grave dangers to other drivers and passengers based on the immense weight of their rigs.

One organization, the Commercial Vehicle Safely Alliance, is focused on improving trucking safety.  This year it will conduct an event to help stop speeding truck drivers.

“Operation Safe Driver Week” is set for July 11-17, 2021.  Law enforcement will be looking for dangerous truck drivers, with a particular emphasis on speeding truckers, according to the CVSA.

U.S. truck drivers received nearly 4,700 tickets during last year’s Operation Safe Driver Week.  Tickets for speeding were the most common citations given to truck drivers.

Other common driving citations given to truckers were:

  • Failure to obey a traffic control device
  • Calling or texting on a hand-held cell phone
  • Improper lane change

And while not calling for AEB on all new trucks, the CVSA is concerned with dangerous truck brakes. So much so it also conducts its annual “Brake Safety Week,” with this year’s to be held in August.

Over 35,000 U.S. big rigs were inspected during last year’s event, with 13% receiving out-of-service violations for unsafe brakes.  These are so serious that rigs are unable to get back on the road until the repairs are made.

Truckers with Sleep Apnea

Tired truckers can cause deadly accidents.  Among over-the-road truckers, one leading cause of fatigue is sleep apnea.  Based on a number of factors, many truckers suffer from this sleep-depriving condition. It can obstruct air passages, which interrupts nightly sleep repeatedly, leading to extreme fatigue during the day.

Truck drivers are not presently required to be tested for sleep apnea, a medical condition that is treatable.  Some federal lawmakers last year addressed this in legislation that ultimately did not pass.  They may try again this year as a way to prevent overly tired truckers from taking the wheel.

Tired truckers, speeding truckers, distracted truck drivers, and unsafe truck brakes are all causes of catastrophic crashes. If you were seriously hurt or had a family member die in a commercial truck accident, turn to an experienced truck accident lawyer to represent your legal rights to just compensation from all responsible parties.

The choice of a lawyer is an important decision that should not be based solely on advertisements.

Authored by Gray Ritter Graham, posted in Articles June 1, 2021

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