Truck Driver Negligence: Collision Causes and Accident Lawsuits
There are many causes of 18-wheeler and semi-truck accidents, yet we have found that five particular causes tend to be the most common. These crash causes are:
- Hours of Service Violations
- Reckless Driving
- Driving While Intoxicated (DWI)
- Texting While Driving
- Improper Vehicle Maintenance
We at Reed & Terry, LLP have helped families from Sugar Land, Richmond, Katy, and Houston collect damages following a collision with a large truck. Let’s take a moment to examine each of these causes of large truck accidents and how to prove driver negligence.
1. Hours of Service Violations
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) set up hours of service regulations for passenger-carrying or property-carrying drivers. These regulations set limits on the amount of time spent on the road without a break in order to prevent driver fatigue and to keep roads safer in the process.
For truck drivers, the basics of these hours of service regulations are as follows:
- Truck drivers can be on duty for 14 hours a day total (including mandatory breaks)
- Of that 14 hours on duty, a truck driver can only drive for 11 hours maximum
- There is a mandatory 30-minute break whenever a driver is behind the wheel for eight straight hours
- Truck drivers are not permitted to work after 60 hours on duty for seven consecutive days or 70 hours on duty after eight consecutive days
These driving windows and duty windows can be extended if adverse weather conditions are present and the circumstances necessitate additional time on the road.
Driver Fatigue: Falling Asleep Behind the Wheel
The dangers of driver fatigue should not be underestimated. According to a survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 1 in 25 adult drivers admitted to falling asleep behind the wheel in the last 30 days.
Given the rigors of the commercial trucking industry, truck drivers are more likely to fall asleep while operating their vehicles.
Negligence from Violating Hours of Service Regulations
When truck drivers ignore these hours of service regulations, they put themselves and everyone on the road in danger. A lawyer can review the driver’s hours and use any violations as evidence of negligence.
2. Reckless Driving
Reckless driving and poor decisions made behind the wheel contribute to many accidents in and around Houston. When the driver of a large truck drives irresponsibly or aggressively, the dangers are increased. The sheer mass and size of a tractor-trailer mean multiple vehicles could be affected by a truck driver’s actions.
Examples of Reckless Driving
- Improper passing
- Excessive lane changes
- Failure to yield
- Disregarding traffic signs or signals
In addition to the above, truck drivers may fail to check their side mirrors for adjacent vehicles, which could lead to potentially fatal side-impact crashes.
Hit-and-Run Accidents with Large Trucks
Some reckless drivers may attempt to flee the site of a collision. This even applies to drivers of semi-trucks.
You may wonder about legal options when a large truck has hit your vehicle, whether on the road or while it’s parked. We previously explored what to do after a hit-and-run accident on this blog. Our law offices in Sugar Land, Katy, and Richmond can potentially help.
3. Driving While Intoxicated (DWI)
Driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol is incredibly dangerous. According to numbers from the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT), alcohol contributed to 4,922 crashes in 2021, including 365 fatal collisions. Drug use behind the wheel contributed to 1,199 crashes in 2021.
When truck drivers use drugs or alcohol while they are on duty, they are putting countless Texans at risk. This kind of negligent behavior cannot be permitted by people driving such large and unwieldy vehicles, and our law firm will be sure to seek full compensation for the victims of a drunk driving accident.
The Legal Limit Is Different for Commercial Vehicle Drivers
Truck drivers are held to a different standard when it comes to intoxicated driving. The legal limit for regular commuters is a .08 blood alcohol content (BAC). If you hold a commercial driver's license (CDL), your legal limit is just .04 BAC. This lower legal limit also applies to all people with a CDL while they are outside of on-duty/work hours.
The lower legal limit for truck drivers helps enforce sobriety and greater responsibility while they are behind the wheel.
Related Issues When It Comes to Liability for Drunk Driving Crashes
Drunk driving liability can be complicated. We previously explored legal responsibility in a drunk driving crash on this blog, which notes possible third-party liability for collisions in certain circumstances.
4. Texting While Driving
Using a cell phone while driving a truck can prove deadly. Not only are the truck driver’s hands occupied with their phone, but their eyes are also on the screen instead of staying on the road. Even though a driver may be looking at their phone for just three or four seconds while texting, their vehicle covers a lot of distance in that time.
For perspective, it’s estimated that a truck traveling at highway speeds can cover the length of a football field in about five seconds. That’s a lot of road to cover without a driver paying attention.
Distractions Behind the Wheel Can Be Deadly
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), distracted driving caused 3,522 fatalities in 2021. This number encompasses all sorts of distractions behind the wheel in addition to texting while driving.
Other potential distractions that could result in a large truck crash include:
- Rubbernecking - Gawking at accidents, stopped vehicles, pedestrians, or other things on the side of the road draws a driver’s attention away from the road and possible hazards up ahead.
- Eating While Driving - Truck drivers have long days and nights behind the wheel, and snacking is common. Eating certain kinds of foods that take hands off the wheel and eyes off the road could cause distractions that have deadly results.
- Personal Hygiene While Operating a Truck - Checking hair, cleaning teeth, and other kinds of personal grooming habits while driving can lead to an accident.
- Reaching for Objects in the Vehicle - When a truck driver needs something that is just out of reach, it could lead to yanking on the wheel and taking eyes off the road. Even a brief lunge for something could be dangerous.
- Fiddling with Knobs or Dials While the Vehicle Is in Motion - Whether it’s changing the radio station or trying to adjust a navigation system, brief moments of inattention could spell the difference between safety and a collision.
5. Improper Vehicle Maintenance
Like any other vehicle on the road, large trucks require regular service and maintenance. This helps ensure the semi trucks are in proper working order, reducing the risk of crashes because of mechanical failures.
Yet some large trucks wind up going unrepaired, allowing problems to persist. This could lead to dangerous tire blowouts or tread separations, longer stopping times, poor maneuverability, or even jackknife accidents.
Is the Trucking Company or the Truck Driver to Blame?
Both parties could be to blame.
Truck drivers are expected to inspect their own vehicles daily in case urgent repairs are required. Trucking companies with their own fleets of vehicles are expected to do the same. In addition, any repairs and inspections need to be logged and recorded.
There is also the possibility that the maintenance person doing repairs on the vehicle was negligent in their job. Faulty work by a mechanic or service technician could make that person liable or partially liable for a large truck accident.
A Related Issue: Defective Auto Parts
We should also note the possibility of defective or malfunctioning auto parts contributing to a crash. Low-quality tires, faulty steering systems, bad brakes, and similar issues could all be contributing factors in a collision.
When the parts of a large truck are the cause of a crash, the designers or manufacturers of said parts can be held legally liable for an accident.
Proportionate Responsibility: Will This Affect Large Truck Accident Litigation?
The state of Texas has a proportionate responsibility statute in place. This law acknowledges that one party in a crash may not be 100% at fault for a collision occurring. The amount of blame in a crash could even affect the amount of money awarded in court during a civil lawsuit.
In basic terms, when a person is found to be 51% responsible for a collision, the jury will not award that person any legal damages in a trial.
It makes sense that a person who is mostly at fault for a crash can't collect legal damages in that accident. So what could proportionate responsibility mean in your truck accident lawsuit?
Say that a truck driver violated hours of service regulations but was otherwise abiding by the rules of the road. A crash at an intersection occurred because you ran a red light and collided with that driver's truck. Even if a truck driver was being negligent, you may not be able to win damages in a civil trial given how your actions contributed more to this particular collision.
Other Potential Causes of Truck Crashes
Keep in mind that there are many other factors that could come into play when drivers are involved in an accident with a large truck.
Tailgating and failure to yield at intersections may also be contributing factors to a semi-truck collision. Bad weather conditions or poor road conditions are also worth noting, especially given how challenging it can be to drive a large truck. We should also note that multiple contributing factors could have occurred, which could muddy the notion of negligence and liability from a legal standpoint.
This complexity is why it’s crucial for skilled legal representatives to conduct a full investigation with any evidence available.
Why You Need to Speak with a Semi-Truck Accident Lawyer
Trucking companies have high-paid legal teams in place who will attempt to minimize settlement payments. Going it alone against high-paid corporate lawyers is a real David and Goliath story, but one that may not end well.
Having a skilled truck accident attorney on your side helps level the playing field. A seasoned legal professional won’t be intimidated by corporate representatives. It’s crucial to have a true advocate on your side who knows how to leverage federal and state laws to aid in tough negotiations.
Pick Lawyers with a Proven Track Record
As you’re deciding which attorney should represent you, be sure to do your homework. Find a lawyer who is trustworthy and has legal credentials and achievements that convey their expertise in truck accident litigation.
Attorney Travis Terry and I have worked on numerous truck accident cases around Sugar Land, Richmond, Katy, and even Houston, TX. Over the years, we’ve helped clients achieve successful verdicts and favorable pre-trial settlements, allowing them to cover financial losses and move forward with their lives.
Good Legal Representation Is Within Reach
We know the cost of hiring a lawyer can be high, which is why we offer the following at our law offices in Sugar Land, Richmond, and Katy, TX:
- Free Case Reviews - Your initial consultation at our law firm is free of charge. No obligations–just tell your story and let us give you an honest opinion about what steps you should take next.
- Contingency Fee Basis - If you hire us, you won’t have to pay a retainer fee. In fact, you won’t have to pay us anything unless we can successfully settle your case or collect damages in court.
In short: our law firm eliminates the financial hurdles associated with high-quality legal representation. You owe us nothing unless we can win for you.
Did a Negligent Trucker Hit You?
Contact Our Lawyers Today
If you were hit by a negligent trucker, our lawyers are here to help. Our attorneys have assisted numerous motorists injured in crashes throughout the greater Houston area. To discuss your case in a free consultation, contact Reed & Terry, LLP today.
About Jackson R. Reed
Attorney Jackson R. Reed has served clients since 1994. He is a member of the American Trial Lawyers Association (ATLA), the Texas Trial Lawyers Association (TTLA), the Houston Trial Lawyers Association (HTLA), and the State Bar of Texas.