What Should Drivers Know About Truck Accidents in Maryland?April 30, 2021
Just by the sheer size of the vehicle, an accident with a truck is far more dangerous to all the humans involved, from the drivers and passengers involved directly, to nearby pedestrians. Vehicles and any nearby property could also be severely damaged in the collision.
With 4,119 fatalities due to truck collisions in 2019, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) reports that the overwhelming majority of deaths in truck accidents involve passenger vehicle occupants, accounting for 67 percent of truck accident deaths. IIHS reported a 31 percent increase in truck accident-related deaths from 2009 to 2019.
With a vehicle that weighs roughly 20 times more than other vehicles on the road and is tall enough for small vehicles to slide under, there are potentially deadly dangers for cars in front, on the side, and behind trucks on the road.
According to a 2020 report by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), large trucks accounted for five percent of registered vehicles and nine percent of vehicle miles traveled in 2019.
The demand for expeditious trucking trips is even more prevalent during this ongoing pandemic than it was before. In a world in which many avoid stores and shops, the American public has grown increasingly dependent on timely home and office delivery of nearly everything needed at home or work. The growing demand for quick delivery has spurred massive growth for delivery companies such as Amazon.
That means more trucks on the road, more often. And unlike many of the cars on the road, truckers are operating under tight deadlines and working long hours behind the wheel.
Reasons for Truck Accidents
Truck accidents happen in much the same way car accidents do, for reasons that are the driver’s responsibility, another driver’s responsibility, a mechanical problem, or a road condition. However, the massive difference in size between a truck and a car make the damage from a collision all the more devastating.
Some of the reasons for accidents cited by trucking and auto safety advocates most often include the following:
Truck driver fatigue. According to the IIHS, truck driver fatigue is a well-established factor in truck collisions. It is termed by the IIHS as a known risk.
Although the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) agency of the Department of Transportation (DOT) has instituted trucking regulations that require drivers get a 30-minute break from driving after eight hours behind the wheel, as well as limiting drivers’ hours to 14 hours on the road per day, with a mandatory daily time frame of 10 hours out of the truck and no more than 60 hours per work week driving total, that is still a lot of time behind the wheel.
The FMCSA has required trucks to be equipped with electronic logging devices since 2017, so if a trucker is violating the hours of service regulations, it is provable.
There is no denying that truckers are operating under strict deadlines for delivering the goods they are transporting. Accidents are more likely when people are operating from stress or sleep-deprived; many truckers are both.
Truck braking capability. It takes trucks significantly longer to stop than cars, particularly if the truck is not getting regular tune-ups to ensure the braking system is working as it should. Poor brakes work even more poorly under environmental challenges such as snow, rain, and ice, or rough road conditions such as potholes, grade changes, and abrupt lane shifts.
For this reason, many auto safety advocates are pushing for automatic emergency braking (AEB) systems to be required for trucks. Currently, many carriers have put them to use in their fleet, but not all trucks have them and it is not a requirement.
The Truck Safety Coalition, citing two major un-named carriers who instituted AEB systems, said that both carriers saw a 70 percent reduction in rear-end collisions, when a truck hits the vehicle in front, with the AEB in place.
Truck underride guards may be inadequate. Since 1953, trucks have been required to have a safety feature, a metal bar called an underride guard, which is designed to protect people in passenger vehicles from the particularly horrendous prospect of sliding under the truck in the event of an accident.
In 2019, the Government Accountability Office (GAO), citing its own research, called for mandatory annual inspections of the underride guards and asked the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to conduct research on the value of side underride guards for passenger cars driving beside a truck and asked that NHTSA list underride collisions as a data field in collision reports.
The GAO 2019 report stated at the outset that its research points to an underreporting of this kind of collision. The report stated that researchers told GAO that underride accidents likely happen more often than the DOT’s data suggests. Of course, when something is underreported or not even considered as part of the data on some government reports for crash incidents, consumers do not have a clear picture on how many people are impacted by underride collisions, or how big a difference underride guards make on roadway safety.
Improperly loaded cargo. If cargo shifts during transport, it can cause a driver to lose control, swerve, or rollover, which could crush nearby cars. Truck tip-overs can mean cargo spilled all over the road, which causes a road hazard for motorists who may not have time to react and avoid the goods on the road.
Trucking company negligence. A collision may not be the result of a driver’s actions or inactions, but of a vehicle that is not safe for the road. If a company puts an unsafe, uninspected vehicle on the highway, that company needs to be held accountable for resulting accidents.
Tire blowouts. As with a passenger vehicle, if a tire blows out on the road, the best scenario one can hope for is to be able to pull over to the side of the road without involving any other automobiles in the process of getting there.
Aggressive driving/reckless driving. This has become more of an issue, with heavy traffic patterns testing an individual’s patience behind the wheel. Sometimes reckless driving would be acceptable under different circumstances than the one that resulted in an accident. For instance, a significant grade change requires a truck to break significantly. If that does not happen, the trucker gains significant speed heading downhill, significantly more so than a car because of the heaviness of the vehicle.
Dangerous road conditions. Winter weather conditions and rain require caution, sometimes requiring pulling over until it is safe to proceed.
Distracted driving. There has been a very public effort to make drivers aware of the dangers of distracted driving. Human beings are bad at multitasking despite constant attempts to make it work. Focusing for a few seconds on something other than the road, or taking a hand off the wheel to answer a phone call or adjust the radio, could easily lead to an accident.
Driving under the influence. Drinking and drug use while behind the wheel can be deadly. Even prescription drugs can cause a driver to be impaired. Driving a truck requires all the senses to be working optimally.
Who is Liable in a Truck Accident?
When a person is injured in a truck accident, the injuries are often traumatic and the health care needed to heal from the injuries is incredibly expensive.
In addition to that, a truck accident victim is likely to lose time at work and need vehicle repairs. These expenses can be tallied up, but it may seem more difficult to come up with a price tag for emotional pain and psychological trauma. In essence, putting a price to this is asking for money for therapy and counseling.
The question of who to hold liable for these costs depends on the circumstances of the accident. If a truck driver tests positive for drugs at the accident scene, the legal team has a clear picture of the responsible party.
However, trucking, like so many other businesses, has become very complex with the growing dependence on independent contractors to avoid having the trucker as a staff member. This allows the company to avoid paying for health care costs and avoid liability in a collision.
In an attempt to make liability even murkier, many trucking companies lease the trucks they use, and so are not the owners of the trucks.
Federal law puts responsibility for accidents involving trucks on the company that owns the trucking permit. If the company placard is displayed on the vehicle, that company is liable in an accident.
Therefore, there are a number of parties that may be held responsible:
- The truck driver
- The truck company
- The person that leased the truck from the owner
- The manufacturer of the truck, or of defective parts of the truck
- The loading company if the accident was caused by unsecured cargo.
Baltimore Truck Accident Lawyers at LeViness, Tolzman & Hamilton Fight for Victims of Truck Accidents
If you or a loved one is a victim of a truck accident in Maryland, contact the Baltimore truck accident lawyers at LeViness, Tolzman & Hamilton. We have been fighting for victims of truck accidents for more than 30 years. Our team will work tirelessly to secure the maximum compensation for which you are entitled. Call us today at 800-547-4LAW (4529) or contact us online.
Our offices are conveniently located in Baltimore, Columbia, Glen Burnie, and Prince George’s County, where we represent victims throughout Maryland, including those in Anne Arundel County, Carroll County, Harford County, Howard County, Montgomery County, Prince George’s County, Queen Anne’s County, Maryland’s Western Counties, Southern Maryland and the Eastern Shore, as well as the communities of Catonsville, Essex, Halethorpe, Middle River, Rosedale, Gwynn Oak, Brooklandville, Dundalk, Pikesville, Parkville, Nottingham, Windsor Mill, Lutherville, Timonium, Sparrows Point, Ridgewood, and Elkridge.