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As Truck Accident Fatalities Increase, Federal Regulators Are Still Reluctant to Require Crash-Avoidance Technologies

By: Allan M. Siegel

Traffic collisions involving tractor-trailers and other large-scale commercial trucks are more likely to result in devastating outcomes, serious injuries, and death than motor vehicle wrecks involving smaller passenger vehicles. Because these risks are well known, there are numerous laws and regulations designed specifically to reduce them. Those which apply to interstate trucking operations are enforced by the federal government.

Our legal team at Chaikin, Sherman, Cammarata & Siegel, P.C. has seen many truck accidents result directly from the negligence and failures of truck drivers or trucking companies that fail to comply with the law, which is why we know commercial carrier regulations are and always will be of critical importance to public safety. Not only do they deter commercial trucking operators from taking dangerous shortcuts or making careless mistakes, and provide for accountability when they do, federal trucking regulations can also help reduce the severity of wrecks, or the risks for more catastrophic and deadly injuries.

Truck Accident Death Toll Rising in the U.S.

Unfortunately, as we’ve blogged about many times before, federal regulations don’t always go far enough to protect the public and ensure commercial carriers take steps they know can save lives. That’s been precisely the case when it comes to stagnated measures to mandate side underride guards on tractor-trailers and decisions to not implement regulations for truckers diagnosed with sleep apnea, a condition that makes them far more likely to crash than drivers without it. It’s also been the case with reputable and proven trucking safety technologies.

The consequences of not implementing safety measures that can and will protect the public are inevitably steep. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), for example, trucking accidents have been causing more and more fatalities over recent years. In 2016, accidents involving commercial trucks claimed the lives more than 4,300 people. That’s an almost 30% increase from the number of trucking-related deaths record in 2009. The steady rise in trucking accident cases being resolved through mega verdicts also speaks to the growing devastation of these wrecks.

Where Regulators Are Falling Short

The increasing number of trucking-related fatalities is a clear and concerning trend that demands intervention. But according to many advocates, lawmakers, and surviving relatives with loved ones killed in trucking collisions, those in position to intervene are consistently falling short. If those same fatality statistics were reported in connection to commercial airline accidents or even railroad and train accidents, they say, regulators would be scrambling to crack down.

Because that hasn’t been the case in the trucking industry, here are few examples of how federal regulatory oversight is falling short when it comes to safety technology:

  • Crash-Avoidance Technology – While trucking collisions can take many forms, experts agree wrecks where commercial carriers rear-end passenger vehicles are among the most dangerous and deadly. They may also be some of the easiest to prevent with new and readily available safety technologies, including crash-avoidance technology. Although crash-avoidance technology has been recommended for more than 20 years as a “Most Wanted” safety improvement by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), a federal agency that investigates major transportation accidents and makes recommendations to agencies with the power to pass and enforce regulations, the NHTSA still has yet to make them a mandatory feature on large commercial trucks. A standard feature in most consumer vehicles sold today, and a required feature in commercial trucks in the European Union and other countries, crash-avoidance technology has been proven help avoid and prevent read-end collisions. Still, federal regulators haven’t so much as proposed a regulatory update featuring the technology.
  • Automated Emergency BrakingSpeeding is one of the leading causes of preventable traffic accidents, and can increase the risks of deadly injuries. When speeding vehicles are commercial trucks that can weigh as much as 80,000 pounds, those risks increase exponentially. While some states enforce lower speed limits for trucks, research has shown required use of safety technologies like automated emergency braking can ensure there are proven measures in place when drivers don’t abide by the law. Not only can help prevent wrecks or rear-end collisions entirely, they can also reduce speeds in the critical moments leading up to a crash, reducing the force of impact and potential for more serious injuries.
  • Electronic Logs – While regulators recently implemented a new rule requiring interstate truck to use electronic logging devices as a means to improve oversight of Hours-of-Service violations and other rules, the trucking industry has vehemently opposed their use. Industry companies and lobbyists continually attack e-logs, and while they have not succeeded in having them dropped from the rulebook altogether, they are looking to expand on concessions they already worked for in order to exempt more carriers and reduce requirements. Those concessions, described by the industry as necessary “wiggle room,” are more about saving trucking operators money than they are about the logistics of compliance or, more importantly, public safety.

As experts note, these technologies have been implemented elsewhere with proven results, and would have a direct impact on stemming the rising numbers of truck accident fatalities in the U.S. While that may be clear to many, advocates say regulators are still dismissing recommendations due to purported ongoing research and testing. More likely, though, it’s the result of trucking industry and corporate lobbyists who flood money into politics as a means to protect their own interests.

CSCS: Fighting for Victims of Preventable Crashes

Raising awareness about these issues will be the greatest tool we have when it comes to passing meaningful regulations that can better protect public safety. Even then, preventable accidents, injuries, and deaths will remain serious risks, especially when those in a position to reduce them act negligently.

Chaikin, Sherman, Cammarata & Siegel, P.C. is a nationally recognized personal injury law firm that has represented many victims and families following commercial truck accidents. If you or someone you love has been injured in a collision involving a tractor-trailer or any other commercial vehicle, our award-winning legal team is available to help you take your first steps toward the justice and compensation you deserve. Call (202) 644-8303 or contact us online to request a free case evaluation.