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Factors Behind Rise in Deadly Tractor-Trailer Crashes, Difficulties in Victims' Cases

By: Dan Hausman

After years of a reduced number of deaths from large truck crashes across the U.S., the number of fatalities has risen back to 2008 levels according to the most recent data published by the U.S. Department of Transportation (“DOT”). Alarmingly, people who were not occupants of the trucks themselves made up 83% of the total deaths. 72% were in other vehicles and 11% were not occupying any vehicle as they were pedestrians or bicyclists.

Crashes involving trucks are clearly very different from crashes involving only smaller vehicles – differences which can increase risks of serious and fatal consequences, and the challenges victims and families face in the aftermath. Some of those differences are outlined below.

Severity of Damages

Crashes or accidents involving large trucks and 18 wheelers are typically much more likely to cause serious and catastrophic injuries. The physics behind weights in excess of 40 tons and high highway speeds slamming into smaller vehicles often lead to devastating damages. Even very low speed crashes or accidents can lead to severe injury. Cars or pedestrians can get stuck in the under carriage of a truck due to the height of the truck.

Unfortunately, as we discussed in a recent blog, even though the risks are well-known and fatality rates are on the rise, federal regulators are falling short in stemming the tide to pass rules which address these types of issues. That includes laws requiring side-underride guards to prevent victims from sliding under commercial rigs, employing crash avoidance technology proven to reduce the severity of damages, and implementing other highly recommended safety improvements.

The Complexity of the Crash

Large truck crashes are complicated for numerous reasons. Large truck crashes or accidents often involve multiple vehicles because the trucks are so large that they impact many vehicles when something goes wrong. Both federal and state laws are implicated in truck crashes and deal with issues such as insurance, record keeping and driving logs, and maintenance standards. The weight and size of the load and safety equipment on a truck are also factors in crashes and must be examined as quickly as possible, along with black boxes or other recording devices, after a crash.

Driver Safety

Encouragingly, large truck drivers appear to be safer drivers according to the DOT. Large truck drivers involved in fatal crashes had a blood alcohol level over the legal limit in 2% of cases whereas other vehicle type drivers had an over the limit blood alcohol level in over 20% of cases. Large truck drivers also had fewer recorded suspensions or revocations of driver licenses and fewer speeding convictions when compared to drivers of other vehicle types when considering the amount of time spent on the road. Additionally, many truck driver’s takes safety courses as part of fulfilling the requirements for employment and to hold a Commercial Driver License.

Unfortunately, large truck drivers can be pushed beyond their limits due to over scheduling and other demands of their job. Sometimes truck drivers are taking simulants or are too tired to drive safely.

The Difficulty of Obtaining Compensation

Finally, even when someone has done nothing wrong and is severely injured, or when families lose a loved one to wrongful death, they often have difficulty getting the justice they deserve. Beyond the fault attributable to the truck driver, a single truck has many companies that may also be liable for a specific crash including the owner of the truck, the dispatcher, and the maintenance company. These companies all have their own attorneys and insurance companies who often point the finger at each other. Sorting through the blame game can be quite complicated.

CSCS: Serving Victims Across the DC Region

As a firm that represents car accident and truck accident victims in difficult cases throughout Maryland, Virginia, and the District of Columbia, Chaikin, Sherman, Cammarata & Siegel, P.C. is available to help anyone who is involved in a crash involving a large truck. Our team of experienced attorneys can help you better understand your rights and available options. If you or anyone you know has been injured in a large truck collision, you should contact the personal injury attorneys at Chaikin, Sherman, Cammarata & Siegel, P.C. for a free consultation.