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Understanding Commercial Vehicle Accidents

Wagner Reese

A car accident with another passenger vehicle can be a traumatic and confusing experience. A car accident involving a commercial vehicle can be even more complicated, since there are parties other than the driver that may be at fault. Get the facts on commercial vehicle accidents so you know how to protect your rights on the road.

Truck and Bus Accident Facts and Stats

According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), there were approximately 450,000 police-reported crashes involving large trucks in 2017, and 4,889 large trucks and buses were involved in fatal accidents in that year alone. That constituted a 9% increase from the previous year.

Fatal crashes involving large trucks often occur in rural areas and on interstate highways, with 57% of all fatal crashes involving large trucks taking place in rural areas, 27% on interstate highways, and 13% in both. 

Due to the vulnerability of smaller cars when compared to massive semi-trailer trucks, most deaths in these types of accidents are passenger vehicle occupants. Tractor-trailers typically weigh 30-40 times more than a typical passenger car and as such, bear much greater force when traveling at high speeds on the highway. This also makes such trucks’ braking ability a major factor in crashes; trucks require 20-40% more distance than cars to stop, which makes it difficult for truck drivers to maneuver their vehicle swiftly in an accident.

Another major factor in truck accidents is drowsiness on the part of truck drivers. While federal regulations mandate that truckers may only drive in 11-hour stretches, surveys indicate that many drivers violate these laws and drive longer than recommended.

All of these varying factors are why commercial vehicle accidents are more complicated than traditional passenger vehicle accidents. If the trucker’s employer told them to get to a destination in a certain period of time, and the trucker could only do so by exceeding federal hours-of-service regulations, then the trucker’s company may be held liable in the event of an accident. If the truck’s tires or braking system were improperly maintained, the truck’s owner, manufacturer, or mechanic may be held liable.

Common Causes of Trucking Accidents

A study conducted by FMCSA and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) examined the reasons for serious crashes involving large trucks, or trucks with a gross vehicle weight exceeding 10,000 pounds. While accident reconstruction experts rarely determine one factor as the cause of a particular crash, there are common trends.

In the study, researchers found that three major types of critical events occurred in accidents involving large trucks:

  • Running out of travel lane, either into another lane or off the road (32%).
  • Loss of vehicle control due to traveling too fast for conditions, cargo shift, vehicle systems failure, poor road conditions, or other reasons (29%).
  • Colliding with the rear end of another vehicle in the truck’s lane (22%).

Additionally, the study found that the critical reason trucking accidents occurred were due to driver error or non-performance (87%), vehicle issues or malfunction (10%), and environmental factors (3%).

Overall, the top 10 causes of trucking accidents included:

  1. Brake problems.
  1. Traffic flow interruption.
  1. Prescription drug use.
  1. Traveling too fast for conditions.
  1. Unfamiliarity with roadway.
  1. Roadway problems.
  1. Required to stop before crash (traffic control device, crosswalk).
  1. Over-the-counter drug use.
  1. Inadequate surveillance.
  1. Fatigue.

Liability in a Commercial Vehicle Accident

Depending on the unique circumstances involved, any of the following parties may be held liable for a commercial vehicle accident:

  • The commercial vehicle driver;
  • The driver’s employer;
  • The company that owns or leases the vehicle;
  • The person or company responsible for the vehicle’s maintenance; and/or
  • The vehicle’s manufacturer or the manufacturer of a certain vehicle part.

The Driver

If the commercial driver’s actions directly caused a crash, they may be held liable for the accident. Actions such as these include breaking traffic laws, voluntarily exceeding the hours-of-service regulations, driving while distracted or intoxicated, and more.

The Driver’s Company

If the accident occurred while the commercial motor vehicle’s driver was acting in the course and scope of his employment, the driver’s employer will also be liable. The driver’s employer may also be at fault if it can be proven that it did not complete inspections, did not follow safety regulations, or required the driver to operate longer than hours-of-service laws.

The Vehicle’s Cargo Loaders

Cargo loaders are expected to carefully load and secure cargo into a truck bed. If this is not done properly, the cargo may shift during the trip and make the truck unstable, which may lead to an accident.

The Vehicle’s Manufacturer

If a defect in the commercial vehicle causes an accident, the truck’s manufacturer may be held liable. Tire blowout, brake failure, and mechanical failure are all examples of potential vehicle manufacturer liability.

Determining Liability

Due to the number of parties involved in the commercial transportation industry, it can be difficult to pinpoint exactly who would be responsible in an accident involving a commercial vehicle. This is why it’s important to contact a qualified personal injury attorney who is well-versed in commercial vehicle accidents who can help you recover the compensation you deserve.

Protect Your Rights after an Accident

Just like in a passenger car accident, it’s important to take the necessary steps to protect your rights after an accident involving a commercial vehicle.

If you were involved in a commercial vehicle accident, make sure to do the following:

  • Stay at the scene. If you leave the scene of an accident, it’s considered a hit-and-run.
  • Check on all drivers and passengers. Check to see if anyone involved is in need of medical attention.
  • Contact the police. The police must be called if there is evidence of property damage, injury, or death.
  • Exchange information. Get names, phone numbers, addresses, drivers’ license numbers, license plate numbers, and insurance information from all drivers involved. Make sure to get as much information about the commercial driver’s employer as possible.
  • Inform your insurance company. Explain the details of the accident to your insurance company. Obtain any police report that has been filed and keep a detailed account of all conversations had been parties.
  • Seek medical attention and keep track of medical treatment. Keep records of medical appointments, medications, and treatments. Make a note of how your injuries have impacted your daily life. 
  • Take pictures. Photograph the accident scene, any damage caused by the accident, and any injuries, if possible. Photographic evidence may help determine who is at fault in case of disputes.
  • Avoid discussing the accident. You should never discuss an accident with anyone except your attorney.

Commercial vehicle accidents are complicated, but following these steps can help ensure your rights are protected. Contacting a qualified personal injury attorney can improve your chances of recovering maximum possible compensation.

Involved in a Commercial Vehicle Accident? Contact Us Today

Commercial vehicle accidents, including those involving buses and trucks, can be particularly devastating due to the size and weight of these vehicles. Victims frequently suffer serious, lifelong injuries and health complications. At Wagner Reese, we have been fighting for the rights of injured individuals and their families throughout Indiana for decades.

If you have been injured in a commercial vehicle accident that wasn’t your fault, contact Wagner Reese at (888) 204-8440 for a free initial case evaluation.

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