There are more vehicles on the road than ever before. In 2020 there were approximately 289.9 million registered vehicles. Of those, an estimated 158 million were trucks. The number of trucks on the road has increased by approximately 80% in the past 20 years.
Trucks are an important part of our society, a society that relies more and more on consumer goods from all over the country and the world. We rely on 18 wheelers and big trucks to transport large quantities safely and efficiently every single day. However, with so many trucks and other vehicles on the road, the risk of being injured or killed in a car accident is high. The Bureau of Transportation Safety’s 2020 Statistics Annual Report concluded that between 2015 and 2019 deaths involving large trucks increased from 3,146 to 4,113; 97% of those killed were the occupants of a vehicle, not a truck.
Truck Safety Regulation
In order to keep both truck drivers and others on the roads safe, the United States Department of Transportation (USDOT), through the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), closely regulates interstate truck drivers and commercial motor vehicle companies. A vehicle is considered a commercial motor vehicle if it:
- weighs (while full or not) more than 10,000 pounds, and/or
- transports hazardous materials.
The USDOT regulates interstate truck drivers and trucking companies starting with licensing. In order to drive a truck, a driver needs to obtain a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL). To receive a CDL, a person will need to have a regular driver’s license, be at least 18 years old, have no suspensions on their license and have a minimum of 1-2 years of driving experience.
After obtaining a CDL, truck drivers are expected to follow USDOT regulations. These rules include:
- maximum working hours. These regulations change frequently, and there are numerous exceptions, so it is important to be aware of the current law.
- taking a 30 minute break if a driver is driving more than 7 hours (unless they are subject to the long haul exception)
- logging time daily
- being familiar with the vehicle, including brakes, lights, tires and fluids
In addition the USDOT implements regulations on trucking companies including:
- requiring all commercial vehicle operators to register with them. After registration the USDOT issues a number to the company. That number must be displayed on all of the company’s commercial vehicles.
- regular inspections
- requiring that trucks have a fire extinguisher, warning devices (reflective triangles and flares) and spare fuses in the truck
Common Causes of Truck Accidents
Despite the government’s attempts to regulate the trucking industry, any number of events can lead to a truck accident. Some of the more common causes are:
- Driver fatigue. Despite the limits on driving, drivers are under enormous pressure to deliver their cargo quickly. This can lead to a failure to follow the maximum working hours regulations.
- Unsafe vehicles. Although drivers are required to have their trucks inspected yearly, and many companies require that drivers do pre-checks, unexpected mechanical issues can arise.
- road conditions such as poorly maintained roads and lack of signs advising about things like low clearances.
- aggressive driving. This can be on the part of a truck driver, or a car who does not understand how much space a truck actually needs to stop.
- driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol
- driver inexperience
- dangerous weather
Unfortunately if you are injured by a trunk while driving a car, the risk of serious injury and damage is greater due to the size and weight of the truck.
Damages Available if You are Injured in a Car Accident
If you are injured in an accident with a truck, you may be able to bring a personal injury lawsuit to recover damages for injuries you suffered and/or damage to your car. Depending on the circumstances surrounding the accident, you might have claims against more than just the truck driver. You may be able to bring a claim against the trucking company, the truck mechanic, and/or the local municipality or state responsible for maintaining the road.
In order to have a successful personal injury claim, you will need to show negligence on the part of those you are suing. In the case of the truck driver, you would need to show that he/she acted negligently and that his/her negligence caused the car accident. In the case of the trucking company, you would need to show that company was negligent. Maybe they failed to follow DOT inspection rules making the truck unsafe or required the driver to drive more than the maximum number of hours set by the FMCSA. Things that may be helpful in proving that the truck driver was at-fault include witnesses, a police report, and photographs or video from street or store cameras.
If a loved one was killed in a car accident involving a truck and negligence, it may be possible to bring a wrongful death claim on behalf of surviving family members.
Damages available may include:
- medical bills (examples include doctors, hospital, surgery, rehabilitation, prescriptions)
- lost wages
- car repair or replacement
- pain and suffering
- punitive damages. Unlike the above damages, which are generally intended to compensate a victim for identified, quantifiable losses, punitive damages are only awarded in cases where the conduct was egregious. They are awarded as punishment to the wrongdoer. For example, if a truck driver chose to get drunk, operate a truck, and go through a speed sign, punitive damages might be awarded.
It is important to know that North Carolina is one of a handful of states that follows the pure contributory negligence theory. Under this theory, if you are even partially responsible for the car accident you may not be able to recover damages. So for example, if you cut a truck off and the truck rear-ended you, you would be partially responsible for the accident and would likely receive no damages. The contributory negligence theory is one of the reasons why it is so important to talk to a Charlotte, North Carolina attorney as soon as possible after a car accident. A Charlotte attorney can help advise you as to the laws, talk to both your and the truck driver’s insurance companies, and help you gather the evidence needed to prove your case.
Why Do I Need a Charlotte Law Firm?
Car accidents involving trucks happen frequently. The Charlotte, NC based lawyers at Rosensteel Fleishman, PLLC are experienced car accident attorneys who can help you understand your rights and whether or not you have damages and should proceed with a claim. Please contact our office at 704-714-1450. There is no fee for an initial consultation.