Chances are you have had the experience of sharing the road with big trucks, especially if you regularly drive on busy highways and interstates. You may even have a high degree of trust in the truck drivers around you. After all, the average truck driver can spend as much as 11 hours a day on the road, and may work up to 70 hours a week.
While those long hours on the road can lead to a great deal of confidence and experience behind the wheel of a big rig, they can also contribute to potential errors and negligence on the part of a trucker. Many truck drivers, as they grow more tired or road-weary, become more likely to commit common errors that can increase the risk of an accident.
1. Driving Under the Influence
Truck drivers often use drugs and alcohol to help cope with the isolation and grueling hours associated with life on the road. While they may try not to get behind the wheel while inebriated, some truck drivers may have lingering alcohol in the blood from the night before or fail to make it through their shifts without getting intoxicated.
Truck drivers need to maintain sharp motor coordination, reaction times, reasoning, and problem-solving skills to safely navigate on the road. Big trucks take up a great deal more space on the road and may need considerably more time to maneuver and stop than smaller vehicles, which means truck drivers cannot afford the lingering effects of intoxication.
Drunk driving can affect a truck driver because:
- Drunk driving interferes with reaction times. Even a minor level of intoxication, below the legal limit, can interfere with a truck driver’s ability to respond appropriately. If another driver cuts over in front of him or stops abruptly, a drunk driver may have more trouble reacting.
- Drunk driving can cause problems with vision. Drinking and driving may mean that the driver drives with tunnel vision or has trouble seeing anything at all. Big trucks already have massive blind spots that can cause substantial accident risk, so truck drivers cannot afford to have their vision limited still further.
- Driving while intoxicated can interfere with decision-making. Many drivers make the wrong decision when driving while intoxicated. What seems like a perfectly logical decision while drunk could result in accidents with severe injuries.
2. Drowsy Driving
Driving drowsy can have many of the same effects as driving while intoxicated. Unfortunately, many truck drivers struggle with staying awake behind the wheel—and may push themselves to continue driving anyway. Federal law says that truck drivers can drive 11 hours during a 14-hour shift, after which the driver must spend 10 consecutive hours away from the wheel before driving again.
Unfortunately, this offers only minimal time for a driver to sleep and engage in other activities. If he fails to manage his time or has underlying health conditions that prevent him from getting quality sleep, he may find himself exhausted when his next shift begins.
Unfortunately, many trucking companies push tight deadlines, insisting that drivers make the best time possible. Frequently, trucking companies pay, not based on the amount of time the driver spends behind the wheel, but on the number of miles the truck driver travels. As a result, drivers may try to push to reach those deadlines, rather than pulling off the road and taking a much-needed nap.
Drowsy driving may cause:
- Reflex challenges. Many drowsy drivers struggle to respond appropriately to what happens around them. They may have trouble identifying hazards and processing them fast enough to avoid them. Slowed response times can also worsen the severity of truck accidents.
- Inadequate attention to the road. Many drowsy drivers stop paying attention to the road around them. They may struggle to keep up with the presence of other vehicles around them or fail to properly follow posted street signs.
- Falling asleep behind the wheel. If the driver falls asleep behind the wheel, it means no one controls the large truck. This can cause the truck to drift into another lane or crash into another vehicle. Often, the driver will not wake until the truck makes contact.
Truck drivers must meet tight deadlines to keep their jobs and keep their employers and customers as happy as possible. Unfortunately, truck drivers cannot always control delays and hazards on the road. Poor weather conditions, traffic jams, and even heavy traffic can all slow down a truck driver’s progress.
Since truck drivers frequently get paid by the mile, and may face negative consequences at work if they fail to meet their deadlines, they may choose to speed to make up lost time.
Unfortunately, speeding poses a significant danger to everyone on the road. A speeding driver can cause more damage and significantly increase the risk of a severe accident. Drivers who speed may need to react faster to avoid an accident, and truck drivers already need more time and space to maneuver.
4. Driving While Distracted
Distracted driving includes any behavior that takes the driver’s attention, hands, or eyes from the road. Unfortunately, truck drivers, who spend long hours on the road each day, may choose to engage in distracting behaviors. When most people think of distracted driving, they think of driving while talking or texting on a cell phone. Hands-free options, however, have substantially decreased this risk in many vehicles.
Truck drivers may, however, engage in a variety of other distractions:
- Eating and drinking behind the wheel, especially messy foods
- Trying to set or change a GPS device
- Changing settings on the radio or a music device
- Failing to look at the road for any reason, including dealing with pets and other distractions in the cab
Truck drivers may also zone out, failing to pay attention to the road around them as they continue to roll down a highway. Zoning out can prove particularly dangerous for truck drivers, who need to maintain a higher level of attention to everything around them to keep their vehicle, cargo, and others on the road around them safe.
5. Failing to Properly Check or Secure the Load
Many truck drivers do not load their vehicles. They may, instead, rely on someone else to take care of loading cargo for them. Before they hit the road, however, truck drivers should carefully ensure that the load got secured properly.
Shifting loads in a closed trailer can cause the weight in the trailer to shift dramatically, which may increase the risk of a rollover or jackknife accident. Shifting loads may also make it more difficult for the driver to recover if he must complete an abrupt maneuver or manage a serious hazard on the road. If the driver or loaders do not secure the trailer doors, those loads can fall out of the trailer, causing serious injury to others on the road.
Shifting loads on a flatbed can also cause serious damage. Truck drivers often use flatbeds to transport large or unwieldy equipment that might not fit in a trailer, including oversized loads that may hang over the sides of the trailer. If that cargo does not get secured properly, it can tip over onto other vehicles. Large cargo can cause significant injury. Even smaller cargo can lead to severe accidents that can result in injury.
To properly take care of cargo on a flatbed, truck drivers should check the cargo and its straps at every stop. Failure to maintain these simple safety protocols may lead to severe injuries for everyone on the road.
6. Losing Track of Blind Spots
Big trucks have large blind spots: areas in which the driver cannot see anything happening around him. Most often, these blind spots occur directly at the front and rear of the vehicle as well as the large stretches down the sides not covered by the mirror. Savvy drivers know they should look for a truck driver’s mirrors and make sure they can see themselves in those mirrors. However, drivers cannot always stay out of truck drivers’ blind spots completely.
Some modern trucks have cameras that make it easier for drivers to keep track of the vehicles on either side and to their front and rear. In the absence of those cameras, however, drivers must pay careful attention to everything going on around them to decrease the risk of sideswipe collisions. Losing track of vehicles in their blind spots can significantly increase overall accident risk.
7. Ignoring the Rules of the Road
In addition to speeding, truck drivers may choose to ignore some of the basic rules of the road. For example, some truck drivers will try not to come to a full stop at stop signs or red lights, since it takes more gas and more time to build back up to speed. Others may try to avoid yielding to oncoming traffic, using their larger vehicles to wedge into traffic whether other drivers clear the way for them or not.
Some truck drivers try to use these maneuvers out of convenience: they simply do not want to wait for other drivers. Others may remain concerned about tight deadlines.
8. Exceeding the Federally Limited Number of Hours on the Road
Truck drivers can drive for only 11 hours per day. Each shift can last for only 14 hours. Some modern trucks have devices that track exactly how long the truck driver spends on the road each day. Older trucks, however, often lack those common tracking devices. Drivers in those trucks may try to exceed the number of hours they can legally spend on the road.
Drivers may exceed the legally restricted number of hours for many reasons. Sometimes, they simply need to find a safe place for the night: a place they can pull off the road where they can store their trucks, grab some food and a shower, and enjoy some company for the evening. Other times, truck drivers may try to exceed those mandates to meet the deadlines their companies apply to them.
9. Ignoring Needed Maintenance
Most often, truck drivers do not bear personal responsibility for maintaining their vehicles. Big trucks often belong to the company the driver works for, rather than the driver himself. Truck drivers, however, must report problems with their vehicles promptly. Sometimes, they may need to take care of maintenance on the vehicle while on the road.
Some truck drivers, however, may fail to report those maintenance needs. They may ignore problems the vehicle has while out on the road, which can lead to more serious problems. If they do experience a serious problem, including brake failure, they may choose to continue driving anyway. Having their trucks out of service while undergoing repairs can make it difficult for truck drivers to get in their needed miles, leading to a lack of income during those periods.
10. Aggressive Driving
Some drivers naturally drive more aggressively than others. Others may succumb to road rage after long hours on the road, especially if they have trouble with other drivers.
Aggressive driving behavior can prove extremely dangerous even when the driver of a passenger vehicle engages in it. Tailgating can make it difficult for the aggressive driver to stop in time, while weaving through traffic can increase accident risk substantially. Aggressive truck drivers can make road conditions very unsafe for everyone else on the road. Some truck drivers may even deliberately cause accidents due to an incident of road rage.
Did you suffer injuries due to the negligent behavior of a truck driver? An truck accident attorney can help you understand your legal rights and give you a better idea of how much compensation you deserve. Contact an experienced truck accident attorney as soon after your truck accident as possible.