Big trucks fill the streets of America: now, perhaps, more than ever. People rely on those trucks to bring them the goods they need: groceries, clothing, furniture, and more. The uptick in online ordering also means that more trucks need to carry goods between stores, or directly to customers’ homes.
That means a lot of truck traffic—and a lot of miles on those trucks. Unfortunately, many of the components of those trucks cannot keep running indefinitely. In fact, big trucks may go through many components more quickly than smaller passenger vehicles, since those trucks may experience more overall wear and tear and spend more hours on the road.
Regular inspection of the trucks and those important components can help identify potential problems and ensure that the truck keeps running smoothly.
Federal and State Regulations Governing Truck Inspections
Federal regulations require regular inspections of big trucks. Each truck must receive a full inspection of every component, including a tractor-semitrailer, full trailer combination, or the truck itself, before going out on the road. If the truck has not received an inspection in the past 12 months, it cannot go out on the road.
Individual states also have specific requirements for when a truck must undergo inspection. If those regulations exceed federal requirements, the trucking company can use state inspections to pass their federal requirements.
Regular Truck Inspections
In addition to regular inspections performed by a qualified inspector who has the training and certification required to inspect and certify big trucks for use on the roads, trucks may need periodic driver inspections.
Drivers must conduct regular safety investigations of their vehicles. Federal regulations show that drivers must finish a DVIR, or driver vehicle inspection report, at the end of every day’s work, regardless of whether he has driven the same vehicle for multiple days. The DVIR will contain vital information about any problems the driver may have noticed while operating the vehicle through that shift.
Driver vehicle inspection reports help identify any potential problems with vehicles. They can also serve as a record that the driver did report a potential issue as required. Each motor carrier can use a different DVIR form, and some carriers require more comprehensive investigations than others.
In many cases, drivers get to know their trucks very well. Drivers often take the same truck out over and over again, which means they know how it sounds, how it feels, and how it handles. At the end of each day, a driver who fills out a comprehensive vehicle safety report can identify any challenges he may have noticed with the vehicle during that day and arrange for repairs before they become a much more serious problem.
If the trucking company fails to take care of repairs when the driver notices the issue, on the other hand, a minor problem could become much more serious.
What Happens if Drivers and Trucking Companies Fail to Inspect Vehicles?
Vehicle safety inspections allow both drivers and inspectors to look at all vehicle components and what might prove necessary to keep the vehicle running safely. Failure to inspect those vehicles can cause many problems out on the road.
Trucks may continue running with minor problems that the driver doesn’t notice.
Daily driver inspections may fail to note many damaged components.
For example, daily safety checks might include elements like headlights, taillights, running lights, and windshield wipers: all items that the driver might take for granted while out on the road, especially if they have not shown obvious problems.
A lack of headlights, however, could pose a serious visibility problem when the driver’s next shift keeps him on the road after dark, while a lack of signal lights could make it very difficult for other drivers to tell what the truck driver intends to accomplish while driving—and could cause misunderstandings that ultimately result in a serious accident.
A lack of inspections could prevent drivers from noticing more serious problems with the truck.
Tire blowouts in big trucks can pose a serious hazard. While big trucks often have multiple sets of tires, which can continue to support the vehicle even if one goes flat, tires that blow out on the road go with a substantial amount of force. That force alone could prove devastating to the passengers in a vehicle traveling alongside the big truck when the tire blows out.
Likewise, if the brakes on a big truck start to go out, the truck driver may have no ability to stop his vehicle. Regular inspections could have provided insight into the overall state of the brakes, rather than allowing an accident to occur. Unfortunately, without those inspections, a driver could cause a serious rear-end collision or even turn his truck over on a winding mountain road when the brakes go out unexpectedly.
Failure to complete routine maintenance could leave a big truck in very bad shape.
Like any vehicle, big trucks need routine maintenance to keep them running smoothly. Maintenance is critical for engine support, brakes, and steering: some of the most critical components on the truck.
Regular inspections can identify any problems with routine maintenance and ensure that the truck does not accidentally miss an inspection—something that could prove all too easy amid all the paperwork and routine that goes into keeping a trucking company functioning at peak efficiency.
How Does Failure to Inspect Vehicles Impact Truck Accident Claims?
Truck accident claims frequently involve a much deeper, more complex investigation than other types of auto accident claims simply because of all the details that can contribute to a truck accident. Your attorney will likely want to take a close look at the maintenance reports for the truck that caused your accident, particularly if an investigation of the truck uncovers the fact that a mechanical failure contributed to the accident.
Failure to complete routine inspections could leave the trucking company liable for any accident caused by mechanical failure.
A trucking company that fails to complete needed inspections on its truck, whether the annual inspections required by federal law or the regular inspections required of drivers at the end of each shift, could leave the trucking company liable for damages. A lack of inspection could mean that a truck stays on the road with serious issues that could increase accident severity or even cause the accident altogether.
Consider, for example, a brake failure. A truck driver might slam on his brakes, only to discover that the truck does not stop. He may already have come too close to another vehicle to stop any other way.
Not only does the brake failure cause an accident, but it may worsen the accident’s severity since the big truck will likely continue pushing at the smaller passenger vehicle for some time. It may hit with more force from the lack of brakes, leading to more serious injury on the part of the victims.
Even a minor problem with the truck can contribute to the severity of an accident. For example, suppose that a big truck’s turn signals stop functioning. The driver pulls up to turn right, leaving extra room because he needs to complete a wide turn. The driver in the car beside him, however, sees no turn signal and assumes that the driver intends to go straight.
When the driver tries to complete his turn, he may plow straight into the car without ever noticing the presence of that driver—and the driver might never have realized that the truck intended to turn until the driver had already completed the maneuver.
Failure to complete daily inspections could leave the truck driver liable for that danger.
Daily inspections can have a huge impact on the way a truck keeps running over time. Truck drivers know that they must complete those inspections at the end of each shift. Unfortunately, some truck drivers may avoid those vital inspections to save time. They may feel tired after completing a run, or they may feel that they have completed the same inspection on the same truck multiple times across the past several days and that they can get away with ignoring it once.
Failure to complete that inspection, however—or even failure to complete that inspection correctly—could cause the truck driver to miss serious problems. As a result, he could ultimately end up causing a serious accident, leaving him liable for the potential damage.
What Responsibility Does the Trucking Company Have with Regards to Inspections?
Regular inspections can prove critical to maintaining a big truck and ensuring that it functions at peak efficiency. How the company handles the inspections, however, can make a huge difference.
The company must complete federally mandated inspections.
Without those inspections, the company may not know what maintenance and repairs the truck needs.
The company must complete maintenance on time.
Maintaining a vehicle requires regular investment. For big trucks, that means more than simply taking care of oil changes and flushing the fluid occasionally.
Big trucks may require considerably more attention to things like brakes, steering, and the engine. If the company does not complete needed maintenance on schedule, it could cause the truck to fail more quickly. If a damaged truck breaks down in the middle of the road, it can pose a substantial hazard for everyone around it.
The company should take care of repairs before it sends a vehicle back out on the road.
At its core, an inspection serves to identify potential problems with the vehicle. The owner of that vehicle, whether the driver or a larger trucking company, must repair any damage the inspection noted. Failure to take care of that damage can prove just as detrimental as not inspecting at all and, in fact, removes the point of an inspection.
Suppose, for example, that, during a run, the driver notices that he has to work harder to get the truck to brake. He notes the problem in his report and passes it to the mechanic. The driver might pass the brake trouble off as resulting from a heavier load than normal or downhill terrain that puts more strain on the brakes.
However, as part of the daily inspection, the truck will require evaluation of the brakes to ensure that they do not represent a danger to others on the road. If an inspection uncovers that the brakes require replacement or repair, the company must take care of those brake repairs before sending a truck back out on the road. Likewise, if an inspection uncovers trouble with the engine, the truck may require repairs before the truck goes out again.
Many trucking companies try to avoid or put off repairs when possible. They may want to reduce maintenance costs, if they can, or reduce the amount of time the truck has to spend off the road, especially if they do not have alternate vehicles for those drivers to use. That lack of maintenance, however, can spell serious trouble—and may leave the trucking company liable for any damages caused by that decision.
Did Failure to Inspect a Vehicle Cause Your Accident?
In many cases, you may not know immediately after your accident that failure to inspect the vehicle caused your injuries. A full investigation by an experienced truck accident attorney, however, may uncover those facts and give you a better idea of whether the trucking company should bear liability for your injuries.