Large commercial vehicles are an important part of America’s economy. Big rigs and heavy load vehicles are everywhere, and South Carolina is no exception. With easy access to major shipping ports, multiple regional airports, rail lines, and highways, moving goods is a way of life in our state.
The predominant means of moving freight in South Carolina is by the trucking industry, and South Carolina is home to 27,770 tractor-trailer drivers.
Our 41,000 miles of state-maintained highways and our interstate system (including I-20, I-26, I-77, I-85, and I-95) support the transportation of goods over long distances. What benefits commerce and the economy can also create major safety hazards. Roadway collisions caused by large trucks occur in all of our 46 counties.
Above All Else, Safety First
Nearly 80 percent of South Carolina communities depend exclusively on trucks to move their goods. Standard passenger-vehicle drivers are vulnerable when sharing the road with large commercial vehicles. A recent publication from the South Carolina Department Of Public Safety reports slightly over 66 percent of all truck accidents involve a semi-truck.
Each year since 1988, The Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance (CVSA) has conducted a targeted compliance enforcement initiative in the interest of roadway safety. The three-day event is held in unison between the United States, Canada, and Mexico, and conducted at weigh stations, inspection stations, roadside, and designated inspection sites. CVSA certified inspectors might put vehicles out of service immediately for critical violations found in this comprehensive review for compliance and safety issues.
During the most recent 72-hour, high-volume initiative, 19,786 commercial trucks and drivers throughout the United States were inspected and checked for safety and compliance issues. As a result, 4,136 trucks and 1,083 drivers were removed from service. This means 20.9 percent of the commercial carriers, and 5.5 percent of the drivers on the roads were not in compliance with mandated federal regulations,
According to data from the inspection, the top five vehicle violations were brake systems (26.5 percent), tires (18.6 percent), lights (14.1 percent), brake adjustments (12.4 percent), and cargo securement (12.3 percent.)
The results of the CVSA initiative should concern you: 33.6 percent of semi-truck drivers failed to comply with the hours of service restrictions. Over a third were probably not getting enough rest, 22.3 percent had the wrong class license for the vehicle they were driving, and 5.1 percent had a suspended license. 16.6 percent had falsified logbooks. And 19.4 percent were either driving without the required authority, driving without a valid medical certificate, driving while sick or fatigued, or listed in the Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse database.
Causes and Consequences of Semi-Truck Accidents
Fatigue, unrealistically expedited run schedules, distractions, and the use of prescription and over-the-counter medications cause poor judgment, inattention, and carelessness on the part of a commercial truck driver, and regularly lead to dangerous semi-truck operation and collisions.
What makes a truck driver fatigued? There is a common saying among some in the trucking industry: “Drive when you have to, sleep when you can.” Truck drivers may lack a consistent sleep schedule. With no defined rhythm and no predictable pattern to when and where they sleep, drivers often they find themselves in the position of trying to sleep when they are not tired and to stay alert when they need sleep.
Getting behind the wheel of any motor vehicle with too little sleep is a safety hazard for all drivers on our roadways. Undersleeping has major cognitive consequences for driving. Drivers’ decision-making faculties suffer, reaction times become slower, and concentration weakens. In addition to a lack of sleep, trying to keep up with the demanding load-delivery schedule is physically, mentally, and emotionally draining. Pushing through fatigue to maximize mileage is dangerous.
The National Sleep Foundation has identified risk factors that increase the probability of a fall-asleep accident, many of which are common for commercial long-haul drivers.
The risk factors include:
- Having six or fewer hours of sleep
- Driving long distances without breaks
- Driving through the night
- Working more than 60 hours a week
- Driving alone on a long boring road
Federal guidelines restrict the number of hours semi-truck drivers are allowed to drive per day, and between break periods. But, in the past, drivers have been found to keep log books that do not reflect their actual over the road hours. If mandated rest regulations are violated, the driver and/or trucking company may be held liable in the event of an accident.
Semi-trucks are inherently dangerous, and only more so in an accident with a smaller passenger vehicle. Even if a semi-truck is in perfect working order, properly inspected, and driven by a well-rested and compliant driver, a collision can cause catastrophic , life-changing injuries, such as brain injuries, spinal cord and back injuries, whiplash, internal organ damage, and fractures.
Some commonly reported injuries arising from semi-truck accidents include:
- Traumatic brain injury
- Crush injuries to the chest
- Severe and disfiguring burns
- Loss of vision and hearing
Any of these injuries may require extended periods of hospitalization, prolonged rehabilitation, extensive home modifications, adaptive equipment, exorbitant medical expenses, and loss of earning capacity. The emotional impact of such an accident can strain personal relationships and leave victims with symptoms of depression, anxiety, changes in personality, and sometimes post-traumatic stress disorder.
And, of course, collisions involving semi-trucks can often result in fatal accidents. Statistics from the U.S. Department of Transportation indicate that the overwhelming majority of fatalities between a passenger car and a large commercial truck are to the occupants of passenger cars.
#2. Unrealistic schedules
To maximize miles, a truck driver’s schedule is ideally planned well in advance. Every hour must be strategically calculated to remain in compliance with regulations and delivery demands. Many cargo loads are shipped in the morning hours, such that a full load can be delivered with remaining daylight hours available to secure another load.
It is not unusual for fleet managers to put pressure on drivers to keep the wheels in motion. But accidents tend to happen when drivers are pushed to fit in unrealistic hours. Besides the drain of such hours on the driver, traffic, weather, and vehicle maintenance issues often present problems and risks. All too often the result of unrealistic scheduling is catastrophic accidents.
When asked about the prevalence of risky behavior, one survey of long-haul drivers showed 47 percent said they sometimes drove in bad weather conditions, and 25 percent said they often did. When asked about violating the hours of service rules, 27 percent said they sometimes did, and 10 percent indicated they often did, while 26 percent said they were sometimes guilty of speeding, and 5 percent said they were often guilty of exceeding the speed limit. Speeding semi-trucks are especially dangerous when traveling with a full load, rounding a bend, or entering and exiting a highway.
Some of the most common semi-truck accidents include:
- Wide turn accidents
- Head-on crashes
- Rear-end collisions
- T-bone accidents
Unrealistic schedules contribute to risky semi-truck driver behavior and increase the chance of deadly accidents.
#3. Equipment failure
As big and imposing as they seem, semi-trucks are made of a complex system of parts that require careful construction and maintenance for the vehicle to operate safely. Semi-truck companies are responsible for keeping each truck in their fleet up-to-date on maintenance, but are only obligated to keep certain documents for a limited amount of time. Thus, victims of a commercial trucking accident who do not initiate their claims on time may lose the opportunity to obtain critical evidence in support of a claim.
Evidence in a truck accident claim may include:
- Truck maintenance schedules and records
- Data from the GPS and the electronic onboard recorder (EOC)
- A driver’s credentials, driving record, and mandatory training documents
- The results of a toxicology screen
- The training logs
- Company employee handbook
- Other pertinent safety records
#4. Manufacturer defects
In addition to accidents caused by driver error of some sort, some stem from a defect in one or more components of a truck. A big rig is a complicated piece of machinery. The tires, powertrain, suspension, steering system, and brakes must all be manufactured to certain specifications. If they are not, accidents can result and the part’s manufacturer, distributor, or seller may be found negligent and liable for damages and losses. Some semi-truck accident settlements involve multiple defendants, with a part’s manufacturer being among the parties involved.
#5. Who caused my semi-truck accident?
A semi-truck accident may be the result of many parties’ errors, from a truck driver to their employer or the truck manufacturer. In South Carolina, the employer (the trucking company) is responsible for the actions of its employees (truck drivers). If negligence on the part of the employer contributed to the accident—such as inadequate hiring practices or training, retaining federal mandate violators, or inadequate supervision—you may have separate legal actions against a trucking company and their driver.
#6. Trucking company obligations
Trucking companies are responsible for ensuring the safety of their drivers and others.
Trucking companies must:
- Properly maintain the fleet and inspect the truck’s systems before putting them out on the road
- Adhere to the mandated service hours requirements for each of their drivers
- Have a policy in place to ensure quality hiring practices
- Provide comprehensive training
While it may at first seem obvious who caused an accident, proving negligence can be a complicated legal matter in the case of a semi-truck truck accident. The claimant must be able to show 1) the defendant or defendants owed them a duty of care, 2) the defendant or defendants violated their duty of care, and 3) the accident and the injuries to the claimant were a direct result of the violation.
In the chaos that unfolds with a truck accident, tracking down the facts to establish these elements can prove more difficult than you might think.
An experienced accident reconstructionist may be able to help establish what happened where other evidence is lacking. They may be able to review the available evidence and the accident scene to establish the speed and positions of the vehicles at the time of the accident and the direction in which each involved vehicle was traveling.
Collecting evidence to support your claim and negotiating a settlement or winning a court-award of damages in a semi-truck accident case takes time, long-term dedication, and extensive resources.
A South Carolina truck accident attorney can make bringing a claim much easier, however, as they have the knowledge and resources to:
- Request and review police, ambulance, and accident reports
- Request and review all medical records for any treatment relating to the accident
- Request and review past medical records
- Collect photographs from the scene, including pictures of any injuries
- Review any surveillance camera footage that may be available
- Interview all potential witnesses
- Investigate the road and weather conditions at the time of the crash
- Request and review all pertinent trucking company documents
- Obtain the data from the truck’s black box and GPS
- Contact insurance providers
- Consult with medical experts or car accident specialists
- Identify the specific statute of limitations for the claim, or claims, to be filed
- Determine the proper venue in which to file each claim
The trucking companies and the insurance provider representing them will absolutely deploy a battery of lawyers on their behalf. Your best interests will not be their priority.
Give yourself and your family the best possible chance for financial recovery and justice in your semi-truck accident case by contacting an experienced truck accident attorney as soon as possible after your accident.