Truck Accidents vs. Car Accidents
Getting behind the wheel of a car and taking to the road is a daily routine for most people. For many, however, driving can cause excessive fear and anxiety. Such fear is referred to as “vehophobia,” which can include certain fears of specific aspects of driving. For example, “dystychiphobia” refers to the excessive fear of accidents. “Gephyrophobia” identifies the fear of driving over bridges. And an “amaxophobe” describes someone who simply has a fear of sitting in a vehicle, either as a driver or a passenger.
While some vehophobic fears may seem rather unreasonable to most people, some fears are quite common to many drivers. One fear that is particularly common to many drivers on the road is “semiochophobia” or the fear of driving near “18-wheelers” or other semi-trucks. You know you have experienced it—speeding up to quickly pass a truck in an adjacent lane, slowing down to avoid passing, or simply gripping the steering wheel with anxiety as an 18-wheeler approaches.
The reason semiochophobia is so common to so many drivers is that driving near large trucks is different that driving near cars. Trucks are bigger, heavier, and more dangerous. In light of the significant risks caused by trucks on the highway and the complexities of filing a truck accident case, your fear of trucks is not all that unusual. Even with respect to filing a lawsuit after an accident, your fears may be justified because, legally, truck accident cases are very different than car accident cases.
Truck Accident Cases Are Unique
This article describes the relevant differences between a truck accident case and a car accident case and explains why the legal aspects of a truck accident case are unique. These differences are important in understanding why you need an experienced truck accident attorney if you have been involved in any kind of accident involving a truck.
Unlike normal car accident cases, truck accident cases require a unique understanding of the law, extensive experience with trucking regulations, and special negotiation and trial skills that are not applicable in normal car accident cases. The attorneys at Foster Wallace, LLC, have experience in all of these areas and are trained to handle the unique legal aspects of truck accident cases that not every personal injury attorney is trained to handle.
What Is Special about a Truck Accident Case?
Just as driving next to truck on the highway is different than driving next to a car, truck accidents are very different than car accidents. As a result, litigating a truck accident case is very different than litigating a car accident case.
Although both types of accident cases require that you prove the same facts—that you suffered damages as a result of someone else’s negligence—litigating a truck accident case is much more complex than a car accident case and requires an attorney with expertise in truck accident cases to be successful. There are several aspects that make truck accident cases different than car accident cases.
1. Trucks Are More Dangerous Than Cars
It is undeniable that trucks are more dangerous and cause more damage than cars when involved in accidents. One simple statistic revealed through the U.S. Department of Transportation's Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) demonstrates this most clearly: Of all persons killed in two-vehicle accidents involving a car and a large truck, 96% of those killed were occupants in the passenger vehicles.
There are many reasons why trucks are more dangerous and more damaging than cars. Studies of fatal truck accidents show that there is often more than one factor that contributes to the cause of a truck accident. Some reasons have to do with the nature of trucks. For example:
- Problems Breaking. Trucks loaded with cargo can weigh as much as 80,000 pounds—that is the weight of about 30 average cars. Such heavy weight traveling at normal highway speed can require twice as much distance to stop as you would require to stop your car.
- Blind Spots. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration concludes that the average truck on the road has four blind spots (areas around the truck where the truck driver cannot see your car). These include distances on all four sides of the truck.
- Structural or Mechanical Failure. Trucks shipping cargo travel long distances for extended periods of time. This creates significant “wear and tear,“ which can lead to tires shredding or breaks failing.
- Improperly loaded cargo. Improperly loaded cargo can shift easily, causing overturned or “jack-knifed” trailers.
Other reasons have to do with the nature of truck driving. For example:
- Inexperienced drivers. Truck drivers travel all across the country, often on roads they have never before traveled. But according to a recent study analyzing the cause of truck accidents, more than 20% of all commercial truck accidents are the result of a driver who is unfamiliar with the road on which they are traveling.
Additionally, there is currently a national crisis of a shortage of truck drivers. CNN.com reports that the national industry is currently short of about 80,000 drivers. Redwood Logistics, a transportation management company, predicts that the shortage could increase to as many as 330,000 drivers by 2024. As a result, newer, less experienced, and more over-worked drivers will be taking over.
- Delivery deadlines. Cargo delivery operates on a strict schedule. Truck drivers often exceed the speed limit to make deliveries on time, which increases the risk of accidents.
- Driver Fatigue and impairment. Truck drivers travel long distances at large stretches of time, often exceeding the allowable number of driving hours permitted under federal law. Truck drivers can easily become fatigued and tired or often drive while impaired by drugs or alcohol to try to stay awake. Both are common problems within the industry.
Whether it is the nature of trucks, the nature of truck driving, or more likely a combination of both, the dangers associated with driving near trucks on the road create a common fear in many drivers and introduce unique challenges into litigating truck accident cases.
2. The Trucking Industry is Highly Regulated
While cars are subject to the standard “rules of the road” and, in some states, must pass inspection to be licensed to drive on the road, the trucking industry is a federally regulated profession. The industry is governed by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), which is part of the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT).
FMCSA imposes hundreds of regulations within the trucking and carrier industry. Most regulations deal with safety issues related to specific functions or categories within the industry, such as:
- Trucking company operations (hiring, training, scheduling)
- Drivers (background checks, hours of service)
- HazMat (hazardous material)
- Vehicles (inspections, tires, noise emissions)
Successful litigation of a truck accident case requires attorneys with experience and expertise in all of these areas of the law. Foster Wallace, LLC, has attorneys with years of experience dealing with the federal regulations applicable to the trucking industry.
3. A Truck Accident Case May Include Several Defendents
Just like in a car accident case, in a truck accident case, you must be able to prove that someone else’s negligence caused the accident in which you were injured. Often, this includes proving that a driver violated a traffic rule or failed to exercise proper caution while driving. But because the trucking industry is so highly regulated internally, and because truck accident cases often are the result of several different causes, legal issues related to negligence, fault, and even identifying proper defendants, can become complicated questions.
For example, consider a seemingly common scenario in which a tractor trailer strikes a car from behind, jack-knifes, and overturns on the highway, perhaps injuring passengers in several cars. There could be many different factors that contributed to the accident. For example, suppose:
- The tires and breaks were old and worn, making it difficult for the driver to stop in time
- The truck driver was exceeding the posted speed limit
- The truck was so heavy with cargo that it did not have enough distance to stop before striking the vehicle in front of it
- The truck driver had been driving for 16 hours and was drowsy
- The truck driver had not been trained to drive a truck of this size and weight
- The truck driver was lost because he was unfamiliar with this route
- The truck driver was distracted because he was looking for directions
- After the accident, police discover that the cargo had been improperly loaded, which caused the truck to jack-knife upon impact
- Police also determine that the driver was employed without a proper carrier’s license
As is common in many truck accident cases, there may be more than one factor that contributed to this accident. Attorneys will have to investigate every aspect of this case to determine who was at fault. To do this properly, the attorneys must be familiar with the many regulations that govern the industry to determine who, if anyone, was negligent in causing the accident. For example, any of the following could be named as defendants in this case:
- The driver (for driving while drowsy, not reacting in time, and violating safe driving regulations)
- The trucking company (for negligent hiring and training, and not enforcing time of service requirements)
- The tire and break manufacturers (if the parts were faulty)
- The loading company (for improperly securing the cargo)
Because of the nature of the highly-regulated trucking industry, a common truck accident could involve any number of causes and, therefore, any number of defendants who could be liable for damages to injured victims of the accident. There are numerous considerations that simply are not relevant in a typical car accident case.