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Wishing everyone good health,

~ The lawyers and staff of Polito & Harrington

Common Causes of Truck Accidents

In a truck accident, a variety of factors can lead a truck driver to lose control. Those factors not only determine the likelihood that an accident will happen, but they may also contribute to the severity of injuries that result from the truck accident. And just as importantly, the factors that contribute to a truck accident can determine who bears fault for that accident.

Driver Error

Truck drivers must maintain constant control of the vehicle to get it safely to its destination. Unfortunately, sometimes, truck drivers make errors that can lead to an accident. These may include:

  • Inebriation. A study by Reuters Health found that a large percentage of truck drivers admit to using alcohol and other substances while on duty. Truck drivers spend long hours on the road and may turn to alcohol or drugs to ease some of the monotony and loneliness. Unfortunately, inebriation makes it more difficult for a truck driver to stay in control of their vehicle. In addition to illegal drugs and alcohol, prescription medications or over the counter cold and flu medication, cough medicine, or pain medication can cause distraction, sleepiness, or difficulty concentrating, all of which can significantly increase the risk of an accident.
  • Inattention. Both distractions inside the vehicle—eating and drinking, changing the station on the radio, or using a cell phone, for example—and general inattention, caused by loss of focus after long hours on the road, can substantially increase the risk of an accident. Inattention often grows over the long hours a truck driver spends on the road every day. Most drivers do not deliberately lose track of events around them; instead, they may “zone out” or get lost in thought, ultimately leading to an accident.
  • Speeding. For every 1 percent increase in speed, a driver’s odds of being involved in an accident increase by around 2 percent. A truck driver may try to speed to make up for lost time or to shorten the time they need to spend on the road for the day. Many drivers get paid by the mile, encouraging them to reach their destinations as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, truck drivers cannot safely travel at higher speeds without raising their accident risk.
  • Failing to follow the rules of the road. Ignoring traffic lights and signs can contribute substantially to accident risk. Other drivers cannot easily predict a truck driver’s behavior if they fail to follow the rules of the road or ignore traffic signals. While truck drivers might purposefully fail to obey traffic signals to save time, these choices can often cost substantial time and expense if they lead to an accident.
  • Blind spot accidents. Truck drivers often have large blind spots that make it difficult for them to see other vehicles around them. If a truck driver attempts to change lanes or make a wide turn while another vehicle is in the truck’s blind spot, a sideswipe collision can result. Truck drivers bear responsibility for paying careful attention to their blind spots and should take care to ensure they are engaging in safe maneuvering.
  • Poor weather conditions. In ice and snow, truck drivers must slow down to continue traveling their routes safely. Often, trucks need to travel more slowly than other vehicles. When a truck driver fails to accurately evaluate the weather, they can easily lose control of the truck, particularly when roads are wet or icy.
  • Driving while fatigued. Truck drivers can only legally drive for 11 hours out of a 14 hour on-duty shift each day. Federal law also mandates regular breaks for truckers to help alleviate fatigue. Unfortunately, truckers still spend long hours on the road every day, leading to an increased risk of driving while fatigued. When truckers spend too many hours on the road, they may struggle to pay attention or even fall asleep behind the wheel. Fatigue can cause just as many problems for truck drivers as drug or alcohol consumption.
  • Medical Issues

Mechanical Failure

Trucks receive inspections after every trip, but that does not mean every part is always in perfect working order. Any problems with the truck’s overall function can quickly lead to an accident. While truck drivers cannot control or predict a mechanical failure, drivers should carefully inspect their truck before and after every trip to help identify potential problems and fix them quickly, before they cause an accident or injuries. Mechanical failure may include:

  • Engine problems.
  • Transmission problems.
  • Tire blowouts.
  • Windshield wiper failure.
  • Burned out lights, including headlights, taillights, and signal lights.
  • Failure of the connections between truck and trailer.
  • Strap failure, when straps hold cargo in place.

Sometimes, trucking companies have policies that encourage drivers to take trucks out on the road despite potential problems with the truck, including problems that could cause serious accidents. Mechanics may also avoid making note of a problem because they want to end a shift quickly. Most trucking companies, however, have a system of checks and balances that ensure trucks receive proper maintenance when needed.

Cargo Errors

Improperly secured cargo can create serious problems for big trucks and their drivers. In some cases, that cargo might actually fall from the truck, posing a substantial danger for the other vehicles around it. Falling cargo is more common when the truck hauls a flatbed trailer: flatbeds often haul unwieldy construction equipment or large objects that hang over the sides of the vehicle, relying on straps to keep the cargo in place.

Inside a trailer, shifting cargo can also pose dangers. While shifting cargo does not usually fall out of the back of the truck, it can, especially if the person who closes the truck’s doors does not secure them properly. Shifting cargo can also change the truck’s balance or center of gravity, substantially increasing the risk of a jackknife or rollover accident.

Any truck accident can cause serious injuries for the occupants of other vehicles involved, especially if the truck carries heavy or dangerous cargo. If you have suffered injuries in a truck accident, contact a truck accident lawyer as soon as possible to help you file a claim.

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