Truck drivers who are fatigued or distracted pose a danger to motorists

A tractor-trailer collision with an automobile is often catastrophic and can result in passenger vehicle occupants being seriously injured or killed.

A tractor-trailer rig can weigh as much as 80,000 pounds. If the truck driver loses control, falls asleep, or becomes distracted, the truck can quickly become an instrument of devastation and destruction to other motorists. Because of the significant weight and height disparity between a car and a tractor-trailer, it is not particularly surprising that the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has concluded that, in truck-automobile crashes, most of the deaths are to passenger vehicle occupants. Interestingly, in two-vehicle crashes involving a passenger vehicle and a large truck, 96 percent of vehicle occupants who were killed were the passenger vehicle occupants.

A few weeks ago, CBS Los Angeles reported on a deadly vehicular accident illustrative of the destruction which can result from a tractor-trailer collision. According to CBS, a multi-vehicle collision occurred on the Pomona Freeway involving a tanker truck, two big rigs and eight other vehicles. A five-year-old girl was killed, four people were critically injured and 10 others suffered minor to moderate injuries. The California Highway Patrol reported that the chain reaction crash was triggered when a milk-carrying tanker failed to slow down for stopped traffic. This type of accident often occurs due to a truck driver being fatigued or distracted.

Omnitracs Fleet Management finds that commercial truck driver distraction is one of the biggest safety management issues in the transportation industry. Safety studies have shown the dangers posed by commercial drivers who become disengaged in the task of driving. Driver distraction can be:

  • Visual-taking your eyes off the road.
  • Cognitive-focusing your mind upon something other than the road ahead.
  • Physical-removing your hands from the steering wheel.

Any of these three types of distractions can have deadly consequences; however, visual distraction is considered by experts as the most serious. Importantly, all three distractions are present in the case of texting while driving.

Driver fatigue causes some truck crashes. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety observes that several studies establish that "truck driver fatigue is a known crash risk." The Institute notes that while federal regulations limit the amount of time commercial truck drivers can spend behind the wheel, surveys "indicate that many drivers violate the regulations." Automotive Fleet Magazine warns commercial drivers that driving while fatigued is a type of impaired driving. This is because fatigue slows reaction time, decreases awareness and impairs judgment.

In the future

Smithsonian Magazine recently published an article on safety systems being developed which will soon enable trucks to automatically react to and avoid highway emergencies. One Silicon Valley startup envisions having two trucks which will travel in tandem and be linked by wireless communication systems. The lead truck will have a safety system which employs radar linked to an onboard computer. The computer will control both the trucks' acceleration and braking functions. If the computer detects problems ahead such as slowing or stopped traffic, the braking systems on both trucks will automatically engage without human intervention. The proposed automated system-which can be retrofitted onto current trucks-can react to road emergencies much more quickly than a human driver ever could.

Seeking compensation

If you or a loved one has been injured in a truck collision caused by a truck driver's negligence, you should call a California attorney experienced in handling motor vehicle accident cases. An attorney can investigate the facts and assist you in seeking compensation from the trucking company and its insurance carrier.

Keywords: truck accident, fatigue, distraction, visual, cognitive, physical