For nearly a century, people in the U.S. have relied on trucks more than any other method of transportation to supply goods and services. Trucks are capable of moving immense quantities of freight through a diverse landscape.

Truck accidents can occur almost anywhere a road has been built, from logging crews in mountain forests to supplying equipment to remote oil fields, crops from fields to processing plants, and even groceries to your local supermarket. Due to the size and weight of trucks, these accidents are often serious, if not fatal. That’s why it’s important to have a truck accident lawyer on your side if you or a loved one has been involved in a truck accident.

Many things happen when a truck driver has an accident, most of which are designed to protect other drivers sharing the road.

Preventing Accidents

Due to the sheer mass, traveling speeds, and size of a tractor-trailer, truck accidents can cause a significant amount of damage when involved in a collision with other motor vehicles. Safety equipment can only do so much to reduce the damage a truck accident can inflict.

More often than not, the driver is the key piece of the puzzle regarding preventing accidents. Being alert—aware of other vehicles on the road, responding to highway conditions, maintaining safe speeds, and handling their rig—is crucial to truck safety.

Fatigue, falling asleep at the wheel, blind spots, and excessive speed are major contributing factors in truck accidents. Drivers are required to log their hours of driving as well as downtime for rest and sleep. Long driving times without rest can be attributed to an employer’s demands and the driver’s need to stick to a schedule.

Road conditions such as ice, hydroplaning, high winds, animal strikes, and impacts on other vehicles are less common. Truck drivers go through a lot of training and time on the road to sharpen these skills to respond to road hazards appropriately. With the proliferation of mobile phones and other portable electronics, distracted driving has become a problem for drivers in recent years.

Substance use has been a problem in the trucking industry since its early days. It is one of the most preventable factors causing accidents, so federal transportation regulations have focused on drugs and alcohol more than almost any other.

Rules of the Road

One of the key factors in the success of trucking is the versatility of design, allowing a powerful vehicle to transport a wide variety of freight over long distances with usually only one driver controlling the vehicle. Due to the weight and limitations of these vehicles, however, many laws have been put into place to protect public safety. Driving a truck requires special training on safe operation, observing rules, and handling a tractor-trailer in all sorts of operating conditions.

In the past, trucking companies were allowed to cut costs by hiring truck drivers without observing standards which are considered common practice nowadays. Drivers often used performance-enhancing drugs such as stimulants to extend their hours in the cab. They drove at high speeds and overloaded their cargo to haul more to reduce shipping costs. More often than not, drivers working under the influence of drugs and alcohol and driving long hours without resting become involved in serious accidents.

Nowadays, truck drivers are held to very rigid standards. They are required to stop and rest at intervals and work no more than eleven hours per day. Their loads are weighed and inspected at the port of entry checkpoints, and most log books are provided electronically to ensure drivers comply with the rules. Federal laws concerning substance use have been implemented to ensure that truck drivers are not operating their vehicles under the influence of stimulants, alcohol, or other drugs.

Problems With Substance Abuse

Substance use has been a concern when operating a tractor-trailer since almost the beginning. Driving a potentially dangerous piece of heavy equipment poses a threat to the safety of other drivers if being operated under the influence of controlled substances. Stimulants have enabled drivers to stay alert for long periods, particularly amphetamines. Some drivers have used depressants to counteract the effects of stimulants, particularly alcohol.

Stimulants, though effective initially, have been shown to cause the user to hallucinate and otherwise use poor judgment regarding safe vehicle operation. Amphetamines, cocaine, and other stimulants can contribute to paranoia, vertigo, agitation, and other psychotic episodes. Many drivers have used stimulants to drive longer hours, more lucrative night-driving hours, and work for disreputable companies that are likely to ignore substance use to increase profits.

Stimulants can also decrease after continued use, contributing to falling asleep at the wheel.

Alcohol is often used to help level out the effects of stimulants but also results in delayed response times, sleepiness, and blackouts which can lead to catastrophic accidents. Much of what happens after an accident is a direct result of investigating the potential of substance use at the collision’s source.

What Happens After an Accident

Accidents do happen despite so many regulations to safeguard drivers on the road. Barring road conditions such as high winds, sudden obstacles, and impacts caused by other drivers, most accidents can be avoided with an attentive, trained driver behind the wheel. The primary concern of an investigation is determining whether or not an accident was preventable. The law requires reasonable suspicion testing to determine the reason for that accident.

Federal Motor Carrier Regulations stipulate, “An employer shall require a driver to submit an alcohol test when the employer has reasonable suspicion to believe that the driver has violated the prohibitions…concerning alcohol.” The same applies to controlled substances like stimulants, opioids, cannabis, and other narcotics. Trucking companies that employ two or more drivers also require random drug tests. Follow-up testing for drivers found with evidence of substances in their system must be passed to return to duty.

Just about any injuries or damages incurred in an accident with a truck will attract the attention of the authorities. The employer may also report the evidence to the Department of Transportation if the driver is found violating the law. This information can be used in a court of law to support the argument of the injured party that the truck driver was at fault. In some cases, entire trucking companies have faced litigation for encouraging their employees to shirk their responsibilities and tips for the safe operation of their trucks just to improve their profit margins.

Mandatory Testing

The law requires mandatory testing to be performed by the employer and reported back to the Department of Transportation.

Here are the conditions which will warrant a mandatory test, according to FMCSA regulations.

  • Human Fatality
  • Bodily injury (with immediate medical treatment away from the scene)
  • Disabling damage done to a motor vehicle requires towing away

Drivers are prohibited from drinking alcohol for up to eight hours after an accident unless they are tested within that time. Drivers have to abstain from drinking alcohol for four hours before operating a tractor-trailer, and drivers cannot use alcohol on the job. Employers must prevent drivers from operating a commercial motor vehicle if they have tested positive for controlled substances.

The legal BAC limit permitted for truck drivers is 0.04. In comparison, many states consider 0.08 impaired or intoxicated. Penalties for driving under the influence for truck drivers are severe, with stiff fines and even time in prison if a driver is convicted.

Damages and Losses Due to Truck Accidents

Truck accidents can cause significant damage. The force from a truck’s weight, size, and speed colliding with another motor vehicle can cause severe injuries. Many motorists are seriously injured, maimed, and even killed in truck accidents.

Here are some of the injuries typical of truck accidents.

  • Severe bleeding and contusions: Hard impacts result in passengers being mangled by twisted metal and broken glass. Lacerations can cause victims to bleed out, and the force of the impact can disrupt internal organs.
  • Burns: Hot coolant, fuel spills, and even chemical spills from whatever a truck may have been transporting can cause disfiguring burns and even death.
  • Broken bones: the force of impact is easily enough to shatter bones, from ribs to large bones such as femurs or the pelvis. The extent of these injuries can cause permanent disabilities or, at the very least, require extensive physical rehabilitation.
  • Traumatic brain injuries: TBIs can permanently affect cognitive ability, bodily functions, and sensory perception. TBIs occur when the brain has been bruised by an external force, and broken blood vessels fill the cavities inside the skull and brain with blood. The added pressure continues to cause damage until the bleeding can be stopped.
  • Whiplash: Snapping the head back and forth on the spinal column takes little force. This can cause nerve damage to the spine, fractures along the vertebrae, and even break blood vessels. The result of whiplash can be as minimal as pain and disorientation or as extensive as permanent chronic pain and vertigo.
  • Crush injuries: When trucks collide with other motor vehicles, passengers are often trapped inside the vehicle, compacted, and crushed.
  • Dismemberment: Severed limbs and other extremities are common in truck vs. car accidents. In seconds, someone could face the rest of their life without using their legs or arms.
  • Death: The tragedy of death affects more than just the person who has died. Their loved ones and people who rely on them for emotional and financial support also have to endure the rest of their lives in an empty place that can never be replaced.

The Expenses of Surviving a Truck Accident

From the ride to the hospital in an ambulance to the pain of physical and mental rehabilitation, nearly every step in recovery and healing is painful. Survivors of truck accidents can also expect significant medical expenses, lost income due to recovery, and quite possibly a lifetime of adjusting mentally to the trauma they have endured.

Here are some of the damages survivors of truck accidents may need compensation for.

  • Property damage/loss of vehicle
  • Hospital/ER expenses
  • Testing such as MRI, CT Scans, X-rays
  • Surgery
  • Physical therapy
  • Pain Management
  • Mental health treatment
  • Prosthetic limbs
  • Pain and suffering
  • Lost income/future income
  • Compensation for death

How This Affects You

As mentioned before, truck accidents are serious, life-changing events. Not only do drivers have a responsibility to adhere to federal transportation regulations, but trucking companies are also responsible for managing their employees to promote highway safety.

Suppose a contributing factor such as driving under the influence of substances, reckless driving, or other preventable causes of the accident can be determined. In that case, any number of these can work in your favor toward getting the compensation you deserve for your damages.

Drivers and their employers are responsible for upholding highway safety regulations and practices to ensure the safe operation of their vehicles to the public. Your attorney can use the results of failed drug and alcohol tests, dash-cams, and eyewitness accounts to build a case that supports an argument of negligence that led to injuries and damages that were no fault of your own.

You may need to take this matter to court. A truck accident attorney can help you navigate the legal process, from making the initial claim of personal injury to meeting deadlines and trying to settle with the insurers of the truck driver/company.

An attorney can typically get a higher settlement amount since they know how to leverage their collected evidence and present it in mediation. The parties responsible for your injuries need to be held responsible. Though a truck accident may have changed your life irreparably, a personal injury lawyer in San Diego can help protect your rights and assist you in seeking the compensation you deserve.

Skip to content