The US, and Pennsylvania in particular, is seeing a dramatic increase in trucking accidents. According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), a division of the U.S. Department of Transportation that oversees trucking regulation in America, the 25 years between 1975 and 2000 saw an increase of fatal truck crashes of nearly 20%.
Pennsylvania is not immune from this troubling trend. Philadelphia in particular, with its busy streets and high vehicle volume, saw 9.1% of Pennsylvania’s total truck crashes in 2006 alone.
Philadelphia Truck Accidents: Common Forms Of Negligence
In the hope of preventing more fatal truck accidents, the experienced Philadelphia truck crash lawyers at Philly Truck Accident Attorneys have put together this guide of practical tips for recognizing the common causes of Philadelphia truck accidents.
Truck Driver Error In Philadelphia
Nationwide, approximately 90% of all truck accidents involve some form of driver error. The term “driver error” encompasses a wide range of accident-causing factors, from a quick peek at the radio to full-out alcohol impairment. In truck accident legal cases, trucking companies are often found responsible for many types of “driver error,” because the truck driver was “performing normal duties in the course of their employment” when the accident occurred.
But for Philadelphia drivers on the road today, a Pennsylvania trucking company probably doesn’t come into the equation. Instead, Philadelphia’s motorists should be aware of the following common truck driver error accident factors and how to recognize them.
Relative to other parts of the country, Philadelphia does not have as many accidents as cities down south. For example, in Houston there are several more truck and 18-wheeler accidents due to the oil and fracking boom. For more information on those statistics, click here.
Driving Under The Influence
The FMCSA’s recent study found that nearly 45% of all truck accidents, in Philadelphia and nationwide, were caused by truck driver impairment that resulted from the use of prescription or over-the-counter drugs.
Truck Driver Drug Use & Fatal Trucking Accidents
In another study, conducted by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), a disconcerting link was found between truck driver drug use and trucking accidents that resulted in fatality. It seems that truck drivers in Philadelphia who operate their trucks while intoxicated are more likely to cause traffic accidents that result in death than those who do not.
Truck Drivers In Philadelphia & Methamphetamine
The methamphetamine epidemic among truck drivers has been well-documented. In fact, recent research found that 85% of truck drivers report meth being “easily available” at truck stops in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and across the nation.
Truck driver drug usage is fairly easy to understand, although impossible to justify. Truck drivers polled report using methamphetamine to stay awake during long shifts at the wheel. They also said that general drug usage “helped” them stave off depression, a common effect of long-haul trucking.
The Government’s Response To Truck Driver Impairment
In response to these staggering statistics, the NTSB passed a series of laws to stem the tide of trucking accidents involving driver drug use in 1988.
These regulations required mandatory, random drug screening of truck drivers, drug tests that would be administered by trucking companies themselves. After watching a gradual decline in trucking accidents caused by truck driver impairment, bureaucratic complexity and inadequate governmental oversight, the incidence of truck driver impairment accidents is back on the rise.
In perhaps the most damning study yet, 35% of all truck drivers who themselves die in fatal trucking accidents test positive for some form of illegal drug.
How To Recognize A Truck Driver Who Is Intoxicated
With little help from governmental agencies, the task of preventing impairment-related trucking accidents falls upon other drivers themselves. So how can you spot truck driver drug impairment? Watch out for these warning signs:
- Is the Philadelphia truck driving too fast, too slow, or changing speeds unexpectedly?
- Is the truck weaving in and out of lanes erratically?
- Are they making frequent lane changes, to the point of aggression?
- Do they seem to ignore traffic signals, like signs and stop lights?
- Do they veer towards the highway shoulder, or straddle the median?
In this situation, when you suspect that a truck driver in Philadelphia is driving under the influence, attempt to distance yourself from the truck as much as possible. When it is safe to do so, call 911 and report the truck driver’s license number, where they were driving, and the direction that they were going.
Trucking Company Mismanagement & Negligence
Another common cause of trucking accidents in Philadelphia is trucking company mismanagement. Although mismanagement is often the cause of truck driver error, responsibility for these accidents generally devolves upon the company itself, rather than a particular driver.
Mismanagement & Truck Driver Fatigue
Among these cases of trucking company neglignece, requiring drivers to complete unrealistic driving schedules is the most commonly cited. Under federal law, trucking companies are required to follow “Federal Hours of Service Rules.” These rules limit a truck driver’s total work day to 14 hours, and driving time to 11. They also enforce a 10 hour break between each working shift.
And yet, 18% of all trucking accidents are caused by truck driver fatigue. Tired truck drivers can fall asleep at the wheel, become inattentive, misjudge situations, and react improperly to dangerous conditions.
Holding Negligent Truck Drivers Accountable
Proving an Hours of Service Violation is particularly complex. Although truck drivers in Philadelphia are required to maintain exacting records of their hours, our Philadelphia truck accident lawyers have encountered several cases in which a truck driver’s time log was incomplete or obviously inaccurate.
In these cases, our personal injury attorneys have had to pursue other avenues to explain the causes of truck driver fatigue. We reviewed “bills of lading,” records of a trucker’s deliveries, to find out where they were and when. In one case, after subpoenaing a trucking company’s time logs, we discovered that the trucking company in question had repeatedly advised its drivers to mislog time, so that they could work long hours.
Trucking Equipment Failure
A study sponsored by the Department of Transportation (DOT) found that more than 29% of all trucking accidents were contributed to, if not directly caused by, brake failure. Tire failure is another particularly common cause of trucking accidents.
As in the case of determining truck driver fatigue, proving who exactly was responsible for the failure of trucking equipment is often difficult. All of the following parties may be held liable for a truck malfunction:
- The truck driver
- The party that loaded the truck with goods
- Whoever was responsible for maintaining the truck up to code (often the owner of the truck or a managing company)
- The truck’s manufacturer (often a truck’s different parts will be produced by different companies, so in the case of brake failure, the brake manufacturer may be found responsible for an accident)
Generally, cases of truck failure or inadequate maintenance involve a lengthy process in which the parties involved attempt to shift blame among themselves.
How Does A Trucking Accident In Philadelphia Become A Personal Injury Lawsuit?
In all of the above trucking accident cases, a personal injury lawsuit will hinge on the concept of “negligence.” “Negligence” is simply the failure to take appropriate care in performing some action. In a court of law, it’s a little more complicated.
There are two primary legal concepts involved in proving negligence: “duty of care,” and the “breach” of that duty.
What Is “Duty Of Care”?
In a legal context, “duty of care” is the responsibility that one person, a Philadelphia truck driver for example, has to prevent their causing harm to someone else. The first step in a personal injury lawsuit is to prove that a truck driver operating their vehicle in Philadelphia had this “duty of care” towards other drivers. Drivers must take “reasonable care,” factoring in weather and road conditions, while operating vehicles to prevent accidents.
Pennsylvania State and federal driving regulations serve to define this “duty of care.” It is our “duty” as Philadelphia drivers to follow the rules of the road, yielding to oncoming traffic, driving under the speed limit, and so on.
What Is A “Breach” Of This Duty?
The next step for a Philadelphia personal injury attorney is to prove that the truck driver, trucking management company, or other party violated, or “breached,” these standards. What particular actions did a truck driver take, or fail to take, that would be considered “unreasonable” in the context of the trucking accident? Were they speeding when it occurred, did their brakes fail, were they under the influence?
How Was The Truck Accident Victim Affected?
The final step in a personal injury lawsuit is to prove that the accident victim’s injuries and other damages were actually caused by the truck driver’s “breach” of their “duty of care.” Questions answered in this section run along the lines of: “did the victim’s disability result from injuries sustained in the trucking accident?”