Cars, trucks, vans, SUV’s and other passenger vehicles must share the road with large commercial vehicles such as 18 wheelers, semi-trucks, straight trucks, and other large commercial and industrial vehicles. However, while most trips down the road are uneventful and completed successfully when there is always the chance that an accident could occur. When the accident is with a large vehicle that may be several times the size of the average car, the risk of catastrophic injuries and damage is significant.
At Reiff & Bily, our truck accident lawyers represent clients injured by semi-trucks, tractor-trailers, 18-wheeler trucks, and delivery trucks in Pennsylvania. We have fought for injury victims for more than 36 years. We are a nationally recognized personal injury law firm that is committed to obtaining favorable results for our clients. Please contact us today for a free consultation to discuss your Pennsylvania truck accident case by calling 800-861-6708.
Truck Accidents are a Major Injury Concern on Pennsylvania’s Highways
Since 1979, drivers have seen an overall decrease in deadly accidents involving commercial vehicles. However, simply because the number of commercial truck accidents is short of the peak of accidents in the 1970s doesn’t mean that preventable accidents are a thing of the past. Rather, serious commercial truck accidents continue to occur on a nearly daily basis. These Serious accidents frequently inflict life-altering injuries or even death.
While much of the success regarding reducing trucking accidents since the 1970s can be attributed to increased regulations, these safety measures are under attack. Recently, a Senator from Maine was instrumental in suspending certain aspects of hours-of-service rules. Hours of service rules are intended to prevent tired, fatigued, commercial vehicle operators from getting behind the wheel. Other industry-friendly regulatory actions may further reduce highway safety and increase the odds of being involved in a serious accident. In fact, in 2013, there was a total of 3,602 fatalities due to accidents with commercial trucks and other large industrial vehicles. However, by 2014, there was a 14 percent increase in a number of deaths due to large commercial vehicles. The number of vehicle accidents involving large trucks is likely to continue to trend upwards in future years.
How Do Federal Truck Carrier Safety Regulations Keep All Drivers Safe?
As noted above, there has been a slow downward trend in fatal truck accidents since 1979. This is in part to an increase in laws and regulations imposed on commercial truck drivers. Laws and regulations of this type are intended to improve safety for all drivers including commuters and commercial drivers.
Truck drivers of 18-wheeler trucks and semi-trucks must abide by both state and federal safety regulations. These rules and regulations have saved thousands of lives over the past several decades. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, also known as NHSTA, is one of the federal agencies responsible for creating and enforcing federal safety regulations as they pertain to tractor-trailers and other commercial vehicles. In addition to the NHSTA, Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) is also tasked with enforcing standards and regulations for commercial drivers. As a basis for implementing their standards and regulations, NHSTA and FMCSA have cited that there needs to be standards and regulations for drivers to ensure not only the safety of the drivers themselves but for other motorists who share the road with them.
One of the most effective regulations that the NHSTA and FMSCA have imposed over the past several decades is a limit on a number of hours that a driver may continuously drive their vehicle. These “hours of service” (HOS) regulations were enacted in an effort of reducing the incidences of fatigue that has plagued the trucking industry since its inception. These regulations apply to all commercial drivers who are operating a vehicle that operates at more than 10,001 pounds or falls into any other of the enumerated categories. Drivers who fall under these regulations must generally abide by the following restrictions.
- 11-hour limit
- 14-hour limit
- 60/70 hour “weekly” limit
While a 55-hour restart rule was in effect for much of 2014, that rule was suspended after lobbying efforts by the trucking industry. Despite this suspension, fatigued driving by truckers remains a serious safety concern for all motorists.
There are an array of other safety regulations and regimes intended to ensure that only qualified, fit drivers operate commercial vehicles like 18 wheelers. For instance, drivers must pass a test for medical fitness. The presence of certain uncontrolled illnesses or conditions, such as sleep apnea, can render a driver unfit. Furthermore, rules and regulations also set forth required equipment on a truck and the type and frequency of required maintenance. The rules also set forth procedures the driver must follow if the vehicle has a mechanical problem or cannot otherwise be driven. Essentially, these rules set forth an array of requirements intended to reduce the likelihood of an accident.
Semi Crashes Are More Serious than Normal Accidents
Truck crashes and accidents pose a disproportionate threat of catastrophic injury due to the inherently large size of the involved vehicles. Furthermore, the high speeds at which vehicles typically travel down the highway also plays a role. Consider the simple equation where force equals mass multiple by acceleration (F=ma). As mass and speed increases, the forces involved also increase. Furthermore, a fully loaded tractor-trailer can weigh as much as 20 to 30 times the weight of a common passenger vehicle. When you factor in the speed and the weight, it can take a tractor-trailer nearly 20 to 40 percent longer to come to a complete stop as compared to a standard passenger car, truck, van or SUV. The combination of weight and speed is the perfect combination of serious injuries and the force that a commercial vehicle can mean catastrophic personal injuries as well as property damage.
Height From the Ground
In addition, large commercial vehicles such a semi-trucks and 18-wheelers are much higher off the ground. This leads to a number of potentially dangerous consequences. First, due to their height, they often have considerably increased blind spots in comparison to a passenger vehicle. Furthermore, the increased vehicle height also means a higher center-of-gravity. This makes the vehicle less maneuverable and more prone to tipping and jack-knifing. The reduced maneuverability also means that the truck or 18 wheeler is less able to avoid hazards on the roadway.
Rear Underride Guards
One other dangerous aspect of the vehicle’s height is addressed through safety regulations requiring rear underride guards. However, even when these guards have been properly installed the weight of the truck in combination with the speed they and the other car is traveling often means that these underride guards do little in the way of preventing serious and fatal injuries. In a 2013 study conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway safety, underride guards were found to be deficient in preventing injuries in certain crash types. This means that even when there are safety measures implemented, they often are insufficient at protecting us against fatal injuries on the road.
Further exacerbating the situation is the fact that there is no nationwide requirement for underride guards. This lack of a side underride guard requirement comes despite multiple studies showing that side guards are effective at preventing fatalities and mitigating injuries to pedestrians and bicyclists. These guards work by channeling pedestrians and others away from the vehicle’s wheels and thus prevent crushing injuries. Theoretically, side underride guards should also be effective at minimizing injuries when a motorcyclist is in an accident with a commercial truck.
Fatal Truck Accidents in Pennsylvania
The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) keeps records of all auto accidents that occur in any one of the 67 counties in Pennsylvania. PennDot reported that in 2014 that each day there were a total of 332 reportable traffic crashes all across the state. This breaks down to approximately 14 crashes every hour. Out of these accidents there are 3 persons who are killed in reportable traffic crashes every day, which breaks down to a tragic one death every seven hours. In addition, PennDot reported that each day there are a total of 219 people who are injured in reportable crashes across the state.
It is important to know that anytime there has been a fatal accident that there are certain requirements under the law that must be followed including:
- Pennsylvania law requires if a party wants to pursue a wrongful death claim they must file the complaint within two years from the date of death.
- After a death caused by negligence or misconduct, only a close relative or personal representative of the person killed has the legal right to seek compensation for damages, which may include medical and funeral expenses, lost income over the decedent’s expected life span, and the loss of companionship.
Even in the aftermath of a fatal car accident, insurance companies and other liable parties will likely try to avoid or minimize their obligations for a fatal car accident. This makes it essential for you to have strong, determined representation by a qualified wrongful death attorney.
Our Philadelphia Truck Accident Attorneys can Help
Injured individuals can hold truck drivers and trucking companies legally liable for harm caused by their negligence or noncompliance. If you were injured or have lost a loved one in a trucking accident, contact our trucking accident lawyers for a free & confidential consultation. We have the experience and resources to properly prepare and pursue a trucking accident claim. Our personal injury lawyers can negotiate with the trucking company, insurance company, and any other relevant parties in the matter.
Call Reiff & Bily at 1-800-861-6708 or contact us online. Since the Pennsylvania statutes of limitation and statute of repose can bar your claim through the passage of time alone, time may be of the essence. In some cases, you may need to act immediately to preserve evidence in your trucking accident case.