Trucking In Texas is Big Business
Texas boasts the largest highway and interstate network in America, and more freight gets trucked through the borders of Texas than any other state in the nation. Trucking represents a vital part of the Texas economy, employing 1 in 16 Texans and moving 73% of goods manufactured in the state. Lamentably, all that traffic results in more car and truck accidents than many other states in America, and Texas is home to four of the most dangerous U.S. cities to drive, including Austin and San Antonio.
Austin Sees a Lot of Trucking Traffic
Texas’ capital Austin is situated in Travis County, directly on the I-35 corridor, a major highway running from Texas through Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri, Iowa and all the way to Minnesota. Austin also connects to US 290, US 183, and the Texas State Highway Loop 12, known as the Mopac Expressway. With an abundance of traffic channels, Austin and its surrounding areas see a lot of semi-trailer and other commercial vehicle activity, and the Violet Crown city plays an important role in the Texas trucking industry.
Austin 18-Wheeler Accidents Are All Too Common
Commercial vehicles like 18-wheelers are registered as motor carriers with the Texas DMV, but they share the road with small cars, light trucks, motorcycles and even bicycles and pedestrians. With so many vehicles on the road, commercial truck accidents in Texas are by no means infrequent, far too often resulting in grievous bodily injury or even wrongful death.
In accidents involving a passenger car and a commercial vehicle, ninety-six percent of the people killed were in the passenger car.
Suing To Recover For a Semi-Tractor Truck Accident
Commercial truck driving is governed by a variety of Federal, state and local laws and regulations, including rules concerning vehicle maintenance and driver licensing and training. Many states like Texas have different rules from the Federal standards, and trucks that drive only within a state are often not regulated by Federal law.
Determining which laws apply to a truck accident can be difficult, as it depends on a long list of factors, including the:
- Location of the accident
- Age and make of the vehicle
- Date of the driver’s trucking license
- Weight and contents of the trailer being hauled
In addition, the laws of vicarious liability (known as respondeat superior) determine when a trucking company must pay for its employee’s wrongful conduct, even if a court or jury finds the driver was negligent. Commercial truckers are required to maintain insurance policies larger than regular vehicles, and some are willing to settle when they have driven negligently and caused injury.
However, many trucking companies will do everything they can to avoid liability. Some employers claim that their drivers disobeyed orders, or used the truck for personal reasons, and understanding vicarious liability is critical to successfully recovering for a trucking accident.
Trucking accidents are also factually complicated, involving questions about mechanical failures, human behavior, medical tests to show if a driver was unfit for driving, and how the accident occurred. Many such cases require expert witnesses to examine the physical evidence and explain how it demonstrates that the truck driver was at fault.
Trucks Are Generally More Dangerous Than Smaller Vehicles
Semi-trailer trucks (also called “semis” and “eighteen-wheelers”) are enormous machines, with engines six times larger than conventional cars and measuring up to eighty feet long with the trailer. While all that support and muscle power is necessary to carry the enormous loads that trucks haul — up to 80,000 pounds (40 tons) — the size and weight of semi-trucks pose a substantial danger to smaller cars and vehicles, and as Federal Department of Transportation (DOT) records make all too clear, semi-truck accidents can be devastating and even fatal.
Semis require much longer to stop than ordinary passenger vehicles, even when a trailer is unloaded. The problem is even worse with bad weather or road conditions.
When a truck is hitched and carrying cargo, trailers can jackknife, making contact with the truck and often causing sweeping accidents, involving multiple vehicles, property damage and personal injury. But even when driving without a trailer – known as bobtailing – semis handle very differently and can be more difficult to control.
Trucks are much taller than ordinary automobiles, with greater ground clearance, and semi-truck collisions causing injuries and fatalities often involve underriding, in which a car moves underneath the front, rear or side of a semi-trailer, with devastating consequences.
Trucks also have a higher center of gravity than lower vehicles like cars and motorcycles, and truck accidents are more likely to result in rollovers, which tend to be more deadly than other car accidents.
Sadly, the hazards posed by a truck’s physics are borne out in real world statistics. Although there are between up to 50 times more cars than semi-trucks on the road (depending on location and time of day), one in ten car accident deaths involve commercial vehicles.
The Trucking Industry and Safety Standards
Trucks are truly the lifeblood of American commerce. Most freight in the United States is moved by trucks, more than three times the amount moved by railroads.
Many truck drivers are hard-working and responsible individuals, performing a vital service for farmers, manufacturers and nearly anyone who buys something in the United States. It is not an easy job, and apart from country music, truckers can go unrecognized by the very consumers who rely on them to complete long journeys on notoriously archaic roads and bridges in need of repair.
However, trucking comes with significant risks, known by all who choose to work in the industry, and so Federal, state and local laws have been established to ensure that:
- Trucks are safe and maintained, with no defective parts and up to date technology.
- Truckers drive safely, with enough rest, avoiding drugs or other intoxicants.
- Trucking companies obtain larger insurance policies to cover the much greater risk, especially when the trucks carry very heavy cargos, or hazardous and explosive materials.
Trucks Are Getting Safer, But Trucking Is Not
Since the 1970s, truck manufacturers have sought to make trucks safer with technology like anti-lock brakes, stability control and collision mitigation. Many of these developments had been successful, with semi-truck accidents going down year after year. But in the past decade, that positive trend has reversed, with commercial vehicular accidents up by sixty percent.
Unfortunately, the trend has also impacted regular drivers. Car crashes involving semis and buses have risen steadily, causing more injuries and property damage. According to the DOT, nearly one in five accidents involving commercial trucks are rear end crashes, and in the majority, a trucker crashed into another driver.
Even more somber, DOT data shows fatal car crashes with motor carriers have risen forty percent, and while that includes commercial buses, most of the collisions involve trucks.
Not All Truckers Drive Safely
Unfortunately, studies show that newer truck drivers are less compliant with safety regulations than experienced drivers. Truck drivers are generally paid per mile, and even in anonymous surveys, many drivers admit to violating safety regulations.
Despite warnings by regulators and safety researchers, trucking companies constantly seek to increase their bottom lines by opposing proposed safety measures like longer rest or sleep periods for drivers, speed limitations, side guards to prevent truck underrides and limits on commercial truck sizes or weight.
Many Trucks On The Road Violate Safety Laws
The Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) regularly conducts regular studies to determine the cause of truck crashes, and the results are sobering. More than half of trucks examined were violating mechanical safety standards, and one third had a violation that made the truck illegal to drive on the road.
Driver Fatigue and Error
Research shows that one of the main causes of commercial vehicular accidents is driver fatigue. Safety researchers have found that truck drivers who drive beyond the regulated maximum hours are more than twice as likely to end up crashing. Fatigued drivers are:
Likely to have slower sensorimotor functions
Less able to respond to emergency situations
At increased risk of losing speed, veering out of lane or even falling asleep
Drunk, Drugged and Distracted Drivers
Scientific studies have shown high rates of illegal drug use by truckers, perhaps even higher than we know. The pressures of long hours and being paid per mile lead many drivers (especially younger drivers) to use stimulants such as cocaine and amphetamines to stay awake. Such drugs can cause agitation, vertigo and even hallucinations, and affect the driver’s response time, increasing the risk of accidents.
Federal and state Hours Of Service (HOS) regulations try to minimize the risk by limiting the number of hours that commercial truck operators can drive without having a night’s rest. Despite the ample data supporting these efforts, drivers often violate HOS rules.
In fact, safety improvements in the design of vehicles and roads have helped reduce accidents involving trucks and other commercial vehicles. But regrettably, drivers themselves have continued to pose a major problem.
Even the trucking industry’s own policy advocates have named “illegal drug use among commercial truck drivers” as the industry’s greatest “safety issue.”
Why to Talk to a Lawyer About a Semi-Truck Accident
These are complex matters, and suing to recover for injuries caused by a truck accident can be extremely challenging without an experienced and knowledgeable attorney to help.
Justinian & Associates has over a decade of experience and knowledge of how to successfully resolve a lawsuit involving an 18-wheeler or other commercial vehicle, in Texas or nationally. Our dedicated team of trucking and commercial accident lawyers are well-trained in these areas of law, and offer an absolutely free consultation to hear the specific details of your case and let you know your options.
Because we work on a contingency-fee basis, our pay is contingent upon whether we recover money for you or not. So if we work on your case and fail, you won’t owe a dime.
Our team painstakingly gathers and examines the facts relevant to every case, including finding expert witnesses, visual aids and other technology to demonstrate what caused a semi-trailer truck accident and who was at fault, so that the real victim can recover.
The important thing is to make the phone call, and start explaining your side of the story.