Drivers of passenger cars often cause accidents due to distractions, and truck drivers are no different. The consequences of distractions such as looking at a cell phone may be even more catastrophic in these cases. Truckers need to keep their attention constantly on the road while operating their massive vehicles. A commercial truck requires much more stopping distance than a passenger car, and routine maneuvers require more care. A slight delay in responding to changing traffic, weather, or road conditions can cause a collision. However, truck drivers sometimes succumb to distractions due to the boredom and fatigue that arise from spending so many hours behind the wheel.
Distracted driving can take numerous forms, but some common examples include:
Using a cell phone
Eating, drinking, or grooming
Fiddling with the radio or GPS, or looking at maps
Watching videos on entertainment devices in the truck
Rules for Cell Phone Use by Truckers
Perhaps the most common type of distracted driving involves using a cell phone to talk, send text messages, or surf the internet. As a result, strict rules apply to cell phone use. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration prohibits truck drivers in interstate commerce from sending and receiving text messages while they are driving. The rules allow truckers to talk on a cell phone as long as they use a hands-free device and remain properly fastened by a seat belt. The phone must be mounted near the driver, and they must be able to dial it by pressing only one button. Violations of these rules can result in civil penalties and the loss of a commercial license, which would put the livelihood of a trucker at risk.
Rules for Trucking Companies
Trucking companies must not allow or require drivers to engage in text conversations or hold a phone by hand while they are behind the wheel. Like their drivers, companies may face civil penalties for violations.
Holding Truckers and Companies Accountable for Distracted Driving
A victim of a truck accident caused by distracted driving may bring claims based on negligence against the trucker and the trucking company. This requires showing that the driver, the trucking company, or both failed to use reasonable care under the circumstances. Most distracted driving behaviors would be considered unreasonably dangerous, especially for drivers operating huge commercial vehicles. The accident must have directly resulted from the distracted driving. In other words, it probably would not have occurred otherwise.
If the accident resulted from a violation of cell phone regulations, a victim may have a negligence per se claim. This traditionally has meant that the defendant is automatically deemed negligent if they violated a rule intended to protect people like the victim, and the victim suffered the type of harm that the rule was intended to prevent. Even if a state does not apply negligence per se in its traditional form, violations of regulations such as cell phone rules strongly suggest that a defendant was negligent.
A trucking company may be liable for the actions of its drivers while they were on the job, even if the company did not cause an accident directly. This can help a victim recover more compensation, since trucking companies have “deeper pockets” than their employee drivers.
Damages in truck accident cases may be substantial, since a victim may have suffered catastrophic injuries and permanent disabilities. They may recover compensation for their past, present, and future medical bills, as well as lost wages, lost earning capacity, property damage, pain and suffering, emotional distress, and lost enjoyment of life, among other economic and non-economic harm. The value of each claim will depend on its specific facts. A victim should consider setting up free consultations with truck accident lawyers in their area to learn about their legal rights and the compensation to which they may be entitled.