Hazards on the Highway: Distracted Driving and Large Trucks
Driving while distracted is a problem for everyone on the road. Even if you don’t participate in distracted behaviors yourself, the guy in the car coming toward you might be doing so. In 2015, the latest year for which we have complete data, 3,477 people died in crashes attributed to distracted driving.
Distracted driving doesn’t only mean using a cell phone or texting. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) defines distracted driving as “any activity that diverts attention from driving, including talking or texting on your phone, eating and drinking, talking to people in your vehicle, fiddling with the stereo, entertainment or navigation system—anything that takes your attention away from the task of safe driving.” There is no safe activity at which you can multitask while behind the wheel.
The consequences are deadlier when the distracted driver is operating a vehicle like a tractor-trailer that can weigh up to 40 tons—that’s about eight to ten times the weight of the average passenger vehicle. The fact is, distracted driving is also a problem for semi drivers. The organization that oversees large-truck drivers, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), has created some no-nonsense rules regarding what behavior is and isn’t allowed while driving.
Large Trucks and Fatal Crashes
During 2015, in two-vehicle crashes that involve one passenger vehicle and one large truck, 97 percent of occupants who were killed were in the passenger vehicle. When you look at all vehicular crash deaths during 2015, one in nine—11 percent—happened because of large truck accidents.
For 2015, the NHTSA has reported that the number of fatal crashes involving large trucks totaled 3,852. That number is 22 percent higher than the number of fatalities during 2009. Clearly, we are going in the wrong direction.
But while we don’t have figures for large truck crashes that specifically involve distraction, it’s not hard to believe that, when truck drivers are distracted, fatalities follow. A sample of some of the fatal crashes involving large trucks and distracted driving are:
- In May, 2017, one person died, with another one critically injured, because a large truck hit a small passenger car on a state road in Utah. Even though the truck was not speeding, police believe that the truck driver was distracted by his phone.
- In August, 2016, a large-truck driver characterized by the Nebraska State Patrol as “inattentive and distracted by outside influences” hit a minivan at high speed on I-80, killing six people.
- In November, 2013, a large-truck driver allegedly distracted by photos of “scantily-clad women on Facebook” killed a police officer when he plowed into emergency and police vehicles on I-8 in Arizona.
In an August, 2017, mishap that thankfully resulted in no injuries, one flatbed truck on I-65 in Indiana ran into another, allegedly because of driver distraction. Two cars were also struck. The road was shut down for hours.
What Does the FMCSA Say?
The current rules created by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) are brief and meant to be to the point:
- No texting
- No reading
- No dialing
- No holding
- No reaching.
Mobile devices require at least one hand to hold them, thus the “no holding” rule. If you need to press more than one button to call someone, the “no dialing” rule is violated. “No texting” would also be covered by needing to press more than one button; exceptions are made for emergencies or for contacting law enforcement. These rules all demand, by definition, that mobile devices be hands-free. But mobile devices must also be close enough to the driver so that the “no reaching” rule is not broken.
“No reading” is meant to keep a driver’s attention focused on the road ahead. The average text message takes five seconds to read. At highway speeds, that’s at least 100 yards you would travel without having your eyes on the road. A lot can happen over the space of 100 yards.
The FMCSA does not mention camera phones, but it seems obvious that not taking pictures while operating an 80,000 pound rig would be considered unsafe.
The FMCSA penalties exacted for distracted driving can be substantial:
- Large-truck driver fines can go as high as $2,750.
- A citation for distracted driving is considered to be a “serious traffic violation” by the FMCSA. Three violations during any three-year span will result in a 120-day suspension from driving; two violations within three years result in a 60-day suspension.
- An employer, if they require a driver to operate a hand-held device while driving, can also be fined up to $11,000.
Any driver engaged in interstate commerce—generally defined as carrying cargo across state lines—must abide by the FMCSA’s regulations, which override any conflicting state law.
Recent Report Spotlights Danger
The reaction to distracted driving by drivers of semis is in no way overblown. Texting while driving makes the risk of an accident over 23 times likelier, according to a report released by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute. Other increases in crash likelihood include the following activities:
- Checking a map—7 times more likely
- Reaching for a phone—6.7 times more likely
- Entering a number into a phone—5.9 times more likely.
Even using a hands-free system to talk elevates your risk slightly, to 1.3 times more likely. Additionally, eating or drinking while behind the wheel of a truck has been found to be more risky than talking on a phone. In a 2008 Wisconsin accident, a truck driver hit a stopped school bus because he was drinking a soda and not paying attention. The result was 14 children needing hospital care.
One final point: it has been speculated that young truck drivers may be more dangerous because, having grown up with electronic devices, they may downplay the risks and feel overconfident when using them. Young drivers are also the most likely to have less experience driving the big rigs, while at the same time overestimating their ability to multitask with a device while driving.
Truck Accident? Turn to Steve Heisler, The Injury Lawyer.
If you have been involved in a collision with a large truck, you may be concerned about how you’re going to make ends meet. You may be confused about how to go about seeking compensation from the negligent driver. That’s understandable. Not only are truck accidents likely to be serious due to the size of the vehicles involved, but they are more legally complex and may involve multiple parties, including the driver’s company, truck owner, truck manufacturer and others.
Steve Heisler has been helping injured people in Maryland for more than two decades with all types of vehicular accidents. That means he has won compensation for victims of car accidents, motorcycle wrecks, bicycle accidents, and, yes, truck wrecks. Steve’s thorough investigation will uncover all potential defendants in your case, demanding just compensation for your medical expenses, rehabilitation, loss of income, and pain and suffering. If you lost a loved one because of a big rig driver’s negligence, Steve can help your family recover through a wrongful death lawsuit.
You’d better believe the trucking company and its insurer will have a team of lawyers to protect their interests. Call Steve Heisler, The Injury Lawyer, to protect yours. Call 1-410-625-4878 for a no-cost, no-obligation consultation, or use our online contact form.