Trucking Practices & Semi Truck Accident Lawyers
The Reason the Trucking Industry Won't Fix the Big Rig Accident Problem
On January 27, 2014, Doug Balder stopped to help a big rig that had stalled out on the Ronald Reagan Memorial Tollway in Illinois. Doug, a State Trooper, was standing by while a tow truck and a Tollway vehicle helped get the stalled semi truck situated. Visibility was good that night, and the road was littered with flares, flashing lights, and warnings to oncoming traffic.
The flares and the lights didn't stop a big rig operator from driving full-speed into Balder's squad car, launching him into a ditch, his car a flaming wreck. The driver's flatbed truck was loaded with three 14,580-pound coils that launched on impact, killing the driver of the Tollway vehicle and injuring the driver of the stalled truck. Balder was left with severe burns over a third of his body, requiring him to spend weeks in a medically-induced coma while undergoing 10 surgeries and months of rehab. Investigators later learned the reason why the truck driver didn't stop: he was asleep.
Accidents like this aren't uncommon. In 2013, drowsiness caused more than 70,000 collisions, so sleeping at the wheel isn't unheard of. What you many not know, however, is that driving-while-tired is a well-known phenomenon in the trucking profession. However, at 80,000 pounds fully-loaded, a drowsy truck driver is far more dangerous and deadly than any other kind of driver. Unfortunately, trucking industry practices are creating more drowsy drivers every year.
The Pressure of Semi Truck Hours of Service
From the moment a driver wakes up and is on duty, he has 14 hours before he has to turn in for the night. Only 11 of those hours can be spent driving, which isn't as much as it seems—this article will explain why later. After their 14-hour workday is finished, they have to take an 8 hour break in their sleeper berth. Truckers will work this schedule for no more than 60 hours in a week (or 70 hours in an 8-day period) before they need to take a "restart." A restart is a 34-hour period where they do no driving. All of their hours must be recorded in a federally-mandated logbook.
Truckers regard federal hours of service rules as a nuisance (at best) or a detriment to the American Dream (at worst). During an NTSB investigation, one trucker said to investigators, "Do you know how difficult it is to make money?" Asked about keeping a complaint logbook, he added, "If anybody tells you they roll 100% by the book, they're lying to you." The truth is, the hours of service arrangement is hard for truckers.
For trucking companies, hours of service creates a culture of secrecy and desperation that makes their jobs easier—and cheaper.
Let's Talk About Pay-Per-Mile (& Its Effect on Road Safety)
If truckers were paid like other employees, either with an hourly rate or a salary, then hours of service wouldn't be a problem for them. However, carrier employees aren't paid that way—they're paid by the mile. That means no matter how long a driver has been hauling loads through city streets or open highways, they're paid according to the incredibly fickle, inconsistent number of miles they drove. If there's a traffic jam, well, that's money a driver will never see. If they need rig maintenance, tough luck. If they're running behind, they'll skip the brake check (just this once). Paying drivers by the mile motivates them to skip out on the critical duties of a big rig operator, focusing them on one thing only: getting from A to B.
"What does that have to do with me?" you might ask. Because when drivers have a choice between obeying the law or making enough money to support their families, they'll make the choice any decent person would make: they support their families. That means falsifying logbooks (a practice the trucking industry condemns but has been accused of indirectly encouraging) and driving for longer and longer hours to make ends meet. Independent contractors don't fare much better—their livelihood depends on getting dispatchers to give them "good loads," i.e. routes that come with hundreds of miles of easy driving. Contractors who get "bad loads" can't refuse them or they'll lose the ability to get the good loads later on. So, they get stuck with trips that cause them to lose money, putting them in the same situation as carrier employees: driving for illegal hours to make ends meet.
Thousands of Virtually Drunk Drivers on the Road
Driving for longer hours than allowed isn't just a matter of legal nitpicking. Long hours create sleepy drivers, and sleepy drivers are wildly dangerous. At least 13 percent of truck crashes are caused by fatigue, although experts insist the actual percentage is higher. As many as 1 in 4 truck crashes occurred after a driver had been working for 17 hours or longer. The 17 hours figure is consistent with findings from the National Sleep Foundation, who report that being awake for 18 hours makes you drive like your blood alcohol content is at .05. Being awake for a full 24 hours makes you drive as though your BAC is at .10—essentially making you a drunk driver.
The semi truck accident we mentioned earlier? The driver was in the middle of a 37-hour drive, an ordeal that's more common in the trucking profession than you might hope. When drivers feel compelled to drive for days without rest, there's something wrong with the industry.
How Trucking Companies Are Fighting...for Their Own Profits
Thanks to insurance delays and armies of highly-paid lawyers, semi truck accidents aren't all that costly for carriers. At least, they're not costly compared to the profits they make by underpaying drivers. Even when lawmakers turned to fixing the serious issues facing the industry, trucking companies hired lobbyists to keep things exactly the same.
The trucking lobby fought:
- Regulations that would screen drivers for sleep apnea (making them prone to tiredness)
- Regulations that would require side guards on trucks to prevent underride accidents
- To prevent the FCMSA from making immediate safety changes
- Safety changes that would force companies to let truckers sleep at night
Trucking companies insisted that letting truckers sleep at night would make roads unsafe by putting drivers on the road at rush hour. However, statistics show that most fatal accidents happen between midnight and dawn. In total, trucking lobbyists spent $20 million to influence Congress between 2012 and 2015. As far as access to power, safety advocates don't stand a chance—FedEx alone has 51 lobbyists, 37 of which used to work in government.
The Only Language Big Truck Companies Speak
Companies only change when the financial penalties for unsafe practices are too high to pay. Consumer protection experts estimate that millions of injuries are prevented each year because companies want to prevent product liability lawsuits. All we need now is to do the same for trucking. The key to doing that? Semi truck accident lawyers. By holding companies accountable to the people they hurt, we can make it costly for large carriers to keep things the way they are.
That's why truck accident victims call our firm. Arnold & Itkin LLP has won billions of dollars for people who held companies accountable in court. Our mission is to make the roads safer by encouraging companies to do the right thing—and when necessary, forcing them to do it in court.
If you've been injured in a big truck accident, call (888) 493-1629 or contact us online to learn your legal options.