Author: Jason W. Konvicka, Richmond, VA Personal Injury Attorney
While many people find big rigs scary enough, the trucking industry would like them even bigger. The trucking industry is once again requesting legislation that would allow larger trucks with heavier loads to be allowed on the highways. The current weight load is 80,000 pounds and they would like an increase bringing that weight up to 91,000 pounds.
Shockingly, 3,852 people died in large truck crashes in 2015. Only sixteen percent of these deaths were truck occupants. Sixty-nine percent were occupants of cars and other passenger vehicles hit by the trucks, and fifteen percent were pedestrians, bicyclists or motorcyclists. One person is injured or killed in a trucking accident every sixteen minutes
What makes these big trucks so dangerous?
Let’s look back at the 2014 trucking accident that almost killed comedian Tracy Morgan. He, with his driver and three companions, had slowed down to ten miles per hour on the New Jersey Highway as they went through a congested construction area. Signs warning drivers to drop their speeds were posted. Perhaps the tractor trailer driver did not see the posted signs, did not see that the cars in front of him were nearly stopped, or could not stop fast enough because of the combined weight of truck and load. The result was that the driver of the semi hit Morgan’s van at forty-five miles per hour, killing performer James McNair, injuring three others and leaving Morgan in critical condition with a traumatic brain injury.
Many trucking accidents involve trucks rear-ending the vehicle in front of them because the trucks could not stop quickly enough. One of the biggest factors that impacts the time it takes for any vehicle to stop is the weight of the vehicle. Even though semi-trucks have larger brakes than other vehicles, it usually takes a large truck longer to stop because of the heavier weight of the truck itself and the load it carries. Cars have an average weight of 5,000 pounds while a semi-truck can weigh up to 80,000 pounds. At 65 miles per hour, a normal passenger vehicle such as a car or small pickup truck will normally take approximately 316 feet to come to a complete stop after recognizing the need to stop. In comparison, a large truck or tractor trailer (at the same speed) takes about 525 feet to come to a complete stop after recognizing the need to stop. Weather conditions increase the difference in stopping times between trucks and cars. Simply put, increasing the weight limits of trucks will not decrease truck crashes and fatalities. To the contrary, logic dictates that trucking accidents and fatalities will increase if the proposed legislation is approved.
Another regulation that the trucking industry has proposed to change is the number of continuous hours that a truck driver is allowed to drive. Right now, truck drivers are not permitted to drive more than fourteen hours per day or seventy-seven hours within a seven-day period. The driver who hit Morgan’s van had been driving for thirteen and a half hours at the time of the crash. However, he had also driven fourteen hours from his home to pick up the load; so he had actually been driving a total of twenty-eight hours before the accident. He is not the only driver who was functioning this way. Trucking industry experts and drivers themselves admit that little is done to enforce these regulations. The industry’s move towards hiring independent contractors rather than long term employees (to increase revenues) makes it difficult to track hours a driver drives, and easy to skirt the regulations.
While passenger vehicle fatalities dropped in recent years as new safety features such as automatic braking systems, lane departure warnings, back up cameras, and adaptive cruise control have become available, the trucking industry has fought the adoption of these technologies as being too expensive.
Last year, according to the American Trucking Trends 2016 report, the industry hit an all-time record of $726 billion dollars in revenue, and sales exceeded $700 billion for the second year in a row.
Tracey Morgan, fortunately, has made a significant recovery from his injuries and is trying to rebuild his life and career. Kevin Roper, the driver of the Walmart tractor trailer pled guilty to manslaughter. He and his victims will have to live with the trauma of the accident for the rest of their lives. Perhaps, if regulations on this industry had been tightened instead of eased in the past, this accident and others like it could have been prevented. The only way the roads will become safer and less dangerous is if trucking industry regulations are made stronger.