Each year in the United States, there are more than 400,000 accidents involving large trucks commonly referred to as tractor trailers or "18-Wheelers". In 2005 alone, close to 4,000.00 people were killed in accidents involving an 18-Wheeler or large tractor trailer. Accidents involving these large trucks usually involve significant property damage and injuries due to the large size and incredible weight of these trucks, particularly when they are loaded with merchandise, vehicles or equipment. Even a so-called "low impact" accident in which an 18-Wheeler strikes another vehicle traveling at low speeds, can result in debilitating injuries. If you have been injured in a trucking accident, information about potential fault of another party is readily available.
An excellent source of information when investigating a trucking accident is the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), which is part of the United States Department of Transportation (DOT). The FMCSA is also known as the truck and bus "Safety Agency". The FMCSA's primary mission is to reduce crashes, injuries, and fatalities involving commercial motor vehicles including 18-Wheelers and buses. FMCSA requires trucking companies and their drivers to ensure the safety of their trucks. Safety inspections need to be performed on a daily basis. The loading of the trucks is also critically important as the weight on the trailer must be properly distributed and secured to avoid an 18-Wheeler rolling over during an accident.
DOT and FMCSA have established guidelines to ensure that trucking companies that operate such large vehicles on the highways operate them safely. The Department of Transportation conducts random checks and audits with trucking companies to ensure that the trucking companies are complying with the many Department of Transportation regulations. If it is found that a trucking company has not complied with the Department of Transportation and FMCSA regulations, the company can be hit with very large fines. In fact, the FMCSA levies hundreds of thousands of dollars of fines each year for violations of the DOT regulations. Among other things, the regulations require:
1. A systematic inspection, repair and maintenance of all vehicles;
2. Do the drivers hold Commercial Driver's Licenses and for bus drivers, Commercial Driver's Licenses with a "passenger" endorsement;
3. Do the drivers hold valid medical certificates;
4. Does the company have a driver drug / alcohol testing program that complies with the Department of Transportation regulations;
5. Does the trucking company put limits on how long a driver may drive, basically not more than ten (10) hours following eight (8) consecutive hours of being off duty; and
6. Do the trucking company's drivers exceed the "70 hour rule", which limits drivers to seventy (70) hours of work / driving time within eight (8) consecutive days.
It is critical in evaluating a trucking accident to evaluate whether the trucking company, and its driver complied with all DOT regulations. It is also critical to investigate whether the trucking company itself has been the focus of a FMCSA investigation, whether it has ever previously been fined by the FMCSA, or whether it was fined as a result of your trucking accident. Information collected by the FMCSA can provide valuable insight as to the cause of an accident.
A trucking accident needs to be thoroughly investigated immediately after the accident happens. With time, witnesses disappear and memories fade, and valuable evidence can be lost. To properly investigate a trucking accident, a party should review the minimum safety standards that trucking and motor coach companies must follow for operation of their vehicles, and the physical qualifications and operating rules for their drivers. Another valuable source of information on trucking accidents is the "black box" which is often found in newer models of trucks. It can reveal information on the speed, weight and maintenance of the truck. However, it requires a party to move quickly before it is destroyed in order to obtain as much information about the trucking accident as possible.