Trucking Accidents: Determining What Caused the Accident

(Page 2 of 2 of Trucking Accidents: Common Causes & Liability )

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Traditionally, accident victims had to rely on police reports and witness statements to understand how and why an accident occurred. Today, there are other key ways to get information about an accident: information from government agencies and data from high tech devices.

Contact Government Agencies

Federal and state regulations require that a certified truck inspector (usually a member of the reconstruction division of the state police) inspect any commercial truck and trailer involved in an accident before it is removed from the scene. This report reveals the condition of all of the important mechanical parts of the truck and trailer. These reports are not part of local police report. Instead, they must be obtained from the appropriate government agency. (To learn more about the particular government agencies to contact, read Nolo's articles Trucking Accidents Caused by Driver Error and Trucking Accidents Caused by Brake and Tire Failure.)

Preserve Data From High Tech Devices

When a plane crashes, the first thing officials recover is the "black box" -- a device that records data that assists with the investigation. The trucking industry is now using devices similar to black boxes that record all sorts of information, including how fast the truck was going, patterns of speed, when the driver used his or her breaks -- and even how long the driver had been on the road.

Many of these devices are also used in the automotive industry, such as on-board computers and global positioning systems (GPS). Others are specific to the trucking industry such as inclinometers, which are devices that provide information about the angles of a slope and how to round corners safely.

If you are in a trucking accident, it is critical that you make sure data from high tech equipment is preserved. Otherwise, it might be erased as part of the regular routine of the company.

Common Causes of Truck Accidents

The most common causes of truck accidents are driver error prior to and during the trip, mechanical failures, weather conditions, road design, and traffic signal failures.

Driver Error

The most common cause of trucking accidents is driver error. In fact, drivers of large trucks are ten times more likely to be the cause of the crash than other factors, such as weather, road conditions, and vehicle performance, according to a recent study released by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). The FMCSA found that the action or inaction by drivers was the critical reason for 88 percent of crashes.

Factors such as the use of prescription and over-the-counter drugs, speeding, fatigue, inattention, distractions, work environment, and unfamiliarity with the road all can contribute to driver error. But by far the most common causes of trucking accidents are driver fatigue and sleep deprivation. (To learn more about trucking accidents caused by driver error, read Nolo's article Trucking Accidents Caused by Driver Error.)

Equipment Problems

The next most common cause of truck accidents is equipment failure. This can include manufacturing mistakes (defective tires) or design errors (failure to provide backing warning or object detection systems). However, most mechanical causes of truck accidents are caused by a failure to properly maintain the equipment. (To learn more about accients caused by brake and tire problems, read Nolo's article Trucking Accidents Caused by Brake and Tire Failure. ) Some examples include:

  • removing or depowering the front brakes, which can cause a truck to jackknife
  • brake failure due to inadequate adjustments
  • tire blowouts due to wear
  • improper securing or load distribution, contributing to truck rollover
  • defective steering
  • improper trailer attachment
  • defective side or rear lighting, and
  • transmission failure.

Getting Help

Because the web of players in the trucking industry can be complicated and getting information from the right sources may require some industry know-how, you may want to get advice or representation from a personal injury lawyer.

For help on choosing a good truck accident lawyer, read Nolo's article Finding a Personal Injury Lawyer.Or, you can go straight to Nolo's Lawyer Directory for a list of personal injury attorneys in your geographical area (click on the "Types of Cases" and "Work History" tabs to learn about a lawyer's experience with truck accidents). To read more about the personal injury claim process, see How to Win Your Personal Injury Claim, by Joseph Matthews (Nolo).

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by: Thomas Fazioli

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