Truck Accident Prevention

On the road, many have experienced the uncertainty associated with driving next to a large truck. Drivers of smaller passenger vehicles may wonder: "Can they see me?" "Is it safe to pass?" "Am I too close?" Trucks can be intimidating.

Trucks can cause catastrophic damage in motor vehicle collisions; most deaths in large truck accidents are passenger vehicle occupants. It is completely understandable for motorists to be cautious when driving near a large truck.

In 2018, 4,136 people died in large truck crashes in the United States; 67 percent of these fatalities were occupants of cars and other passenger vehicles. When involved in an accident with a large truck, it is clear that smaller vehicles are far more likely to face serious injury than the truck driver. For this reason, it is crucial that motorists understand the risk factors associated with large trucks and know the best ways to prevent truck accidents.

Tips for Motorists

Passenger vehicle drivers should keep in mind that large trucks have large blind spots, long stopping distances, and limited maneuverability. By taking caution on the road, motorists can prevent unnecessary accidents.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) within the U.S. Department of Transportation works to prevent accidents related to commercial motor vehicles. Their website provides the following tips for driver safety when around large trucks:

  • Stay out of blind spots.
    There are blind spots on all four sides of a large truck. As a general rule, if you are unable to see the truck's driver in their side view mirror, you can assume the driver cannot see you. Maintain at least 20 feet of distance when in front or behind of a truck. If you find yourself in a blind spot, you should slow down or accelerate to an area where you are visible.
  • Pass safely.
    If you wish to pass a truck, make sure you can see the truck's driver in the vehicle's mirror so you know they can see you. Signal to enter the left lane and pass the truck quickly on the left. Wait until you can see the truck in your rearview mirror before switching back lanes to ensure there's enough distance between your vehicle and the truck. Never pass a truck from the right lane.
  • Never cut off a large truck.
    It is dangerous to cut in front of any vehicle on the road, but it is especially dangerous to cut off a truck. Because of their weight, which increases depending on the type of cargo they are carrying, trucks have a much longer stopping distance than smaller vehicles. If you cut in front, a truck may not be able to stop in time to avoid an accident. Additionally, you may place yourself in one of the truck's blind spots where the driver cannot see you.
  • Expect wide turns.
    Trucks require ample space to make turns. You may see a truck driver swing wide or start a turn from a middle lane so they have enough room to complete the turn. Never place yourself between a turning truck and the curb and never block an intersection or stop in front of a stop line.
  • Follow general safety guidelines.
    As always, you should wear a seat belt while riding in any vehicle. If you are the driver, stay aware of your surroundings and do not drive when you are tired or under the influence.

Of course, truck drivers have a duty of care when operating their vehicles, as any error in driving can cause serious harm to others. Truckers need to consider the following tips while on the job:

  • Be vigilant.
    Constantly pay attention to road conditions, distracted drivers, or reckless drivers. Keep your eye on the road ahead to stay aware of any traffic, road construction, or other potential dangers. Regularly check your mirrors to see if anything has entered your blind spots.
  • Maintain your vehicle.
    Vehicles are legally required to adhere to federal and state regulations. Before all trips, you should thoroughly inspect your truck, especially your tires, brakes, and lights. Make sure your load is properly secured and balanced. Unbalanced cargo can lead to a rollover and loose materials create hazards for those around you.
  • Signal to other vehicles.
    Use your turn signals and brake to give other drivers on the road plenty of time to know where you intend to go. If you need to pull to the side of the road, use hazard lights, reflectors, or flares to ensure other drivers see you.
  • Plan ahead.
    Make sure you are up to date on the weather forecast, road construction along your route, and road conditions. Be aware of height and weight limitations along your route. For example, drivers traveling through New York City should be aware that commercial vehicles are prohibited from using most parkways due to the limited clearance allowed by low bridges.
  • Stay focused.
    Drivers are required by federal rules to limit long-haul shifts to 11 hours. Rest breaks are required to make sure that drivers stay sharp while operating their vehicles. Do not drive if you feel fatigued, drowsy, or dizzy. Never operate a vehicle while under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

Federal and State Truck Regulations

State and federal regulations are in place to ensure safety and prevent trucking accidents. FMCSA rules are designed to improve the safety of large trucks, defined as those with three or more axles. These rules fall into various categories; some pertain to driver training, others regulate the number of hours that an operator can drive, others stipulate the frequency of inspections and the training required for inspectors, etc. Furthermore, government regulations outline the safety devices required by semi-trucks for safe travel.

The following vehicle parts and systems are regulated by the federal government:

  • Brakes
  • Lights
  • Windows
  • Fuel systems
  • Coupling devices and cables
  • Emergency equipment
  • Protection against shifting loads
  • Construction of the tractor and trailer

All commercial vehicles must be inspected at least once every 12 months. During these inspections, at the minimum, inspectors must look at all of the items listed in the Minimum Periodic Inspection Standards of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations, which include brake systems, safety devices, and lighting devices. In addition to annual inspections, drivers are required to create post-trip inspection reports at the end of each driving day. These reports are meant to document any defects or deficiencies that may affect safety or cause the vehicle to break down. The motor carrier or its agency then must verify that any reported defect has been repaired or that it doesn't require immediate repair.

Federal rules can be quite specific and should be fully understood by vehicle operators and owners. For example, in the case of lights and reflectors, the rules describe exactly where lights and reflectors are to be placed, the types of wiring or batteries required to operate the items, and their appearance. One rule dictates lights and reflectors cannot mimic traffic signals or other street lighting that could confuse other drivers, causing them to take actions that can cause crashes.

Regulations regarding brakes and braking systems are equally exhaustive. Not only do they describe the types of brakes required, but they also stipulate the internal workings of truck braking systems, such as cables, linings, pads, reservoirs and warning systems. Such regulations are intended to prevent accidents caused by runaway trucks or trucks that cannot stop in time to avoid a crash.

FMCSA regulations also detail a variety of safety devices required by interstate trucks. These include specifications for tires, windshield defogging systems, windshield wipers, horns, rear-view mirrors, and rear impact guards. The rear impact guard specifications include the height of the guard, where it should be placed, how far around the trailer the guard may extend, and descriptions of the labels required.

Like many other federal truck regulations, rear guards that meet the current specifications are required on trucks manufactured after a certain date. In the case of override guards, the current specs apply to semi-trailers manufactured after January 1998. Older truck rear guards have different specifications.

New York State generally follows the semi-truck safety regulations issued by the FMCSA for interstate commercial vehicles. There are separate rules for trucks that operate exclusively within New York City; these rules specify truck routes, limitations on dimensions and weight of vehicles, among other information detailing what is acceptable in the city.

For example, in New York City, the blind spot in front of large trucks has led to a significant number of pedestrian deaths. Because of this, New York City requires cross over mirrors on all trucks that qualify as commercial vehicles, are registered in New York State, and operate in NYC (except for expressways). Cross over mirrors allow drivers to see people at least three feet tall as they pass in front of their vehicles, nearly eliminating the blind spot caused by the vehicle's height. To learn more about truck regulations in New York City, visit NYC.gov.

Truck Crashes Resulting from Vehicular Defects

Despite the efforts of state and federal government to make the operation of large trucks as safe as possible, accidents that kill and injure continue to happen in New York with alarming frequency. In 2014, for example, there were about 12,000 large truck accidents in New York State, 74 of them fatal. About 3,760 of these accidents resulted in non-fatal personal injury.

Two common vehicular issues in New York State truck accidents were brake problems and tire failure. Not surprisingly, these issues are covered in great detail in the federal and state truck regulations. Oversize trucks were another significant cause of crashes. This is such a serious problem within New York City that the NYC Department of Transportation (DOT) has issued its own rules about the length and width of trucks permitted to operate within the city. The allowed gross vehicle weight is 80,000 pounds, any vehicles exceeding this need to obtain overdimensional permits.

Reform of Truck Safety Regulations

Mayor DeBlasio has stated that pedestrian safety in New York City is a top focus of his. As he and his team continue working toward accomplishing their goal of zero pedestrian deaths under the Vision Zero Plan, they recently signed a bill that will require side guards on all large city trucks and private garbage trucks in the city by 2024.

Used in many European countries, these wheel guards prevent pedestrians from being pulled under the trailer after being struck by the rear wheels. Because the back end of a turning tractor-trailer is usually at least seven feet closer to the curb than the front of the vehicle, pedestrians are often injured or killed when they assume that they can safely enter the street after the front of the truck has passed them. What they do not anticipate is that the rear of the truck will be much closer to them, increasing the danger that they will be injured or killed. Wheel guards should address this issue effectively.

Truck accidents can be catastrophic for those involved. We hope that by recognizing and adhering to federal and state regulations, and taking personal action toward safer driving, we can all effectively prevent large truck accidents from happening. If you have been injured in an accident involving a large truck, it may be in your best interest to contact an auto accident lawyer with experience in handling truck accidents. To speak with a skilled attorney at Block O'Toole & Murphy, call 212-736-5300 or fill out an online contact form.