LACK OF TRAINING
Driving a large commercial vehicle is an extremely complicated task which requires extensive training. Before a driver takes on the responsibility of driving the large, unwieldy vehicles, they are required to pass a commercial driving test. But just passing a test is not enough to guarantee the safe operation of the big rigs whose size and design often create enormous blind spots. Truck drivers have to be better trained and more careful than other drivers on the road because of the size and complicated nature of the vehicles they operate. If not properly or sufficently trained, there can be disastrous consequences when a commercial vehicle is involved in an accident with a smaller vehicle. If a trucking company fails to prepare its employees with proper and sufficient training, the company may be liable for the damages they cause.
EXCESSIVE OR UNSECURED LOADS
Trucks are required by law to follow proper loading procedures. Loads must be properly secured and comply with federal and state weight restrictions. When the load in a commercial truck is improperly secured, it can shift during transit creating a risk of rollover. With trucks carrying loose loads under a tarp, an improperly secured tarp can result in a road littered with debris. When a negligent trucking company, independent contractor, or delivery truck driver is careless and drives with an unsecured load, other passengers traveling on the highway are put at risk and can face devasting injuries.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has issued stringent new braking standards that will save lives by improving large truck stopping distances by 30 percent. NHTSA estimates that the new braking requirement will save 227 lives annually, and will also prevent 300 serious injuries. It is estimated to reduce property damage costs by over $169 million annually. The new standard requires that a tractor-trailer traveling at 60 miles per hour come to a complete stop in 250 feet. The old standard required a complete stop within 355 feet. The new regulation will be phased in over four years beginning with 2012 models and should speed up the introduction of the latest brake technology into America's freight hauling fleets.
POOR DRIVING CONDITIONS
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations, specifically 49 C.F.R § 392.14, states a driver must exercise "extreme caution" when hazardous conditions, such as those caused by snow, ice, sleet, fog, mist, rain, dust or smoke, which adversely affect visibility or traction.
DRIVER INEXPERIENCE & DISTRACTIONS
Distraction is anything that diverts the driver's attention from the primary tasks of navigating the vehicle and responding to critical events. In other words, a distraction is anything that takes your eyes off the road (visual distraction), your mind off the road (cognitive distraction), or your hands off the wheel (manual distraction). So when you think about tasks that can be a driving distraction, you can see that they often fit into more than one category: eating is visual and manual, whereas using a navigation system is all three. There are two basic components of the distraction safety problem: the attentional demands of the distracting task and the frequency with which drivers choose to multitask. Task demands relate to the amount of resources (visual, cognitive, manual) required to perform the task. The other issue is exposure, which is how often drivers engage in the task. Putting those two concepts together, even an easy task can be a bigger safety problem if the person does the task 50% of their driving time.
Driving while fatigued can be a very dangerous activity. Truck drivers face this danger more often than other drivers because of the long hours they spend in their trucks and the many miles they drive. Rules implemented by the U.S. Department of Transportation's Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration were put in place to regulate the number of consecutive and cumulative driving hours a professional driver could spend operating a large commercial vehicle.
Speeding by the drivers of commercial trucks plays a very important role in the frequency of accidents. Truck drivers know it is safer to obey the posted speed limit, but unfortunately may choose to speed in order to deliver their loads more quickly.
RECKLESS DRIVING BEHAVIOR
As professionals and individuals sharing the road with others, truck drivers have a responsibility to handle their big rigs safely and cautiously. Reckless and dangerous driving can take the form of speeding, following too closely, incorrectly judging distance, swerving or overly-aggressive driving such as cutting people off. The size and weight of 18-wheelers and other large commercial trucks make any mistakes more dangerous and consequences more significant.
UNDER THE INFLUENCE
Federal regulations require trucking companies to test for drugs before employment, after certain crashes, and on a random basis. Alcohol test rules issued in 1994 place drivers out of service if they are found with any alcohol in their systems, and those who are found with blood alcohol concentrations (BAC) at or above 0.04 percent are disqualified from driving a commercial truck. Random alcohol testing has been found to reduce by 14% the odds that a truck driver involved in a crash will have a positive BAC. Studies have found that 15% of all drivers had marijuana, 12% had non-prescription stimulants, 5% had prescriptive stimulants, 2% had cocaine, and less than 1% had alcohol in their systems.
There are many components that go into making a huge commercial truck function properly. If the brakes are worn down or misfunction or there is a tire defect causing loss of control, a semi-tractor-trailer rig can become impossible to control. Because 18-wheelers are so heavy, they have an enormous amount of momentum when traveling on highways. It is important for professional drivers to be cautious and well-trained, but even the most skilled driver cannot overcome a significant mechanical failure.
HOURS OF DRIVING
The Department of Transportation (DOT) prescribes the maximum hours an operator of an 18-wheeler can drive and the required rest periods. The DOT Regulations differ for drivers that are hauling material or property versus those that transport passengers. The Government Regulations mandate the maximum number of consecutive hours a driver may drive as well as the maximum consecutive hours a driver may be on duty, whether actively driving or not. Additionally, the rules stipulate a maximum number of hours that a driver may be on duty within a seven or eight day period depending on whether the company operates every day of the week. Finally, the DOT Regulations outline the requirements for record keeping in the driver's log where he records his duty status for every 24 hour period.