Commercial trucks spend long hours traveling over the nation’s highways and freeways every day. Although not all trucks are in use every day, those that are often see extensive use and might have two drivers who ensure it is on the road more than off each workday. With long hours and lots of miles logged, maintenance is a critically important element of over-the-road safety for commercial trucks.
A commercial truck hauling a full load could weigh anywhere from 10,000 pounds to nearly 40 tons when pulling more than one trailer. Commercial trucks have large tires, travel at relatively high speeds, and are much taller than most passenger vehicles. When mechanical failure or another problem causes an accident between a commercial truck and a passenger car, the passenger car generally suffers much more extensive damage. The passengers also tend to suffer more extensive personal injury, including death, in these truck accidents.
How Improperly Maintained Trucks Often Cause Accidents
Federal studies show that virtually all vehicular accidents share similar causes. In most accidents, including those with commercial trucks, driver error causes the accident. However, mechanical failure is a significant cause in about 50,000 accidents each year. Some of those accidents wind up causing fatalities that should have been prevented with timely maintenance or repairs.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) says data on mechanical causes of accidents often are not specifically identified because of vehicle condition and the need to provide emergency care for accident victims. Unless something is obvious, such as a blown tire, it can be difficult to pinpoint a mechanical cause.
Despite difficulties in determining specific accident causes, enough data are available to clearly identify some of the more commonly reported causes of truck accidents. When mechanical issues cause truck accidents, the NHTSA says the causes most often cited are as follows:
- Tire failure in about 35 percent of accidents
- Brake failure in about 22 percent of accidents
- Steering/suspension/transmission/engine-related issues in about three percent of accidents
The NHTSA also cites other mechanical problems as causing a plurality of accidents at 40 percent. But those causes are widely varied and generally do not provide the same individual impact as tire and brake failure, which account for about well over half of all truck accidents caused by mechanical failure.
Required Maintenance and Repair Intervals
With mechanical issues causing a significant number of accidents on the nation’s roadways, regular equipment inspections are critically important for preventing them. Although it is impossible to prevent all accident-causing mechanical failures, regular and frequent inspections followed up by maintenance or repairs as needed can improve highway safety by reducing the potential for commercial truck accidents.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) says truck drivers must inspect their vehicles and loads for maintenance and safety prior to entering the roadway. Those spot inspections do much to help identify potential safety issues or faulty equipment that might cause an accident. In addition to spot checks, the FCMSA also requires the owners of commercial trucks to:
- Systematically inspect, maintain, and repair all vehicles that they own and control.
- Ensure all parts and truck accessories are in their correct condition and safe for use.
- Subject all emergency doors, emergency marking lights, and pushout windows to inspections at least every 90 days.
Those inspections, maintenance, and repair schedules are mandatory and are more extensive than most private passenger vehicles undergo to remain safe and legal for use on public roads. Trucking companies also have ample access to maintenance and repair facilities as well as mobile repair services. Therefore, there is virtually no excuse for neglecting equipment inspections.
Required Proof of Maintenance and Repairs
Whenever a trucking company or even an independent trucker controls a commercial truck for at least 30 straight days, the federal government requires regular inspections. The federal government also requires documentation of the inspections and any maintenance or repairs done on the truck. The FCMSA says those records must include the:
- Truck’s VIN to ensure the records apply to the same truck and its company number if available.
- Dates and descriptions of inspections performed and any maintenance or repairs performed on the truck.
- Dates and descriptions of planned inspections and maintenance on the truck.
- Records of safety tests performed on pushout windows, emergency doors, and the emergency door-marking lights on buses.
If a commercial truck is involved in an accident, those records can help to affirm whether the truck was neglected or otherwise improperly maintained. If those records are unavailable, there is no evidence that the commercial truck is inspected, maintained, or repaired on a regular schedule as required by law.
Roadside Inspection Reports Reveal Truck Problems
Law enforcement and other designated state and federal agencies can enforce commercial trucking codes. If a trucker is seen on the road with an obvious mechanical issue, such as a thumping tire that has gone bad or other potentially dangerous condition, a roadside inspection report could be issued. A roadside inspection report is compiled by a state or federal representative and describes any problem with the truck.
The trucker must turn over that report to his or her employer. That employer then has 15 days to respond to the roadside inspection report by correcting the condition cited within it. If that does not happen, the trucker would be at fault for taking the vehicle onto the road and his or her employer would be liable for any damages caused by an accident resulting from the faulty condition.
Liability Issues with Improper Maintenance
If you are injured in an accident with a truck, you could have a difficult time holding the truly liable party accountable. A commercial truck has a driver who might be liable for not performing inspections to identify items that need maintenance or repairs. But if the driver fulfilled the duty of care to inspect the vehicle and take reasonable steps to ensure it is suitable for use on public roads, that could shield the driver against liability.
The trucking company that controls the commercial truck through a leasing agreement, fleet management, or similar contract might be liable for not performing maintenance or repairs in a timely manner. If another party actually owns the truck, that party might be liable for improper maintenance or repairs as well.
Other possible liability could apply to whomever performed maintenance or repairs but did so incorrectly. An improperly maintained vehicle that has a hidden danger that the driver or managing company could not identify with a routine inspection could result in liability on the part of the company that performed the maintenance or repairs. Also, if the problem is due to a faulty part or mechanical system that happened during the truck’s manufacturing process, the manufacturer could be liable for damages and injuries incurred.
With so many levels of potential liability, identifying the parties that ultimately are liable for accidents caused by commercial trucks in poor condition can be difficult. An experienced personal injury lawyer is a strong asset to have when you need to build a case after being victimized by a trucking accident.
Monmouth County Truck Accident Lawyers at Ellis Law Fight for the Rights of Victims
When commercial trucks are neglected and mechanical issues cause accidents, you could become a victim of a potentially deadly truck accident. Holding the liable parties responsible could be difficult without quality legal help. The experienced Monmouth County truck accident lawyers at Ellis Law can help you hold liable parties accountable and obtain the best possible settlement. For a free consultation, call us at 732-308-0200: or complete our online form. We are located in Freehold, New Jersey, and help clients throughout Freehold, East Brunswick, Toms River, Middletown, Jersey City, Neptune, Hudson County, Union County, Essex County, Monmouth County, Marlboro, and Ocean County, as well as Brooklyn, New York, and New York City.