The trucking industry moves nearly three-fourths of all goods made and sold in the United States. But a general shortage of truckers is helping to strain the supply chain.
Despite about 3.5 million people working in the heavy trucking industry, the American Trucking Associations says there was a shortage of more than 60,000 qualified truckers in 2018. The association says that number could grow to more than 150,000 in about five years.
High turnover rates and an increasing shortage of qualified truckers put pressure on many trucking companies to find qualified truckers. That makes it easier for unqualified truckers to find work with employers who are desperate to fill vacancies. It also increases the potential dangers caused by inexperienced and sometimes unqualified drivers handling big rigs on the nation’s roads.
Driver Error Accounts for Most Trucking Accidents
About 80 percent of all truck accidents are caused by driver error. Commercial trucks typically weigh between 20,000 and 80,000 pounds while hauling loads.
That makes them especially dangerous for people in smaller private passenger vehicles that average about 4,000 pounds. Commercial trucks are heavier, taller, and can inflict a lot of damage to passenger cars. That adds up to a strong potential for personal injury or death.
Speeding, driving aggressively, and improperly changing lanes are common causes of trucking accidents. So are driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, failing to yield the right of way, and driving too many hours.
Improperly maintained trucks also cause accidents. Truckers are responsible for inspecting their vehicles prior to taking them onto the road each day. If the trucker does not do that and the employer does not properly maintain the vehicle, an accident could happen.
Contributing Factors to Trucking Accidents
Driver error is the most common cause of trucking accidents. But several contributing factors could increase the potential for a truck driver to make a driving error that causes an accident.
If the trucker has logged too many hours or is driving from the books, fatigue become a real problem. Driving while fatigued is a critical factor in causing many trucking accidents. Fatigue makes it very easy to make a potentially deadly mistake while driving a big rig.
A driver also might have to take prescription medication that could impair driving ability or make the trucker feel tired. A diagnosis of sleep apnea or another condition that makes it difficult to stay alert while driving could affect a driver’s ability to do the job safely.
Many drivers also have relatively little experience and are on a learning curve with their new trucks. A high turnover rate in the trucking industry is making it harder for employers to retain their best drivers. As new drivers with less experience are hired, the potential for driver error rises.
Driver Qualifications for Commercial Trucking
The federal government closely regulates the qualifications for commercial truckers. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) enforces trucking regulations in the United States. The administration says that qualified truckers must:
- Be at least 21 years old
- Have a commercial driver’s license (CDL)
- Possess a medical examiner’s certificate of qualification
- Pass random drug tests
- Meet all federal qualifications for driving a commercial truck
The FMCSA requires all trucking companies to maintain records pertaining to each driver in its employ. The records must include each driver’s driving records from every state in which that person was licensed to drive a truck. The records also must include a copy of the trucker’s CDL and medical examiner’s certificate of qualification.
The FMCSA holds trucking companies liable for each truck driver’s actions while operating a company vehicle. If an employed trucker causes an accident, the employer is accountable for damages.
How Negligent Hiring Could Occur?
Negligent hiring happens when a trucking company hires a driver who is unqualified. If a driver does not have a valid CDL or did not pass a medical examination, the company would be negligent to put that person behind the wheel of a commercial truck.
Some drivers might have moving violations or other offenses that show a clear disregard for traffic laws. Many traffic offenses could causer a trucker to lose a CDL license and disqualify that person for continued commercial driving.
Whenever a trucker has issues that make that person ineligible to driver a commercial truck, the prospective employer must prevent that person from driving. But the shortage of drivers and the ability to move from one state to another could lead to unqualified drivers continuing to operate commercial trucks.
A simple background check could reveal an issue that disqualifies a trucker from driving. If the employer does not take reasonable steps to confirm the driver’s background and qualifications, negligent hiring occurs.
How Negligent Retention Might Apply?
Negligent retention is similar to negligent hiring and occurs when an employer allows an unqualified trucker to keep driving. The trucker might have failed a medical examination, allowed a CDL to expire, or was convicted of a DUI offense. Many factors could make a trucker ineligible to continue driving a commercial truck.
Whenever a trucker is ineligible to drive, the employer should be aware of it. Negligent retention occurs when that employer overlooks the matter and continues to allow the person to drive a commercial truck.
The negligent retention could contribute to causing an accident that damages property and injures people. If so, the employer could be liable for those damages because of negligent retention.
Potential Third-Party Liability
When a negligent trucker causes an accident, the driver might not be the only liable party. Negligent hiring or negligent retention are just two examples of how an employer might be liable for damages as well.
For third-party liability to apply, you would have to show that the:
- Driver drove in a negligent manner
- Driver was incompetent
- Employer should have known that the driver was incompetent
- Negligent driving caused you to suffer harm
If a trucker caused an accident and was ticketed for a moving violation, that could serve as proof of negligent driving.
Improper truck maintenance also could make a trucking company liable for damages arising from an accident. Improper maintenance could be the fault of a trucking company, a maintenance services provider, or even a parts manufacturer that provided a defective part that was installed on the truck.
There are potentially several levels of third-party liability in the trucking industry. The driver and employer are two examples of parties that could be found liable for damages. However, there are others.
The trucking company might lease its vehicles. If so, the leasing company might be liable for providing the trucking company with a defective vehicle. If a vendor does the maintenance and repairs, that vendor also could be liable for putting a defective truck on the road.
How a Truck Accident Lawyer Could Help?
The many potential levels of liability arising from a trucking accident could make it necessary for accident survivors to obtain the help of experienced truck accident lawyers. An experienced truck accident attorney could help you to obtain the necessary evidence to support claims against third parties because of an accident.
Your lawyer could help to obtain copies of the truck driver’s licensing history. An attorney also could obtain records of any accidents, moving violations, or other issues that should have disqualified the trucker from driving a commercial rig.
The lawyer also could help you to obtain the supporting evidence needed to demonstrate driver negligence and the harm that arose from it. If one or more parties were especially negligent, the lawyer could help you to argue for punitive damages.
Experienced legal help should enable you to present the strongest case. That could help you to obtain the best possible settlement.
Monmouth County Truck Accident Lawyers at Ellis Law Represent Clients Involved in Truck Accidents Caused by Negligent Parties
If you were injured in a truck accident caused by an inexperienced or negligent truck driver, reach out to the Monmouth County truck accident lawyers at Ellis Law. Our legal team is experienced in representing seriously injured victims in truck accidents. We will fight for you to be fully and fairly compensated for your injuries. 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 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.