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Speeding Truck Accidents in Massachusetts

Speeding is a leading cause of truck accidents in Massachusetts. Crashes involving large trucks make up about 9 percent of all fatal traffic crashes nationally, and about 6 percent in Massachusetts. This represents a 15 percent increase in the last several years, something the National Transportation Safety Board attributes in part to rising speed limits across the country.

Although it is never safe for any driver to speed, a truck driver who travels in excess of the speed limit may stretch the limits of negligence, veering into territory of gross negligence and recklessness.

Consider also that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) takes care to note that “speeding” is not only traveling in excess of the posted speed limit, but also in excess of roadway conditions. For instance, if the traffic is heavy or the road is wet, all drivers have a responsibility to travel at a slower pace in order to maintain control. A recent FMCSA Large Truck Crash Causation Study revealed approximately 23 percent of truck accidents nationally are the result of the truck driver traveling too fast for conditions, making it the No. 2 most common “critical factor” in why trucks crash.

Why Speed Matters in Truck Accident Lawsuits

The faster a truck is going, the greater the amount of force in a collision – and the more serious injuries are going to be. If a motorist slams into a concrete light pole at 25 mph, it’s probably not going to kill someone, but a bumper would take a beating. Now imagine that same crash at 50 mph. At 75 mph.

Government crash tests consider collisions at speeds of 30 to 35 mph having potential for “severe impact.” At double this speed, passenger vehicles simply can’t withstand the force – and this is especially true if there are huge size differentials of vehicles involved:

  • Semi-truck: 40 tons
  • Passenger car: 2 tons
  • Bicycle: 0.015 tons

Boston truck accident attorneys at The Law Offices of Jeffrey S. Glassman know that calculating the speed of each vehicle involved in a catastrophic truck crash is critical in a personal injury or wrongful death lawsuit. That’s because not only is speed instructive in terms of ascertaining how and why a crash occurred, it also impacts the seriousness of resulting injuries.

An analysis by the World Health Organization found that increasing the average speed just .6 mph will increase the risk of crash injury by 3 percent. The impact of a crash at 50 mph is about 20 times higher than it is for crashes that occur at 20 mph. Speeding almost always magnifies the seriousness of a crash, and in truck accidents speeding can often result in catastrophic injuries.

Further, a history of truck driver speeding has proven predictive of future truck accident risk. As noted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, more than 20 percent of truckers had at least one prior speeding conviction (compared to 19 percent of drivers in passenger vehicle crashes).

Some examples of tragic and preventable truck accidents caused by excess truck speed:

  • Inability to stop. A large truck traveling 65 mph will need at least the length of two football fields to come to a complete stop (20 to 40 times longer than the average passenger car). The FMCSA notes that the required distance for stopping will be much greater if the vehicle is fully loaded with heavy materials, in poor repair or amid adverse weather affecting road condition, such as rain, ice or snow. Not only is the need to abruptly slow down or stop greater if the truck driver is traveling too fast for conditions, it’s harder for the driver to do so.
  • Weather conditions. Posted speed limits are set in consideration of “ideal” conditions. Weather has a direct impact on this, with fog, heavy rain and icy conditions reducing visibility and vehicle traction. Poor weather is often associated with multiple vehicle pileup accidents, as well as underride crashes, where cars or pedestrians become caught underneath the truck.
  • Blind spots. Commercial trucks have larger-than-average blind spots on all four sides of the vehicle. That’s why passenger vehicle drivers are urged to use caution anytime they are traveling behind, passing or just generally sharing the road with large trucks. Essentially, if you can’t see the driver in his/her side mirror, the driver cannot see you. The potential for injury to other motorists is all-the-more reason for truckers to slow down.
  • Curves. Curves pose a risk for all motorists, especially if they aren’t paying attention and particularly if they’re speeding. A truck driver who takes a curve or ramp too fast is at a heightened risk of spills, rollovers and crashes with other vehicles. Speeding truckers on a curve can also cause a jackknife accident, wherein their tractor-trailers suddenly swing into other lanes of traffic.
  • Shifting loads. Even when trucks are loaded and secured properly, speeding can make them shift – to an unsafe degree, causing the driver to lose control.
  • Hydroplaning. Icy, slick or sopping wet roads are dangerous for any driver. A truck driver who loses traction can hydroplane, resulting in the truck sliding uncontrollably all over the road. This is not only dangerous for the trucker but everyone else on the road.
  • Loss of control. Truck drivers are generally more likely to lose control over their truck.

In more than 90 percent of truck accidents, it is the occupants of other vehicles (or bicyclists/pedestrians) who are most severely injured in these crashes – not the truck driver.

Proving Speed as a Factor in Collision

Boston truck accident attorneys know the reality is that all collisions are complex events, influenced by the time of day, traffic concentration the weather, driver training/experience, truck design/manufacture and road conditions.

As established in the 1924 Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court case of Whalen v. Mutrie, it is not enough for a witness to say they observed the truck going “too fast.” The court found that this is “too indefinite, without anything to indicate the rate of speed, to warrant a finding of negligence.”

That’s why plaintiff attorneys in these cases often must hire crash reconstruction experts – to ascertain not only who was speeding – and by how much – but also what role that played in the crash and the severity of injuries.

One analysis by a transportation data insights firm found that a speeding truck driver (traveling 10 mph or more over the posted speed limit) is:

  • 272 percent more likely to be driving with BOTH hands off the steering wheel;
  • 266 percent more likely than other drivers to be using a handheld mobile phone;
  • 241 percent more likely than other drivers to be texting on that phone;
  • 200 percent more likely to be consuming food, drinks or engaging in personal hygiene/grooming;
  • 171 percent more likely to be doing paperwork;
  • 69 percent more likely to crash.

In other words, if a truck driver is speeding, more than likely, there will be other causal factors cited in that crash as well.

One piece of circumstantial evidence an attorney can analyze is whether the distance the truck driver traveled leading up to that point was “questionable” per FMCSA guidance. For instance, the agency considers it “questionable” if a truck driver’s total distance traveled on a highway with a speed limit of 65 mph is between 550 to 600 miles in the span of a 10-hour stretch. If a driver travels more than 600 miles in that time frame, the agency assumes the driver was “incapable of having completed that trip without committing some speed violations.”

A helpful modern tool is the truck’s “black box,” also known as the “electronic control module” or “event data recorder.” Most large trucks manufactured since the 1990s have a device like this. (They were recommended standard in all vehicles after 2004 and the Obama administration had proposed they be mandatory, but the Trump administration has withdrawn that proposal, citing the fact that most auto manufacturers had complied voluntarily.) These boxes give investigators – and truck accident attorneys – information on things like:

  • How fast the truck was traveling just before the crash;
  • Whether there was acceleration or deceleration;
  • Whether brakes were applied and when;
  • Whether the truck was on cruise control;
  • Whether the truck driver was wearing a seat belt;
  • Tire pressure;
  • Air bag deployment;
  • Monthly or daily activity of the truck – including how many times the truck exceeded a pre-determined speed (such as 65 mph).

These devices have proven critical in truck accident investigations where speed is a suspected factor.

Contact the Law Offices of Jeffrey S. Glassman today for a free and confidential consultation.

Call (617) 367-2900 – NO FEE UNLESS SUCCESSFUL

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