Unsafe and Careless Truck Driving in Massachusetts
The No. 1 cause of most serious truck accidents is unsafe and careless driving. Although commercial truck drivers are supposed to be “the professionals,” they frequently fall short of their duties – both the common responsibility to use reasonable care and the statutory/regulatory rules established for operation of machines this massive and potentially lethal.
Unsafe and careless driving is an issue for all road users, but when it’s the truckers who are irresponsible, it has an outsized impact for everyone else.
Given that fatal crashes involving large trucks have increased by 12 percent over the last decade (according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration), it’s an issue that has caught the attention of Massachusetts public safety officials as well as Boston truck accident attorneys at The Law Offices of Jeffrey S. Glassman. We recognize these cases are high stakes, but also how difficult it can be to get a fair shake from these motor carriers – many of whom fight tooth-and-nail to deny liability or to substantially reduce the amount of damages they’re legally compelled to pay. While a truck driver’s unsafe driving doesn’t automatically mean the motor carrier was negligent too (though well-established precedent in Massachusetts and beyond is that carriers-lessees are vicariously liable for negligent truck drivers), often there is evidence that carriers too breached their duty of care.
Some examples include:
- Negligent hiring/retention;
- Failure to train;
- Failure to supervise;
- Negligent inspection, maintenance or repair.
Many instances of unsafe or careless driving can be traced back to one of these issues as well.What is Considered Unsafe or Careless Driving for Massachusetts Truck Drivers?
Like all motorists, truck drivers accept the responsibility to abide local ordinances and state traffic laws such as refraining from impaired driving and traveling at safe speeds. But in many respects, truck drivers are held to higher standards than those operating passenger cars.
Specifically 49 CFR § 392.2 states that while every commercial vehicle must be operated in accordance with laws, ordinances and regulations of the respective jurisdiction, provisions of federal law, set and enforced by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, may be more strict, imposing a higher standard of care than state/local laws. In that case, it’s the FMCSA rules with which the commercial driver must comply.
Examples of unsafe or careless driving that commonly result in trucking accidents (with laws pertaining to several specifically denote commercial drivers being held to a higher standard) include the following:
- Impaired driving. MGL 90 § 24 sets the threshold of alcohol impairment for motorists at 0.08 percent blood-alcohol concentration. Commercial drivers, however, can be deemed intoxicated at 0.04 percent. Furthermore, the FMCSA, specifically 49 CFR § 392.5, holds that trucking companies aren’t permitted to allow a driver to operate a commercial vehicle if he/she has ANY detected presence of alcohol. In other words, the driver doesn’t even need to be intoxicated to be considered operating the vehicle unsafely.
- Excessive speeding. This is defined by the FMCSA as driving a truck more than 15 mph above the posted speed limit.
- Making improper or erratic traffic lane changes. MGL 89 § 4A stipulates that motorists must ensure they are in a single lane and may not move to another until they have ascertained they can do so safely.
- Fatigued driving. 49 CFR 392.3 prohibits commercial motorists from driving while so tired or sick that it impacts their ability to safely drive (and no commercial carrier can force their drivers to do so). This is a significant enough problem that the FMCSA has set strict Hours of Operation for commercial drivers, depending on the type of rig they drive and whether they are responsible to carry passengers. Massachusetts, meanwhile, has yet to establish a law to fine or even define tired driving. A state drowsy driving commission found commercial truck drivers were among those most at risk for falling asleep while behind the wheel.
- Following too closely the vehicle ahead. This is an especially dangerous form of aggressive/careless driving because large trucks require additional space to allow for safe braking. Most often, it’s when large trucks hit the vehicle in front of them that results in serious crashes. The FMCSA’s Large Truck Crash Causation Study reported 5 percent of all trucking crashes occur this way, when the truck driver was following the lead vehicle too closely. In ideal conditions, the average tractor-trailer needs about 196 feet between itself and the vehicle ahead when traveling at 55 mph to come to a complete stop (compared to 133 feet for passenger vehicles). The space should be increased for adverse driving conditions.
- Distracted driving. 49 CR § 392.80-82 forbids commercial drivers from both texting while driving as well as using any handheld electronic communication device while driving. Meanwhile, MGL 90 § 13B prohibits all drivers from texting/emailing/reading while driving, but currently only underage drivers are prohibited from using cell phones while operating a vehicle. There is legislation pending at the Massachusetts State House to expand this ban to all drivers.
As these examples reveal, negligence in these cases is most commonly (but not always) established by truck accident injury attorneys pointing to an operator’s breach of the state and federal law or regulatory requirements.
The American Transportation Research Institute revealed that a truck driver with prior citations for infractions such as improper merging, failure to yield, and/or failure to signal, increased his/her chances of a traffic crash by 80 to 115 percent. Truckers who violate these rules of the road are, by definition, driving unsafely. The Massachusetts General Law on reckless and negligent driving, MGL 90 § 24, also stipulates that if someone operates a vehicle in such a way that is reckless or negligent or endangers the lives of others, they can also be charged with a crime.
However, as The Law Offices of Jeffrey S. Glassman can explain, the state does not need to prove a truck driver guilty of a criminal traffic offense in order for an injured individual to be able to hold the driver liable for damages in civil court. Still, state and federal traffic laws are instructive in these cases because a truck driver who breaks traffic laws also breaches their common law duty to use reasonable care. If this breach plays a causal role in a crash, that driver can be deemed negligent (or at least partially so), which can mean legal responsibility to pay monetary damages to anyone hurt as a result.Who Pays for Unsafe, Careless Driving Truck Accidents?
When a trucker drives unsafely or carelessly, they aren’t the only ones who can be held liable for it. In some cases, multiple parties can be held responsible. If that driver is an employee, his/her employer can be deemed responsible for any acts that took place in the course and scope of employment – regardless of whether the company itself was negligent.
It’s also possible in these cases that commercial motor carriers and shippers may be held liable too, depending on the circumstances.
If the person who was hurt was contributorily negligent per MGL 231 § 85, the defendant can argue comparative fault. If successful, the amount the injured driver receives in damages can be reduced significantly or even eliminated entirely if the individual is more than 50% at fault.
Commercial motor vehicles are required by the FMCSA to carry minimum insurance levels, depending on their weight, size and type of cargo. Non-hazardous freight (no passengers) under 10,001 pounds are required to carry at least $300,000 in coverage. Other non-passenger truck minimum coverage is somewhere between $750,000 and $5 million. Passenger-carrying commercial carriers are required to carry at least $1.5 million (15 or fewer passengers) or $5 million (16 or more passengers) in insurance coverage.
Truck drivers, motor carriers and lessor-lessees of trucks can all be held liable in catastrophic injury truck accidents.
Because these cases are so high stakes, most trucking companies already have the protocol in place to launch immediate investigations to gather evidence that will reflect in their favor. To bolster your chances of full and fair compensation, contact our experienced accident attorneys today.
Contact the Law Offices of Jeffrey S. Glassman today for a free and confidential consultation.
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