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A driver can only be as good as the vehicle that he or she is operating. Even licensed, experienced, and well-rested truck drivers are dependent on their vehicles to effectively carry out their jobs. If something is wrong with their truck, such as a mechanical failure, it can cause problems for even the most experienced drivers. In turn, this puts members of the public in great danger of injury or even death.

Vehicle maintenance in the field of commercial trucking is crucial. These giant trucks and tractor-trailers take a beating when hauling heavy loads across the country. It should come as no surprise then that these vehicles require constant maintenance and upkeep to ensure that they run smoothly.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) sets forth rules and regulations regarding the upkeep of commercial vehicles in FMCSA Rules and Regulations § 396. Specifically, Regulation §396.3 states that all carriers must have a program in place to “systematically inspect, repair, and maintain, or cause to be systematically inspected, repaired, and maintained, all motor vehicles and intermodal equipment subject to its control.” This broad and ambiguous requirement leaves certain decisions of how to maintain a carrier’s fleet entirely on the carrier. It is up to the carrier to ensure that they comply with FMCSA regulations, and often, this lack of specificity can lead to inadequate maintenance.

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The modern world today is driven by technological advancements. Everything from travel, leisure, and business is fueled by the ever increasing use of technology. We can research an important legal topic at lightning speed and conduct business meetings from halfway around the globe. This unavoidable push to the future is even making its way into the commercial trucking industry.

Researchers from Iowa State University are trying to incorporate the use of big data to big rig trucking. In a detailed report presented to the United States Department of Transportation (USDOT), researchers laid out some of the biggest obstacles trucking companies face, including delays, accidents, and safety. It is estimated that trucking companies lose millions of dollars annually sitting in traffic. This is why many truckers face intense pressure to drive as many hours as physically possible, even if it means knowingly disregarding federal trucking regulations such as hours of service. By employing real-time data collected by state traffic centers and other resources, researchers believe truck drivers could potentially receive information on traffic congestion, accidents, road conditions, and traffic speed.

This up-to-the second information could help truck drivers avoid congested or delayed roads, in turn resulting in faster and more punctual deliveries. Dave Cantor, one of the researchers from Iowa State, believes that this technology is already readily available. “The DOT has a lot of real-time data on the operating conditions of state highways and secondary roads, and it wants to make sure the data is of value to carriers,” Cantor said. The problem then becomes what is the best way to transmit this information to truck drivers?

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medical-05-1455836An investigation into a March 2017 fatal accident revealed the truck driver who caused it was under the influence of several types of pills at the time of the crash. The truck driver, just 20 years old, crashed into a bus carrying senior citizen congregants of a Texas church who were coming back from a three day retreat. 13 people ended up dying as a result of the collision. The victims were between 61 and 87 years old.

The Texas Department of Public Safety, in addition to local police, responded to the accident scene. Investigators found five partially smoked marijuana cigarettes in the truck as well as two full marijuana cigarettes. The trucker admitted to having taken prescription pills which led investigators to believe he was under the influence. He admitted to taking Clonazepam, Ambien, and Lexapro. Other pill bottles were found in the truck as well.

The facts of the accident suggest the driver could have been under the influence. One witness was driving behind the truck and saw it driving erratically. For example, the trucker had crossed the center line several times. The witness was so concerned about the erratic driving that he called the local sheriff’s office to report what he was seeing and ask law enforcement to get the truck off the road before somebody got hit. Following this accident, the witness got out of his car to check on everyone. When he talked to the trucker, the trucker admitted to texting while driving and apologized multiple times.

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crosswalk-1532024The amount of pedestrians injured or killed as the result of a vehicular accident each year is enormous. Even when pedestrians use crosswalks and sidewalks, they are in danger of serious injury or death, often at the hands of careless or distracted drivers. For instance, a study conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) revealed that 4,700 people were killed in pedestrian related traffic accidents in 2013, with another 150,000 suffering some form of injury.

Unfortunately, pedestrian fatalities have continued to rise since then; there were 5,376 pedestrian accident deaths reported in the United States in 2015. Many of the victims happen to be children. The troubling number of pedestrian deaths has lawmakers and safety regulators searching for new and improved ways to prevent these tragic incidents.

Recently, a pedestrian was struck and killed in a hit and run accident in Tampa, Florida. The crash occurred in the early morning hours when a commercial dump truck hit a pedestrian who was walking down the street around 5:40 a.m. After striking the pedestrian, the trucker fled the scene. Witnesses assisted Tampa police in describing the trucker, and police were able to use that information to find and arrest him shortly thereafter.

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Almost eight years after a devastating and life-altering bus accident, an injured victim was awarded a verdict of $28 million as compensation for her permanent injuries. The victim was just 16 years old when her life changed forever. She and two of her friends were traveling in a car in Coleraine, Minnesota when a school bus T-boned their vehicle, dragging the victim and her friends nearly 100 yards before stopping. The bus was operated by Jay Poshak, an employee of the Ely School District at the time of the accident.

The crash rendered the victim quadriplegic and killed the other passenger. Following trial, the Itasca County, Minnesota, jury returned a verdict of over $28 million in favor of the quadriplegic victim. Fault was apportioned between two drivers: the school bus driver was found to be 10% responsible while the rest of the fault was placed on the victim’s driver, who was just a teenager. Following the bus accident, the State Patrol reconstructed the accident and found that both drivers did not pay enough attention to the road.

According to reports, the large jury verdict is rare for the greater Minnesota area, which is a typically conservative location and not known for handing down big verdicts. However, in this case, the award reflects the damages. The victim was only 16 years old when she lost the use of her arms and legs. The $28 million is meant to compensate for past and future medical expenses, past and future pain and suffering, disability, disfigurement, emotional distress, and loss of potential earnings.

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A truck driver was arrested in late March 2017 after driving from Seattle to Massachusetts under the influence of cocaine, LSD, and crystal methamphetamine. The driver was caught by police outside of his truck at a gas station. Police noticed he was locked out of the truck, acting combative, and showing signs of drug use. He then admitted to police that he had used drugs. Police subsequently arrested the trucker.

All states, including Tennessee, have laws prohibiting driving under the influence of alcohol or illegal drugs. The laws apply to all drivers, whether driving on the job or for personal use. In addition to state laws, commercial truck drivers must follow federal regulations adopted by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). These rules expressly prohibit driving while intoxicated. They also address prescription medication. For example, a driver cannot take a controlled substance or prescription medication without a prescription written by a licensed doctor or medical practitioner. There are certain medications that will prohibit a driver from being able to operate a truck under any circumstance.

After a truck or 18 wheeler crash, truck drivers may be subject to drug testing. Local law enforcement, including the police, sheriff’s department, or highway patrol, may decide to conduct its own drug testing of the defendant. Truckers believed to be under the influence of alcohol or another drug may be arrested at the scene and face criminal charges for their actions. There may be a criminal investigation before the District Attorney formally brings charges in criminal court.

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Driving under the influence of alcohol is deadly. It impairs your vision, your judgment, and your reflexes, making accidents much more likely to occur. These factors are even more applicable to someone operating a multi-ton commercial truck, tractor trailer, or 18 wheeler. Commercial trucking is already a dangerous profession due to the sheer weight and size of these vehicles, but when you add the influence of alcohol it can become downright deadly.

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) recently declared Tennessee-licensed commercial trucker Eric Scott to be an “imminent hazard to public safety” after his recent alcohol-related incidents behind the wheel. Consequently, the FMCSA has ordered him not to operate any commercial motor vehicle in interstate commerce.

This order stems from two separate events involving Scott being under the influence of alcohol in his commercial truck. First, in December 2016, Vermont police found Scott asleep in the cab of his truck in the parking lot of a hotel. A breathalyzer test confirmed that Scott was under the influence of alcohol. Two days later, Scott was released from police custody. The following evening, Vermont police responded to a multi-vehicle crash on the interstate involving a tractor-trailer. Sure enough, the culprit was Scott, who was once again under the influence of alcohol. The accident occurred after Scott’s vehicle jackknifed off the road and into a sign, forcing three other vehicles off the road. At the time of this accident, Scott was on the job and headed to his final destination of Memphis, Tennessee.

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so-tired-1440121Federal agencies and regulatory groups are always looking at ways to reduce car and truck accidents and prevent people from being hurt in them. Each year, millions get injured in car and truck accidents throughout Tennessee and across the country. Nearly all of these are caused by some form of negligence, whether it is looking down at a phone instead of focusing on the road, being under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or failing to properly maintain the car.

A common theme in car accident prevention is that many wrecks can be prevented by the drivers themselves. One particular way is by reducing drowsy driving. Drowsy drivers are those who are sleepy, tired, or fatigued, which leads to slower reaction times and lapses in judgment. Each year, drowsy driving contributes to as many as one million car accidents and 8,000 accident-related deaths.

Researchers have been studying drowsy driving for years. One study conducted by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found a direct link between lack of sleep and inattentiveness on the road. For example, drivers who had slept less than four hours in the previous 24 hours were 11.5 times more likely to get into an accident than drivers who had slept move than seven hours in the same timeframe. Alarmingly, the study found that sleeping only 4-5 hours can produce the same effects as a blood alcohol content (BAC) level that is equal to or slightly above the legal limit for alcohol. A separate study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) found that one in three drivers admitted to driving while drowsy.

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road-to-1408091Operating large freight trucks, such as 18-wheelers, is no small task. The sheer size and weight of these vehicles make them extremely difficult to handle and navigate. The length of the cargo trailer makes it extremely difficult for the driver to see cars behind the vehicle, and side view mirrors can only help so much. All of these obstacles do not even account for poor weather. While it may be difficult for a truck driver to see under normal conditions, periods of fog or heavy rain make it nearly impossible unless the driver exhibits proper caution behind the wheel.

Recently, a fatal four car pileup involving a freight truck was attributed to low visibility and fog. Authorities reported that the trucker was attempting to pass another vehicle and collided head on with a pickup truck traveling in the other lane. Per the investigation, fog was so dense that there was basically no visibility. A passenger in the pickup truck was killed upon impact.

Visibility is a major component of trucking and safe driving in general. Even if a commercial truck or tractor-trailer is operated by a licensed, well-rested, experienced truck driver, fog and other low visibility environments can create dangerous conditions. Accidents like the one mentioned above are common and equally as dangerous as instances of vehicles colliding with trucks. Drivers unable to see large trucks could fall victim to override accidents in which their car gets completely run over by the 18-wheeler.

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seatbelt-1314338It is common knowledge that seat belts help save lives. Recently released data shows that in 2014, seat belts reduced fatalities for front seat passengers by 50% and saved nearly 13,000 lives. If the idea of self-preservation isn’t enough to get you to buckle up, there’s the fact that driving without a seat belt can result in a ticket or fine from police. Researchers and lawmakers alike recognize the benefits of wearing a seat belt. Why, then, are seat belts not always required on school buses? This exact question is being asked by Tennessee legislators eager to see Tennessee law require all school buses to be equipped with seat belts.

Currently, very few states – including California, Florida, Louisiana, New Jersey, New York, and Texas – require school buses to provide seat belts. This is despite overwhelming and convincing support from organizations like the National Safety Council and the American Academy of Pediatrics. Many of those who do not think buses need seat belts argue that school buses are already one of the safest forms of transportation, and adding seat belts would create an unnecessary cost. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) noted that the average cost of equipping a large school bus with seat belts could cost in excess of $10,000 per bus.

Despite the additional cost, the NHTSA maintains that the addition of seat belts could make buses even safer, and the potential of saving the lives of children would more than outweigh the extra cost. Certain lawmakers in Tennessee share that sentiment. Representatives from East Tennessee are actively pushing legislation that would make Tennessee the newest state to require seat belts on school buses.