Common Causes of Trucking Accidents in Virginia

Joseph L. CantorJune 29, 2017

After a Semi Truck Accident, Understanding the Causes of Tractor Trailer Crashes Is Your First Step Toward Justice

Trucking accidents are often the most devastating and catastrophic of accidents on the road, and unfortunately they are strikingly commonplace in Virginia. In 2019 alone, there were more than 4,922 crashes involving commercial vehicles in Virginia; of those accidents, 2,035 resulted in injuries. These troubling statistics raise the question: What are the common causes of truck accidents, and who is liable?

If you have questions about your semi accident or truck crash, our experienced attorneys in Virginia Beach and Richmond can help you determine if you have a case and, if so, how to seek justice and compensation. You can also gain some understanding into the common causes and truck accident law in Virginia below.

Three Common Causes of Trucking Accidents

Understanding the most common causes of truck accidents could potentially help you avoid them in the future and, if you’ve been involved in a semi truck accident, help you understand who is liable and whether or not you might have a case against them.

The three most common causes of trucking accidents are:

  • Driver Fatigue
  • Defective brakes
  • Overloaded cargo

The reason for the accident oftentimes provides the answer for the question of who pays for damages after a truck accident. If the truck driver, the company for which he works, or anyone else involved are responsible for the accident and its injuries, then they can be held accountable for the damages.

How Truck Driver Fatigue Causes Truck Accidents

According to one study by the National Transportation Safety Board, driver fatigue was a probable cause in 31 percent of commercial vehicle accidents.

In this day and age of rapid transport of goods and tight shipment deadlines, it is not at all uncommon for tractor-trailer drivers to work long hours on the highway. Trucking is a high-stress job, with trucking companies often setting unrealistic expectations around quotas and miles logged. Drivers are incentivized to spend as much time on the road as possible in order to earn bonuses.

Truck drivers are usually scheduled for 14-hour shifts with 11 of those hours spent behind the wheel, and they’re on the road for weeks at a time. The result is that truck drivers are often extremely exhausted, especially at the beginning and end of shifts.

Can Driver Fatigue Be Considered Negligence?

A number of studies have proven that fatigue significantly negatively impacts a person’s reaction time. So when fatigued truckers step behind the wheel, it is an act of negligence that leads to trucking accidents and impacts the lives of innocent drivers across Virginia and the country.

 Why Are So Many Fatigued Truckers Behind the Wheel?

 The truth is, while there are federal regulations in place designed to assuage these dangers of fatigue, trucking regulations still do not encourage rest and relaxation.

Current Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) regulations allow a tractor-trailer driver to be scheduled for 14 hours in a single day and 60 hours in a week (or 70 hours in eight days). The only stipulation and safeguard within these regulations is that a trucker is supposed to be given three hours of rest period—time spent away from behind the wheel—in a 14-hour workday. However, Many truck drivers only see the three-hour rest period or the rules around hours worked as suggestions, not mandatory.

Truckers are Paid by the Mile

Truckers are usually paid by the mile driven, not by the minute worked. In effect, if a trucker can finish their route faster, they can make the same amount of money in less time. Therefore, the pay schedule of truck drivers actually encourages them to not take breaks.

The ultimate result of this unsafe system is that truckers stay on the road for hours and hours on end without breaks, leading to extreme fatigue each day they work and an accumulation of exhaustion as those days lead into weeks. It is unfortunately easy to see why truck driver fatigue is such a common cause of trucking accidents.

How to Prove Negligence in a Truck Accident

When a trucking accident results in injury or death to innocent motorists, it is incumbent on the lawyer of the victim to determine if the driver has violated the federal law governing maximum driving time.

The discovery checklist in tractor-trailer cases should include a request for the time records and logs from the driver and the motor carrier, as well as deposition questions about the driver’s activities in the time period from two weeks prior to the accident through the time of the accident. In many instances, such discovery will reveal that the driver indeed violated the maximum driving time limits.

If you or a loved one were in an accident with a commercial vehicle and truck driver fatigue is found to be a cause, that driver and his company may be held accountable for the damages their negligence incurred. Our Virginia truck accident attorneys can help you determine if fatigue was a factor in your accident and, if so, we can help you secure justice for your accident.

How Defective Brakes Cause Truck Accidents

According to one study by the U.S. Department of Transportation, almost 30 percent of crashes involving commercial trucks included brake-related problems, like brake failure or brakes that were out of alignment.

A large semi-truck or big-rig weighs, on average, weighs 80,000 pounds and is 80 feet long. When these commercial vehicles are moving at high speeds, or even low speeds, it requires an advanced, well-maintained braking system to bring them to a stop, and even then it can take the space of two football fields to do so.

Without a routine schedule of proper maintenance, tractor trail brakes can fail without warning, which is why brake failure is one of the most common causes of trucking accidents.

An out-of-control truck can travel miles before its momentum slows to a stop, slamming into smaller vehicles along the way and endangering the lives of countless motorists.

How Tractor-Trailer Brakes Work

Tractor-trailer brake systems typically use air pressure rather than hydraulic fluid to engage the brakes. Such brake systems must be in proper working condition, with all valves, gauges, and pressure supply systems in perfect condition, in order to ensure the safety of the truck and others on the road.

Additionally, the truck’s brakes must be balanced so that the axles receive the same level of braking force when the system is engaged. If not, the imbalance can lead to catastrophic trucking accidents.

What Causes Tractor-Trailer Breaks to Become Defective

After a crash, tractor-trailer drivers often blame the collision on a sudden loss of braking power. Rarely are such failures spontaneous total losses of the braking system.

Rather, defective truck breaks are the result of miles and miles of usage and improper inspection and maintenance of the braking system. When the driver suddenly applied a high level of braking force, the brake system failed to react as quickly as expected of a well-maintained braking system. These circumstances are why defective brakes are one of the common causes of trucking accidents.

Determining Fault for Trucking Accidents Caused by Defective Breaks

If the brakes of the commercial vehicle were not maintained and inspected as mandated by federal law, then the party responsible for those inspections should be held accountable for the damages that resulted from the accident, both physical and emotional.

Proving that defective or poor maintenance of brakes was to blame in your accident can ensure and protect your interests and future, but doing so requires the help of experienced Virginia truck accident lawyers like those at Breit Cantor. The lawyer handling a tractor-trailer accident case in which defective brakes are suspected can obtain an immediate forensic inspection of the braking system.

The trucking accident lawyer can also access all police and motor carrier safety inspections of the tractor-trailer, any records from the tractor-trailer company that relate to the inspection, maintenance, and repair of the tractor-trailer, and all driver logs and records.

Additionally, the physical evidence from the scene of the crash may provide clues as to the braking or lack thereof performed by the tractor-trailer, including skid marks, yaw marks, scuffs, crash debris, and crash analysis of the vehicles.

It is almost always advisable to retain a truck expert at the outset of tractor-trailer cases involving suspected defective brakes to assist the trial lawyer in obtaining and analyzing the critical evidence. Forensic experts like those at Breit Cantor’s offices in Virginia Beach and Richmond can perform these investigations in order to gather the evidence necessary to present your case as effectively as possible.

How Overloaded Cargo Causes Truck Accidents

In order for a tractor trailer to be safely operated, a long safety checklist needs to be met before each trip. Obvious safety procedures include checking tire pressure and the braking system, but one of the most important factors to consider—and one that’s sometimes overlooked by truck drivers and trucking companies—is how the vehicle is loaded.

Who Is Supposed to Prevent Overloaded Cargo?

Loading a commercial vehicle is usually the responsibility of the freight crews behind the shipping companies. It’s integral that these workers be mindful of federal regulations around how trucks are loaded and, most importantly, the truck’s Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR)–a weight limit that is determined by the vehicle’s brakes, axles, power train, suspension, and frame capabilities.

Overloaded cargo is one of the most common causes of truck accidents because when these regulations and ratings are not strictly adhered to, the result can be an overloaded trailer or cargo that is stacked in a way that creates a serious imbalance in the load.

Problems Resulting from an Overloaded Truck

When a commercial truck is overloaded or its load is improperly distributed, it can cause a number of serious problems and truck accidents while the vehicle is in transit. Some common consequences of an overloaded commercial vehicle include:

  Trailer tipping over: The control and steering of a commercial truck is largely dependent on how the trailer behind the tractor is loaded. Carefully balancing the weight of cargo in the trailer allows the safe operation of the entire vehicle. On the other hand, overloading the trailer will not only cause the trucker to have trouble steering their truck, but it will also increase the chances of the whole trailer tipping over, such as during a tight turn or during strong winds.

•   Loose cargo in the road: An overloaded tractor-trailer may cause the cargo to become loose in transit or possibly knock open the trailer’s doors. This may result in random objects of freight spilling onto the highway behind the commercial truck. This debris can lead directly to accidents, if other drivers collide with it. Or drivers on the road may need to swerve to avoid a collision with debris, causing even more accidents.

•   Extended braking distance: As noted above, large commercial vehicles require a considerable distance to come to a complete stop. Truckers should be able to correctly estimate braking distances to prevent rear-end collisions with any vehicles in front of them. However, when a tractor-trailer is overloaded, the braking distance increases unpredictably due to the added weight. The result is a heightened chance of crashing into other vehicles in front of the tractor-trailer, especially in emergency braking situations. Overloaded trucks also put even more pressure on the braking system, which could result in brake failure.

Moving Forward After Your Truck Accident in Virginia

While the cause of your truck accident is important in determining the outcome of your case, at Breit Cantor Grana Buckner, our truck accident attorneys recognize that this is far from the most important thing to you. What is most important is helping you receive the compensation and justice you deserve so that you can build a brighter future after your accident.

Our Richmond and Virginia Beach truck accident attorneys offer our clients experienced and compassionate legal counsel. We examine the evidence surrounding your truck accident to pinpoint a cause, and therefore liability, with the goal of securing a maximum recovery on your behalf.

Breit Cantor Grana Buckner is renowned throughout Virginia for being a personal injury law firm that will not back down from any challenge. We accept only a few cases at a time so that we can offer our undivided attention to each and every case. This careful and intentional process of casework has been instrumental in our history of successful case results, which includes more than 150 verdicts and settlements amounting to $1 million or more, more than any other law office in Virginia, as reported by Virginia Lawyers Weekly.

If you were hurt in a tractor-trailer accident caused by an overloaded trailer, driver fatigue, defective brakes, or any other negligence on the part of the driver, his company, or the truck itself, let our award-winning team of attorneys know about it during an initial case review, and we will let you know how we can help. Contact us today to get started. 

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