Experienced Houston Truck Accident Lawyers
Houston truck accident lawyers at Michael P. Fleming & Associates help injured victims of negligent big-rig drivers. If you have suffered from personal injury and need a lawyer for a truck accident caused by a tractor-trailer, otherwise known as a commercial motor vehicle (CMV), contact the law offices of Michael P. Fleming for a free consultation. Furthermore, if you are thinking about filing a claim against a trucking company, determining the exact cause of the accident will be critical in seeking damages for your injuries.
There two important sections of the law accident victims will want to review on this page, what can cause an accident and important information on federal regulations. Common causes include driver fatigue, poor maintenance practices and distracted driving.
Federal regulations of semis and 18-wheelers exist for a reason and that is to make our highways safe for cars and
big-rigs. The more you know about the important government regulations relating to licensing, driver qualification, hiring and supervision, driver violations, alcohol and controlled substances and insurance requirements the better. You will be able to ask questions that uncover contributing factors which may have led to the accident and understand what types evidence your personal injury lawyer will look for.
In the U.S. 70% of the all domestic freight is moved by tractor-trailer big-rig trucks. In 2014 annual revenues for the trucking industry exceeded $700 billion for the first time. Since Houston is now the country’s third largest city it isn’t surprising that 18 wheelers and semis are seen on our highways in increasing numbers.
Causes of Truck Accidents
Many truck drivers will drive while they are fatigued which affects their performance when trying to avoid dangerous situations or taking the appropriate action when mechanical or operational problems occur. Drivers must abide by the Hours of Service (HOS) regulations defined by the Federal Motor Carriers Safety Administration (FMCSA). The regulations are as follows;
- 14-hour driving limit – Commercial truck drivers can drive a maximum of 14 hours after 10 consecutive hours off
- Rest breaks – Truck drivers cannot drive if it has been more than 8 hours since the driver’s last off duty or sleeper berth period of at least 30 minutes
- 60-hour driving limit over a period of 7 consecutive days for trucking companies that do not operate 7 days a week
- 70-hour driving limit over a period of 8 consecutive days for trucking companies that operate 7 days a week
At the conclusion of the 60 hour or 70 hour working period, drivers must take 34 consecutive hours off before they can begin another work period.
Safety and the Federal Regulation Of Trucks
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s mission is to reduce the occurrence of commercial motor vehicle crashes, injuries and fatalities. A number of regulations and requirements are in place to ensure that this objective is met. Listed below are some of the most important requirements along with supporting information.
Obtaining a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) is different from getting a driver’s license for a car or motorcycle. In addition to passing skills and knowledge tests applicants must;
- Acquire a Department of Transportation (DOT) medical card. The applicant must have a physical examination and receive a certificate from the medical examiner that states that they are fit to operate a commercial vehicle. The applicant must upload the medical certificate, within 10 days of receipt to the Commercial Driver’s License Information System (CDLIS).
- Satisfy the State’s driving record check. As part of the application process, the State where the driver is applying will run a check in the National Driver Registry (NDR) to ensure the applicant is not disqualified from driving in that State or any other jurisdiction. Driving records are checked for the previous 10 years in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.
- Provide proof of residency in the state that you are applying. You can only obtain a CDL from your home state, have a CDL in more than one state is illegal.
In order meet the requirements of a CDL drivers must dedicate a significant amount of time to education and driver training. This is especially true if you plan on a career driving Class A or B type trucks which are the larger tractor-trailers, big-rigs or semis that you see on the roads and highways in and around Houston.
The testing requirements for a CDL include the following;
- Pass a written test with a grade of 80 percent
- Demonstrate the ability to conduct an air brake safety test
- Pass a vehicle control test
- Driving and skills test on-road
If you have been injured in a truck accident in Houston you will want to know some of the specific skills that commercial drivers must have. A driver who is deficient in or lacks any of these skills may have contributed to the accident.
- Changing lanes properly and safely
- Merging safely into traffic, especially on busy interstates in Houston like I-10, US-59, I-45, I-610 and Beltway 8
- Being able to control the truck in order to make sudden safe stops, ensuring to avoid tailgating
- Obeying all traffic signals and signs
- Adhering to the rules regarding right-of-way
Hiring, Management and Supervision
The trucking industry believes, and studies tend to suggest that the majority of truck accidents are caused by a small percentage of commercial vehicle drivers. Trucking companies can reduce their risk of having an accident within their fleet by effectively managing new hires. The objective here is to avoid high risk drivers who have a propensity to;
- Act aggressively
- Are impatient or impulsive
- Easily be distracted or lack focus
If trucking companies hire drivers who are newly licensed or are younger drivers (less than 25) they need to ensure that support systems are in place to;
- Provide or fund on-going education
- Mentor new and young commercial motor vehicle drivers on-the-job regarding industry best practices, safety and federal regulations
After drivers have been hired it is important that they are managed, supervised and focus on the company’s objectives. Most of us will agree that people are motivated by thought of earning extra money for a job well done. Often times trucking companies achieve positive results when they implement performance based programs that;
- Define the behaviors that are desired such as;
- Following standard operating procedures especially safety procedures
- Adhere to federal regulations for hours of service, rest periods, record-keeping and daily truck inspections
- Avoid traffic and safety violations
- Evaluate drivers performance quarterly or annually by tracking;
- Driving records including truck crashes and accidents
- Their safety record – having no failed roadside inspections, no traffic violations or infractions
- Drug or alcohol tests for intoxicated or impaired driving
- Employ qualitative and quantitative measurements to determine rewards
- Define the boundaries of disciplinary actions;
- Verbal and written communication
- Offer Employee Assistance Programs and counselling if drivers encounter family problems, suffer from sleep disorders, financial or health issues that can affect their performance
- Rules regarding suspension and termination
Trucking companies can greatly reduce the risk of accidents and non-compliance by proactively managing the hiring process and the drivers who are already part of the team. The most profitable organizations in business today have these programs in place right now.
Notification of Conviction for Driver Violations
Commercial drivers are bound by rules and regulations that don’t apply to those who simply have a license to drive a passenger car or pickup truck. Commercial drivers convicted of violating traffic laws, in a State other than the one that issued their license, are required to report the violation. Within 30 days of being convicted of a violation the driver must report the offense to an official designated by the State where the license was issued as well as their employer. This includes any violation the driver committed while driving their own personal car or truck, whether it was on the job or not.
These violations include;
- Speeding violations
- Reckless driving
- Running a red light
- Driving under the influence (DUI) or driving while intoxicated (DWI)
- Causing an accident for any reason including the above mentioned
- Leaving the scene of an accident
The notification must include the following information;
- Driver’s full name
- Driver’s license number
- Date of conviction
- Description of the offense whether it was criminal, a serious traffic violation or other violation and any suspension, revocation or cancellation of driving privileges
- Whether or not the violation was in a commercial vehicle
- Location of offense
Being convicted of a serious offense can result in the disqualification of the driver which means they are no longer permitted to drive a commercial vehicle. The period of disqualification is generally one (1) year but in some cases it can be longer.
Alcohol and Controlled Substances
The Department of Transportation started to test “safety-sensitive transportation employees” in the early 1990’s. This regulation applies to airline pilots, truck drivers and many others.
- Who is tested? All drivers who have a commercial driver’s license (CDL), it doesn’t matter if they are full-time, part-time or casual employees.
- When are you tested?
- Before a trucking company can hire a driver, the driver must be tested and have a negative result.
- After a truck accident where the driver was at fault, the drug test must be performed by the employer.
- After a truck accident that caused a fatality, the driver is tested regardless of whether or not it was their fault.
- Random tests are taken throughout the year.
- Immediate tests are required if a driver is suspected of being under the influence.
- Drivers who tested positive or refused testing and were suspended are required to be tested as part of the “return to duty” protocol. This test must have a negative result in order for the driver to return to work and drive a commercial motor vehicle.
- Follow-up tests are required for drivers who have returned to work after being suspended for testing positive or refusing a test. A minimum of six (6) tests must be taken during the year when the driver returns to work.
- What types of drugs are tested?
- Marijuana (Cannabis) also known as pot or grass
- Amphetamines and methamphetamines, known on the street as meth, crystal, chalk and ice
- Opiates, opium and codeine
- Phencyclidine also known as PCP or angel dust
A driver will fail an alcohol or drug test if they test positive for a drug test or have a blood alcohol content of .04 or greater. In this situation you will be immediately suspended from driving a commercial vehicle. In order to drive again you will have to enter a return to duty program with a DOT approved substance abuse professional (SAP). This program is designed to provide individuals with education, treatment, follow-up testing and aftercare.
Once a motor carrier has filed their Operating Authority (OP-1) application with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) and has received their motor carrier (MC) or freight forwarder (FF) number, the motor carrier’s insurance company must file forms with the FMCSA.
The insurance requirements for a motor carrier or freight forwarder are as follows;
- Public liability insurance (bodily injury/property damage/environmental restoration) of $750,000 to $5,000,000 depending on the commodities transported
- Cargo insurance of $10,000 for motor carriers or freight forwarders who transport household goods
- Surety bond of $75,000
Poor Maintenance and Inspection Practices
Even though semis are subject to rigorous inspection and maintenance regulations, accidents still occur because 18 wheelers are not properly inspected or maintained. Studies of truck accidents by the FMCSA have shown that up to one-third of the tractor-trailers involved in accidents had out of service violations, which means the trucks should not have been on the road just prior to the accident.
Some examples of these violations include;
- Brake system problems such as inoperative or defective brakes, out of adjustment clamp or roto type brakes, brake hose or tubing damage
- Tires with tread depth less than 2/32 of an inch or with tread or sidewall separation
- Steering column with loose bolts or positioning parts, steering wheel not properly secured
- Suspension with cracked, broken, loose or missing bolts, spring hangers and other positioning parts
Texting and Distracted Driving
Just like those who drive cars, truckers can be distracted while they drive semis on highways. It is arguably a bigger problem with 18-wheelers because companies require them to stay in contact with dispatchers in their operations department. It is common for companies to require drivers, as part of their safety procedures, to pull over when using a dispatching computer but far too many continue to drive.
The Virginia Tech Transportation Institute found that being involved in a crash or a near-crash increases 23 times for truck and bus drivers who text while driving. 39 states have banned texting while driving and in October 2010 the FMCSA introduced a regulation that bans texting while driving for all drivers of commercial motor vehicles which includes semis, tractor-trailers and 18 wheelers.
Other activities found to distract truck drivers and increase the risk of a crash are;
- Dialing a cell phone
- Using a calculator
- Looking at a map
- Making notes on a pad or notebook
- Difficult tasks like cleaning a side mirror
Proving Fault in Trucking Accidents
In any truck or 18-wheeler accident, proper investigation is critical to determine responsibility. Insurance companies investigate immediately after a truck accident. Our Houston personal trial injury attorneys have extensive experience handling truck accident cases of all types.
We investigate safety inspection reports, maintenance logs, gps logs, and state and federal certifications to determine what responsibility the truck driver holds. We also examine skid marks, provide witness testimony, examine driving conditions and other critical accident scene evidence. Sometimes, individuals other than the driver can be held liable for an accident if they are guilty of negligent entrustment.
Why Choose Our Houston Truck Accident Lawyers?
Attorney Michael P. Fleming has been selected for inclusion in Texas Super Lawyers list since 2007. He is also one of the very few lawyers in the entire country to have had the privilege of arguing and winning a case before the Supreme Court of the United States.
What Will We Do For You?
We will listen
The Houston truck accident attorneys at our personal injury law firm will listen carefully to your memories of the accident. We will also listen to how the truck accident injuries have affected you and what losses you have suffered — physical injuries, pain and suffering, lost wages, and property damage.
We will investigate
Trucking companies are held to high standards of safety. We will examine records to determine if those standards have been met. We will check maintenance logs, driver logs, safety inspections, gps records, state and federal certifications, and truck accident reports. We also examine skid marks, witness testimony, driving conditions and other critical accident scene evidence.
We will handle all insurance claims for you
The insurance company and trucking company will have lawyers on their side. You need an 18-wheeler wreck attorney prepared to prove fault. Insurance companies take our law firm seriously knowing we will take personal injury cases to trial.