Distracted driving is a common cause of all motor vehicle accidents on American roadways today, with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimating that 920,000 accidents each year can be linked to driver distractions.
Truck drivers, who spend much of their time on the nation’s highways, can be particularly susceptible to distracted driving behaviors. Boredom, loneliness and fatigue are common occupational hazards as drivers work long hours away from friends and family to ensure that the public has the goods they need.
With thousands of large freight-bearing and commercial vehicles traveling through Omaha on their way to deliver loads across the country, distracted truck driving accidents are on the rise in the area. If you or a family member has been involved in an accident with a tractor-trailer or other large commercial vehicle, contact the attorneys at Berry Law. They can advise you on the damages owed to you for injuries you sustained in a large truck collision.
What is Distracted Driving?
Distractions occur anytime a driver’s attention is diverted from the road before them. They can be caused by eating, drinking, smoking, changing the radio station, turning to talk to a passenger, applying makeup or using handheld electronic devices like GPS or cell phones. Fatigue and a driver’s own emotions can also lead to distracted driving, with sleep deprivation accounting for a third of all rollover truck accidents.
Due to their size and weight, tractor-trailers are more vulnerable to errors caused by other drivers on the road as well. Large commercial vehicles require additional reaction time to come to a stop or to avoid a potential wreck. For this reason, accidents involving large trucks tend to have very serious outcomes, including life-changing injuries and death in some cases.
When a truck driver’s attention is pulled from the road by a distraction, he or she may fail to recognize and process information with sufficient time for the brain to communicate with the body. That delayed reaction time can prevent a driver from performing defensive maneuvers and avoiding collisions with smaller vehicles. At 80,000 pounds or more, the results can be catastrophic. Distractions are the second leading cause of tractor-trailer rollover accidents caused by truck driver error.
Visual distractions cause a driver to take his or her eyes off of the road. For example, glancing over at a passenger or looking down at a GPS device prevent the driver’s eyes from maintaining contact with the road. Manual distractions involve something that requires a driver to take his or her hands off of the wheel, such as eating, drinking, or smoking a cigarette. Cognitive distractions occur when a driver’s mind is on something other than the task of driving, as in situations involving strong emotions like anger or stress. Increased speed and more reckless driving behaviors can often be tied to a driver’s mental state.
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What Are the Regulations Concerning Commercial Drivers and Cell Phone Usage?
Depending on the circumstances, the use of a cellular device can involve visual, manual and cognitive distractions for a driver. In fact, a University of Utah study found that talking on a cell phone while driving is as dangerous as driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
Talking, texting, or browsing the Internet on a cell phone is one of the most common causes for driver distraction today. Truck drivers who use a handheld cellular phone device are six times more likely to be involved in a serious accident, and those who text while driving are 23 times more likely to be involved in a catastrophic or fatal collision than those who do not.
A driver who is texting while moving at 55 mph could travel the length of an entire football field before his or her eyes connected with the road again. In that amount of time, a vehicle ahead of the truck could come to a sudden stop, another driver could signal an intention to change lanes, or a piece of debris could be in the roadway, all examples of situations that would require a truck driver’s immediate attention to avoid a wreck.
Nine percent of commercial drivers involved in distracted driving accidents that resulted in a fatality were later found to have been using a cell phone at the time of the accident. In reaction to these shocking statistics, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has banned handheld cell phone usage by commercial drivers while they are operating any commercial vehicle.
The regulations set by FMCSA state that commercial drivers must refrain from sending or receiving text messages while driving. Truck drivers are allowed to use hands-free cell phones while operating a commercial vehicle, but phones must be mounted near the driver’s seat, and employ a one-touch dial function that requires only the press of a single button to make a phone call. FMCSA has set these regulations for interstate truck drivers, drivers who transport hazardous materials, and bus drivers.
Statistics collected since the FMCSA restrictions were put in place have shown that drivers who obey these regulations are less likely to be involved in a traffic collision. Drivers who violate the laws governing texting and cell phone usage in commercial vehicles run the risk of losing their commercial license, and thus a loss of work in the industry. They can also face hefty fines.
Likewise, motor carrier companies who require their drivers to employ texting or hand-held devices while driving or who allow them to use such devices voluntarily can be fined thousands of dollars in fees. Companies can also be held liable for a driver’s negligence in the case that an accident does occur, or named in a wrongful death lawsuit.
What Can I Do if I’ve Been Injured in a Distracted Driving Accident with a Commercial Vehicle?
Personal injury cases are built around the following assumptions:
- Duty of care- All motorists, including commercial truck drivers, assume a duty of care to others on the road when they get behind the wheel of any vehicle. Part of that duty of care is preventing distractions that might take a driver’s attention off of the road and lead to an accident.
- Breach of care- In cases where a driver’s distracted behavior results in an accident, the driver breached his or her duty of care through their negligence.
- Fault- When that negligence causes property damage or injuries to another driver or passengers, the truck driver is at fault.
- Damages- Seeking compensation involves first showing that the accident in question resulted in monetary damages.
If you or someone you know has been injured due to a distracted driving accident involving a tractor-trailer or other commercial vehicle, you can take legal action against the driver or the trucking company that employs them to receive the compensation you deserve.
Distracted driving accidents can result in expensive medical costs including emergency services, hospital stays, treatment, and rehabilitation. Days out of work while recovering can lead to lost wages and sick leave time. While the cost of repairing or replacing a vehicle may be covered by a car insurance policy, hidden expenses like rental vehicles may not be included. A personal injury suit ensures that the injured party can focus on his or her recovery instead of on the financial strain the accident caused in their lives.
Along with the physical pain a victim may experience following a collision with a tractor-trailer, the mental and emotional anguish, or pain and suffering, can significantly impact a person’s day-to-day life as well. An experienced personal injury attorney will guide his or her clients through the process of recouping the damages that are owed to them.
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How Do I Go about Hiring an Attorney to Represent me in a Personal Injury or Wrongful Death Lawsuit?
Personal injury cases are often lengthy in nature, but a seasoned attorney won’t simply seek a rushed settlement in order to settle a case. Instead, they will review all of the facts, details and evidence to ensure that their client walks away with the compensation they deserve.
Consider the following when hiring an attorney to represent you in a personal injury case or wrongful death lawsuit:
- Seek experience- A successful personal injury case begins with an attorney who has experience in this type of litigation. Find a lawyer with a proven track record representing clients in personal injury cases.
- Use caution- A reputable law firm won’t attempt to solicit business from clients when they are at their most vulnerable. So-called “ambulance chasers” tend to seek out clients directly following an accident and often promise them large settlements to get hired. An ethical personal injury attorney will be up front about your case and avoid promising a particular settlement amount.
- Request consultation- Meet with potential attorneys prior to hiring representation. Ask questions about the process, and how they will involve you as they work on your case. Your attorney may ask you to provide documentation showing the damages you sustained in the accident to use in court.
- Discuss payment- Many personal injury attorneys work for a percentage of the settlement received. It’s important to have an upfront conversation about the expectations for payment in your case.
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