A fully loaded tractor trailer can weigh as much as 80,000 pounds. To safely operate a large commercial truck, a driver needs skill, training, experience, and their full focus on the road. The simple reality is that an overly fatigued driver is a dangerous driver. While this applies to any vehicle, it is especially true in the context of commercial trucking.
Unfortunately, too many truck drivers do not get adequate rest. Major trucking companies should never put profits ahead of people by encouraging or requiring truckers to drive when they are overly tired. In this article, our Birmingham truck accident lawyers provide a comprehensive guide to the fatigued driving, commercial truck crashes, and your legal rights in Alabama.
Truck Accidents are Dangerous: Drivers Must Take Proper Care
Motor vehicle collisions are among the leading cause of accidental injuries in Alabama, including in Jefferson County. Large commercial trucks are involved in more than their fair and proportional share of serious crashes in our region. According to data provided by the Alabama Department of Transportation, 11,243 semi-trucks were involved in accidents in 2019. To put that in perspective, that means that large trucks were involved in around 3.5% of total collisions. However, trucks were involved in 137 out of 851 fatal wrecks—a shocking 16.1% of deadly crashes.
Trucker Fatigue Contributes to Many Crashes in Alabama and Throughout the United States
Large commercial truck accidents are caused by a wide range of different factors. One of the most common and still-under-appreciated causes is fatigued driving. According to official federal government data on commercial vehicle causation, nearly 13% of all tractor trailer accidents reported nationwide. Fatigued driving increases the risk of a truck crash for many reasons. Driving a truck without proper rest can actually be as dangerous as intoxicated driving. Research shows that overly fatigued truck drivers are less safe because:
- They have a slower reaction time;
- They are less able to concentrate on the road;
- They exhibit poor decision-making; and
- They are at-risk of falling asleep behind the wheel.
Federal Regulations Limit Truck Driver Service Hours
In recent years, federal highway safety officials have put a renewed emphasis on the safety hazards posed by fatigued truck drivers. A key measure taken by the federal government is additional restrictions on the number of hours a trucker can spend behind the wheel. All commercial truckers involved in interstate commerce—across state lines—are required to follow the regulations. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) highlights the following four key rules for truckers who are hauling cargo:
- A maximum driving time of 11 hours in a day;
- A maximum on-duty time of 14 straight hours in a day;
- A maximum driving time of 60 hours in seven days or 70 hours in eight days; and
- A minimum 30 minute break for every eight hours of driving time.
It is important to emphasize that these service hours limits apply to tractor trailers hauling cargo in the course of interstate commerce. For trucks that do not leave the State of Alabama (intrastate commerce), less-restrictive state level rules apply. Under Alabama Code 32-9A-6, there is a 12-hour daily driving limit, a 15-hour daily on-duty limit, and 70 hour per seven days total driving limit.
Note: A truck driver (and trucking company) may be negligent even if they are not violating federal service hour limits. Truckers in Alabama and other jurisdictions have a general legal responsibility to operate their vehicle in a safe manner. A driver who is too fatigued to drive safely must pull over and get some rest. Fatigued driving is dangerous driving and it is negligent driving.
An Overview of Truck Accident Liability in Alabama (Contributory Negligence)
Alabama is one of the few remaining contributory negligence states in the country. A harsh tort rule that has been abolished in the overwhelming majority of U.S. jurisdictions, the contributory negligence standard holds that an injury victim is ineligible to recover financial compensation for their injuries if they are responsible for even a small share of their own accident.
A truck company and its insurer may try to pin part of the blame on an injured victim in order to escape culpability (and financial liability) after a crash. If you believe that your accident was caused by a fatigue trucker, it is imperative that the collision is comprehensively investigated by an experienced Birmingham, AL personal injury attorney. Your lawyer will make sure that you have all of the evidence you need to prove fault.
Recovering Compensation After a Commercial Trucking Collision
Following a serious commercial truck accident in Central Alabama, it is crucial that you have access to the full and fair financial support that you need to pay your bills. Truck accident victims can seek compensation for both monetary and non-monetary losses. Sadly, big truck companies and their even bigger commercial insurance carriers often make the claims process difficult. At Lewis & Feldman, LLC, we are committed to helping truck accident victims maximize their financial recovery. If you were hurt in a crash caused by an overly fatigued trucker, you may be eligible for money damages for:
- Automobile repairs or automobile replacement;
- Emergency medical treatment;
- Hospital bills and other health care costs;
- Physical therapy and rehabilitative medical care;
- Loss of current and future earnings;
- Pain and suffering;
- Long-term physical impairment; and
- Wrongful death of a family member.
Contact Our Birmingham, AL Truck Accident Attorneys Today
At Lewis & Feldman, LLC, our Birmingham tractor trailer accident lawyers are proud to be the region’s trusted personal injury advocates. If you or your loved one was hurt in a crash caused by a fatigued trucker, we are more than ready to help. Give us a call at 205-896-6410 or use our online contact form to set up a free, no obligation consultation. With an office in Birmingham, we represent truck accident victims throughout the region, including in Hoover, Bessemer, Pelham, Trussville, Leeds, Adamsville, Gardendale, Fultondale, and Vestavia Hills.