Trucking accidents cause thousands of fatal injuries every year. In 2017, crashes involving large trucks and buses took 5,005 lives. The size and weight of large commercial trucks makes it common for smaller passenger vehicles to bear the brunt of the damage in collisions. The high level of danger large trucks pose to others led to federal regulations to try to reduce accident risk. Truck drivers must follow certain safety guidelines while at work to do their part to prevent serious accidents.
It takes more time to bring a commercial truck to a stop than an average passenger vehicle. To take increased stopping time into account, truck drivers should maintain a proper following distance from the vehicle in front of the truck at all times. Truckers should leave at least 20 feet of space between the front of their trucks and the backs of other vehicles. This will leave enough room to come to a complete stop without needing to slam on the brakes. Braking too hard could lock the brakes and cause a crash, or lead to a dangerous cargo shift.
Truck drivers should reduce their speeds when traveling downhill or around curves. Traveling too fast could make it impossible to brake – and could lead to runaway trucks and serious accidents. Proper braking in a big rig takes carefully controlling speeds and using the right braking technique, depending on the situation. Truckers should follow their training to either pump the air brakes or apply steady pressure based on the circumstances and road conditions. Unsafe braking techniques can lead to accidents such as a jackknifed truck.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) imposes strict hours of service regulations that all truck drivers must obey. Hours of service regulations aim to reduce the number of drowsy truck drivers on the road by limiting how many hours truckers can drive in between rest breaks. No property-carrying trucker may exceed an 11-hour limit after 10 consecutive hours off duty. Truckers cannot drive beyond a 14-hour limit after coming on duty. Drivers also cannot exceed 60 or 70 hours on duty in seven or eight consecutive days.
Fleet safety is ultimately the responsibility of the trucking company, but truck drivers also play a role. FMCSA Section 396.3 states that every driver must inspect the truck and trailer and verify that both are in safe operating condition before driving. If items require repairs, the truck driver must submit repair requests in an inspection report. The motor carrier must then schedule repairs before the trucker can operate the vehicle. Ignoring truck inspections could lead to dangerous part malfunctions and breakdowns in transit.
It is against the law for a truck driver to engage in dangerous habits that cause driver distraction. Truck drivers have a duty to maintain a proper lookout and to pay attention to the road at all times. Long hours on the road alone in a cab can increase the risk of distraction. Commercial drivers legally cannot use handheld mobile devices to make calls or send/read texts. They may only use hands-free devices that are within the driver’s comfortable reach. Violating the federal mobile device law could lead to a serious trucking accident and thousands of dollars in penalties against the truck driver.
Some highways have specific maximum speed limits just for truck drivers. This is because large trucks need more time to come to complete stops. Speeding can increase the risk of an accident by making it more difficult to remain in control of the truck. Truck drivers must always obey posted speed limits or travel at slower speeds, if necessary, depending on road or weather conditions. Speeding is a common cause of deadly trucking accidents in Texas.