By now, we all know that distracted driving in passenger vehicles is a genuine problem. During 2015, 3,477 persons died in distraction-related crashes—around 10 percent of traffic deaths nationwide—with approximately 391,000 persons injured.
But distracted driving isn’t limited to passenger vehicle drivers, and in recognition of that fact, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has created rules regarding what is permissible for large truck drivers while they are behind the wheel.
Large Truck Fatalities
Large trucks were involved in 3,981 fatal crashes during 2013, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). While large trucks made up only 4 percent of all registered vehicles that year, they contributed to 9 percent of all vehicles in deadly crashes.
Some of the fatal crashes that have occurred while large truck drivers were distracted are:
- May, 2017: One person died and another was critically injured when a semi rear-ended a Saturn passenger car on a Utah state road (SR-40). While the semi was not traveling at excessive speed, the police believe that the driver’s phone distracted him, causing the collision with the Saturn. The entire back half of the car was flattened by the semi.
- August, 2016: Six lives were claimed in Nebraska on I-80 when a semi driver ran into a minivan at high speed because he was “inattentive and distracted by outside influences,” according to the Nebraska State Patrol in an arrest affidavit. The driver was charged with five counts of felony motor vehicle homicide.
- November, 2013: In Arizona, a police officer was killed by a distracted semi driver when his empty fuel tanker hit police cars and emergency vehicles while traveling at 65 mph. It was alleged that the driver had been looking at adult web site pictures on his phone when the crash occurred.
Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration Definitions and Rules
The FMCSA has defined distracted driving with strict guidelines that are short and sweet:
- No reaching
- No dialing
- No holding
- No reading
- No texting.
The FMCSA defines a mobile device as needing at least one hand to hold it (“no holding”) to make a call and needing to press more than a single button (“no dialing”) to make a call. Because of this definition, mobile devices must be hands-free, close enough to the driver to prevent leaning out of his or her seat (“no reaching”) and must require no more than one button-press to be activated.
“No texting” is defined as pressing more than one button on a cell phone to initiate or end a call or to enter data on a dispatching device. The exceptions are in an emergency situation or when contacting any law enforcement agency.
While camera phones were not mentioned, it is safe to assume that taking a picture while barreling down the interstate behind the wheel of an 80,000-pound truck would be considered “unsafe” by the FMCSA.
A Deadly Danger
The Virginia Tech Transportation Institute’s research discovered that cell phone usage by large truck drivers is a huge danger to the rest of us on the road. The report revealed that a crash was more likely when a trucker engaged in one of the following activities:
- Listening or talking on a phone: a crash was 1.3 times likelier
- Dialing a phone: a crash was 5.9 times likelier
- Reaching for a phone: 6.7 times likelier
- Looking at a map: 7 times likelier
- Text messaging on a phone: 23.2 times likelier.
When a driver types in a phone number or text message, their eyes leave the road for at least 4 to 5 seconds. At 55 mph, that means traveling more than the length of a football field without having your eyes on the road. This fact is true whether you are in a subcompact car or an enormous tractor-trailer.
Eating or drinking while driving can be even riskier than talking on a phone. In a May, 2008, Wisconsin crash, a driver smacked into a stopped school bus because he was drinking a soda. Fourteen children ended up being taken to the hospital.
Penalties for Distracted Driving in Large Trucks
Truck drivers caught “driving while distracted” face substantial penalties from the FMCSA per incident:
- Driver fines can reach $2,750.
- Distracted driving citations are considered “serious traffic violations” by FMCSA. Two violations within three years will earn the driver a disqualification (unable to drive) for 60 days. Three violations within three years will disqualify the driver for 120 days. Drivers can also be fined.
- A driver’s employer can be fined if they allow or require a driver to use a hand-held device while behind the wheel. Fines can reach $11,000. An employer’s Safety Measurement System ratings will also be adversely affected by such violations.
Any driver who transports cargo across state lines or otherwise engages in interstate commerce must abide by the FMCSA’s distracted driving rules, regardless of state laws that might be in conflict.
Has a loved one been seriously injured or killed in a crash with a large truck where you believe the driver was distracted? It could be in your best interests to seek legal counsel.
When others breach their duty, we keep ours.
Indiana truck accident cases can be complex legal claims that require thorough investigation and demand aggressive litigation to secure the best possible outcome for the plaintiff. While monetary compensation can never undo the damage done as the result of a truck accident, a financial recovery can ease the financial burdens caused by overwhelming medical bills, loss of income, and disability.
If you or a loved one has been involved in an accident with a tractor-trailer, whether empty, full, or involving only the tractor portion of the truck, we suggest you talk with Indianapolis truck accident lawyer Mike Stephenson. With more than three decades of experience, substantial financial resources to commit to your case, and a commitment to the highest standards of client care, you can count on Mike at McNeely Stephenson. Contact him today by calling 1-317-825-5200 for a free accident consultation, or use our online contact form.