This is an excerpt from one of the recent episodes of 'Do I Need a Lawyer?' hosted by: Gary Martin Hays.
Now let's go to a question from one of our viewers:
Last week was extremely traumatic for me and my family. We were returning from a long weekend trip with our extended family on Lake Martin in Alabama. It was about 10:00 p.m. and we were in the far right lane of the interstate. A tractor trailer quickly came up on us in the lane to my left. All of a sudden he merged into our lane. His back trailer tire struck the front driver's side of my car causing me to lose control of my car and spin down the embankment. The back end of my car struck a large tree. Glass shattered, air bags opened. Our two teenage girls were screaming hysterically in the back seat.
Thankfully, the truck driver stopped and ran down to help us out of the car. We were afraid it was going to catch on fire. Someone called 911 and the state troopers were there in a matter of moments.
The truck driver apologized and said he didn't see us. He was getting over to exit off of the interstate so he could get a cup of coffee. He said he had been putting in too many hours on the road and wasn't paying attention.
We were all taken to the hospital by ambulance. Everyone is still sore and we need more treatment, but thankfully, nothing was broken. It could have been a lot worse. And that is what has me mad and upset now. He could have killed us. He shouldn't have been on the road if he was that tired.
Do we need a lawyer? Can you help us?
-Kevin in Alpharetta
Kevin, thanks for the question.
I understand completely why you are upset. The truck driver - and the company he worked for - put you and everyone else on the highway in harm's way by allowing him on the road without proper rest.
This should not have happened. Truck driver fatigue is a major problem.
Let me give you some statistics:
Every 16 minutes in the US a person is injured or killed in a tractor trailer accident.
There are over 400,000 accidents involving tractor trailers each year in the US.
Approximately 3,700 people that are passengers in vehicles are killed each year in collisions with tractor trailers.
As far back as 1995, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration listed driver fatigue as the #1 safety issue in commercial trucking.
A study revealed that a truck driver remaining awake for 17 hours had the same effect as the truck driver having a Blood alcohol content of .04%, the legal limit for a commercial truck driver.
This same 17 hour period of being awake resulted in the truck driver's response times being 50% slower than that of a well rested driver.
Truck drivers work on average 10 hour shifts.
In this case to it's important to determine whether or not fatigue played a role in causing the wreck.
We first start by securing a copy of the incident report, noting the time of day the wreck occurred. I also want to see what the investigating officer wrote in the notes section. Did the truck driver admit that he was fatigued? Or that he had been driving too many hours?
We will also send a letter to the trucking company and the insurance company providing coverage for the company.
We warn them not to destroy any evidence which could pertain in any way to the wreck, including the truck driver's file, the driver's logs, information regarding the load he was carrying, as well as all maintenance records for the tractor and the trailer he was pulling.
Federal law requires Truck drivers to keep a log of their hours.
This log reflects when they start their day, all stops along the way, and certifies that they have inspected their vehicles.
These logs can also be used as evidence that the driver was speeding between his last stop and where the wreck occurred, or that he suffered from driver fatigue because of the number of hours he spent on the road.
Federal regulations only require the truck driver's to keep these logs for six months unless an attorney takes action to secure them.
Keep in mind: In order to drive these big trucks, the drivers must have a commercial
The trucking companies are to use strict standards when they hire truck drivers and they must continue to supervise the drivers too to make sure they are not operating their rigs in an unsafe manner.
Here are some tips to try and prevent injuries on the highway and avoid these accidents altogether.
(1) Drive with caution around trucks on the road.
Remember they cannot stop on a dime so don't pull in front of one and assume they can safely stop in time.
(2) Stay visible to the truck driver.
If you can't see the driver's mirrors, chances are he can't see you.
(3) Pay attention to the trucks turn signals and don't travel for long periods of time next to a tractor trailer.