Articles Posted in Distracted Truck Drivers

Distracted driving and drowsy driving are two of the leading causes of fatal New Mexico truck accidents. Truck drivers spend countless hours on the road and can become easily tired or distracted after a long shift. This creates a serious danger not just for other motorists, but also for those who routinely find themselves working along the edge of the road.

In 1996, New Mexico lawmakers passed the first version of the state’s “Move Over” law, which was designed to protect emergency workers from the hazards of routinely working near the road’s edge. At the time, lawmakers noticed an increase in New Mexico roadside traffic accidents, especially those involving police officers, firefighters, and emergency medical personnel.

Thus, under New Mexico Statutes Section 66-7-332, a motorist who is approaching a stationary “authorized emergency vehicle” from behind must take certain precautions when passing the vehicle. Specifically, the passing motorist must change lanes as to not drive in the lane immediately adjacent to the lane in which the emergency vehicle is stopped. The driver must also slow down to a “reasonable and prudent” speed and proceed with caution.

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When someone desires to become a commercial truck driver, there is a series of skills and knowledge tests that they must pass. In order to drive a truck or other large vehicle, it is important that the driver possesses the advanced skills that are necessary to maneuver a commercial motor vehicle. Furthermore, due to the potential hazards in the event of a New Mexico truck accident, these drivers are understandably held to a standard higher than those operating any other type of motor vehicle.

In order to acquire a commercial driver’s license (CDL), the driver must first get a special license from their home state. If a driver will be operating a vehicle with multiple trailers, tanks, hazardous materials, or other passengers, they must get additional “endorsements” on their license. These endorsements indicate that the driver has obtained additional safety and skills training.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Act (FMCSA) maintains a database that tracks the safety records of trucking companies and drivers. The Safety and Fitness Electronic Records (SAFER) is one record-keeping tool that tracks company records. These records indicate the types of vehicles the company maintains, their inspection records, crash data, and other safety-related ratings.

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While New Mexico truck accidents have a variety of causes, one of the most common reasons is an improper lane change. Semi-trucks, due to their length, have large blind spots along the sides of the truck, as well as behind the truck. This means that if a motorist is traveling in one of these areas, the truck driver most likely will not see them.

While trucks are known to have blind spots, that does not mean that truck drivers are not responsible for an accident involving another vehicle that is traveling in a truck’s blind spot. As a general rule, New Mexico truck drivers are responsible to be aware of the traffic conditions as well as whether there are any motorists traveling in their blind spot. Of course, exceptions do exist, and in some cases a truck driver may be excused of liability if the motorist is negligently operating their own vehicle.

When a motorist believes that a truck driver was responsible for an accident, the motorist may file a New Mexico personal injury lawsuit against the truck driver. In some cases, the truck driver’s employer can also be named as a potentially liable party. This further increases an accident victim’s chance of recovering compensation for their injuries. It is also important to name all potentially liable parties in a New Mexico truck accident lawsuit because otherwise a named defendant may be able to shift liability away from themselves and onto a non-present party. If this occurs, the accident victim will likely be without any means of recovery.

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With the increase in popularity of text messaging, distracted driving has become a leading cause of deadly accidents throughout the United States. As a result, the majority of states have implemented some sort of law or policy against distracted driving. These new laws have imposed strict punishments upon those who choose to engage in distracted driving. In some instances, texting or even using a cell phone while driving is illegal.

In New Mexico, it is against the law for any motorist to text or talk on the phone without a hands-free device. Motorists found to be using a cell phone while driving will be fined $25 for the first offense and $50 for each subsequent offense. However, lawmakers are pushing to increase the penalties for cell-phone use while driving.

Advocates Fight for Stricter Distracted Driving Laws

With the rise in distracted driving accidents and fatalities, many lawmakers and citizens have begun fighting for stricter laws to combat distracted driving. These individuals and groups have started focusing their efforts on companies that employ large numbers of people. Advocates have started pressuring the business community to implement complete bans on using cell phones while driving. This push is similar to one many years ago when lobbyists began encouraging employers to require their employees to wear seat belts.

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Earlier this week in Texas, an accident between a pick-up truck and a bus claimed the lives of 13 of the 14 people aboard the bus. According to a local news report covering the tragic accident, the bus was heading back from a church retreat when the collision occurred.

Evidently, moments before the accident, another motorist who was driving behind the pick-up truck that caused the accident noticed that the truck was swerving in and out of the lane of oncoming traffic. The motorist called 911 and told operators, “he’s going to hit somebody head on or he’s going to kill his own self. Somebody needs to get this guy off the road.” The motorist’s girlfriend, who was also in the vehicle with him, took out her phone and began recording the truck’s erratic movements. The motorist made several calls before the truck crossed over into oncoming traffic and collided head-on with the bus.

After the accident, the motorist who had called the police confronted the driver of the pick-up truck, who told him, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I was texting.” Due to the seriousness of the accident and the number of fatalities, the federal National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is joining in the investigation with state authorities. The NTSB declined to comment on the accident but did indicate that distracted driving would be among the issues the agency investigates.

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Distracted driving is not a new problem. However, it seems to be the cause of more and more accidents nationwide. In fact, the National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration has recently released reports indicating that thousands of individuals are killed as a result of distracted drivers each year. In response to the drastic increase in accidents because of cell phone usage and text messaging, New Mexico passed Senate Bill 19 back in 2014.

This bill made it illegal for individuals for talk or text while driving. The bill does allow people to talk if they are not using a hand held device, and it allows individuals to text during emergencies. New Mexico is one of the last states to ban texting while operating a vehicle.

If an individual is found to be violating this law, the penalties will be relative to the specific circumstances of their situation. For example, the police may fine a first-time offender roughly $25. However, the fines will essentially double every time they are found to be in violation. Some individuals feel that sole monetary punishment will not be enough to deter individuals from committing this offense, but others believe this is a good first step in the right direction. Of course, if a distracted driver causes an accident while texting, they may be held liable for the injuries caused by their negligence.

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Late this month, a New Mexico bus driver was caught on camera eating a burrito immediately prior to causing a serious accident. The driver caused a multi-car pileup when he was traveling down a city street because he failed to notice the vehicles in front of him coming to a stop. According to one local news source, the bus driver ended up slamming into the back of the vehicle directly in front of him, subsequently causing a domino effect.

When emergency personnel and officers arrived, the city bus driver claimed that he was texting right before the accident occurred. Interestingly, video cameras caught his actions right before the accident happened, and he was not texting. The driver was actually eating a burrito at the time of the accident. Video footage shows him eating the burrito with both of his hands and taking sips of his drink. It was clear that he was distracted but not because of the actions he originally claimed.

One of the individuals involved in the accident has brought a civil lawsuit against the city. The city has not terminated the city bus driver, even though they admitted that city bus drivers are not supposed to be drinking or eating while operating a city bus. The city claims that they retrained the driver and that he has not been involved in an accident since.
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Last month, an early morning multi-vehicle collision in Texas ended up causing the death of a truck driver. National news reports indicated that the 54-year-old truck driver succumbed to the serious injuries he suffered following the six-vehicle crash on Interstate 81.

Evidently, traffic began to slow down on the northbound lane of I-81, and as that happened the truck driver slammed into the back of a sedan. Because of that collision, the sedan was pushed into the median of the highway. The truck driver was unable to control the tractor-trailer, and it continued to slide north and ended up hitting another similar sedan. That car was also pushed into the middle of the highway. Even the second collision did not stop the truck, and it continued sliding north and hit another sedan. That third sedan slammed into another car, which then collided with the final vehicle involved.

Eventually, the truck turned into the median and ended up flipping over onto its right side. All of the drivers were taken to various local hospitals, and their current medical status is unknown. Unfortunately, the truck driver was not wearing a seat belt, and he was killed in the accident.
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In late July, a Utah semi-truck driver lost control of his vehicle and rammed into a concrete barrier. According to one local news report, the driver was traveling northbound on I-15 at around 10 a.m. when the vehicle’s tire blew up. According to witnesses, the truck’s tire seemed to explode, and the semi-truck began to swerve to the left.

After veering to the left, the truck slammed into a concrete barrier and began sliding down the guardrail. The truck finally came to a rest at around mile post 12 of the highway. Police arrived at the scene shortly after the incident and reported visible serious damage to the semi-truck. State Troopers and Highway Patrol had to shut down the freeway for several hours to clear the scene and tow the large truck. An investigation is underway. However, reports indicate that distracted and drowsy driving may have been a contributing factor to the accident.

New Mexico Truck Driving Liability

In the above case, the reports do not indicate that anyone was seriously injured after this accident, although people were likely inconvenienced by the traffic delays. However, this is an anomaly because semi-truck accidents often result in serious injury, property damage, and on occasion fatalities.
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Last week, a woman was injured when she was hit by a semi-truck while crossing the street just outside Salt Lake City, Utah. According to a report by KSL News, the woman was crossing the road at the 3500 block of Redwood Road when she was hit by the truck. The woman was crossing the road at a crosswalk and did have the right of way at the time of the accident.

The driver did the right thing and stopped the truck immediately, running back to render aid to the fallen woman. He was cited for failing to yield to a pedestrian at a crosswalk. The accident victim was taken to a nearby hospital with serious leg injuries and other less serious injuries. At the time the article was published, she was in serious condition but was expected to survive.

Auto-Pedestrian Accidents in New Mexico
Although this accident occurred in a fellow-four corner state, auto-pedestrian accidents are just as common in New Mexico. In fact, in one study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, New Mexico had the highest number of pedestrian deaths per 100,000 citizens at 3.94. This amounted to over 70 fatal pedestrian deaths caused by auto-pedestrian accidents.
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Last month, an Illinois toll worker was killed and a State Trooper was injured in a tragic semi-truck accident. The accident occurred when a semi-truck crashed into the two workers’ vehicles on an Illinois highway. According to a report by CBS Chicago, the toll worker was on the side of the road assisting a disabled vehicle when a State Trooper stopped to lend a hand. As the two were assisting the motorist, a semi-truck ran over the Trooper’s squad car and crashed into the other vehicles on the side of the road, causing them to erupt into flames.

The toll operator was pronounced dead at the scene. The trooper was in critical condition until recently, when his condition was upgraded to serious. He is expected to recover. Police claim that the driver of the semi-truck had fraudulently filled out his resting log to reflect that he was properly rested. However, upon investigation, police discovered that the driver was actually in violation of a federal law requiring semi-truck drivers spend no more than 11 of 14 hours on the road at any given time.

Semi-Truck Resting Requirements and Rest-Log Fraud in New Mexico

As we mentioned in a previous blog post, New Mexico semi-truck drivers are required to follow certain federal guidelines dictating drivers rest a certain amount per trip. However, due to the pressures of the job, sometimes semi-truck drivers will fill out their rest logs as though they are complying with federal law, but in actuality they are driving when they should be resting.
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A California jury has ordered a negligent trucker and the company that employs her to pay a record $34.9 million verdict in connection with a 2010 semi-truck collision. In Hackett v. Silva Trucking, Inc., No. 2012-128931, a semi-truck operator, Elaine McDonold, apparently crossed the center line on Highway 12 near Isleton and struck a bus that was being driven by Debra Hackett. As a result of the crash, Hackett reportedly suffered a serious head injury and became paralyzed from the waist down.

Following trial, a 12-person Sacramento jury found both McDonold and Silva Trucking negligent. The jurors also stated the accident substantially caused Hackett’s harm. Because of this, the jury awarded Hackett almost $1.2 million in past medical expenses and economic losses, about $16.7 million in future medical bills and economic damages, and $14 million in past and future non-economic damages. Non-economic loss includes pain, suffering, emotional distress, loss of enjoyment of life, and other damages. The jurors also awarded Hackett’s spouse $3 million for past and future loss of consortium. Three days after the jury’s verdict was issued, a Sacramento County judge signed an order awarding the Hacketts the entirety of the verdict plus interest.

The jury’s verdict is purportedly the highest personal injury award ever issued in the county. Interestingly, Silva Trucking’s insurer allegedly refused to settle the case when a pre-litigation demand for $5 million was made. Additionally, the company also apparently declined a later offer to settle the lawsuit for $12.5 million.
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One man died and six other people were hurt in a recent semi-truck accident. According to police, the 23-year-old driver of an 18-wheeler was headed west on Route 30 in Galloway Township, Pennsylvania when he failed to stop at a red light and struck three other vehicles. The force of the impact reportedly caused a Chevrolet to overturn and become pinned beneath the big rig. Sadly, the 69-year-old driver of the Chevy died at the accident scene. Two of his passengers were transported to a local area hospital for treatment. In addition, the drivers of two other autos hit by the 18-wheeler, as well as one of their passengers, were also hospitalized following the fatal crash.

According to an accident witness, the force of the impact caused diesel fuel to begin leaking from the semi-truck. Both the driver of the tractor-trailer and his female passenger were treated for undisclosed injuries. The intersection was closed for about five hours while police investigated the cause of the crash. Although the deadly wreck is still under review by police, the accident witness stated the 18-wheeler caused the collision when he ran the red light.

Although this particular semi-truck accident occurred in another state, all motorists should be mindful of the dangers associated with sharing any roadway with a tractor-trailer. Every year, negligent truckers like this one harm or kill countless drivers and passengers who are utilizing the various highways, interstates, and other roadways located across New Mexico. In fact, about 1,400 big rig wrecks take place on roads in our state each year. 18-wheeler collisions may be caused by a number of factors that often include driver distraction, fatigue, dangerous lane changes, impairment, speeding, aggressive driving, tailgating, and more. Additionally, many truckers fail to adequately inspect their vehicles for preventable safety hazards such as worn tires or malfunctioning brake lights.
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Researchers at the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI) claim multiple technologies within a semi-truck cab may decrease the accident risks associated with driver fatigue. According to VTTI Senior Research Associate Dr. Gregory M. Fitch, nearly 80 percent of truck accidents occur while a driver is not looking forward when a vehicle ahead begins to stop. Because of this, technologies such as forward collision, lane change, and eye glance warning systems may help sleepy drivers avoid a crash.

Currently, many individual technologies designed to increase truck driver safety reportedly exist. VTTI’s Darrell S. Bowman claims that multiple safety measures are more effective at combating driver drowsiness than any single technology. Bowman stated a combination of technologies tends to improves quality and reliability because each one has different limitations. He believes a variety of in-cab safety tools could make it easier for commercial drivers to know when to find an appropriate place to stop and rest before they fall asleep behind the wheel.

According to a VTTI Specialist in Behavior-Based Safety Research, Dr. Jeff Hickman, many of the same technologies used to combat driver fatigue may also protect against driver distractions. Additionally, mobile phone signal blocking equipment and in-dash cameras may also be used to increase 18-wheeler driver safety.
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The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has issued a preliminary report related to a July tractor-trailer accident that forced a woman’s car off of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge in Maryland. According to accident investigators, the big rig driver claims he was distracted by noise and lights behind his vehicle when he collided with the back of a 24-year-old woman’s Chrysler Sebring and forced the car into the vehicle stopped in front of her. The impact allegedly caused the passenger vehicle to be squeezed upwards and then travel over the side of the bridge into the bay. The Chrysler reportedly fell 27 feet before sinking. Thankfully, the young woman was able to swim to a nearby bridge pylon before being rescued by boaters. The semi driver was apparently traveling on his first solo trip.

Sadly, horrific accidents like this one are caused by inattentive tractor-trailer drivers in New Mexico and across the country all too often. According to the United States Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), the costs associated with commercial vehicle crashes across the nation exceeded $89 billion in 2011. In 2010, 3,675 people were tragically killed and about 80,000 were hurt in an accident that involved a tractor-trailer. Only 25 percent of those hurt and 14 percent of those killed were riding in a semi-truck.

About 34 percent of 18-wheeler collisions in 2010 were caused by a semi-truck driver. FMCSA data claims the top five factors that led to those accidents were speed, failure to maintain the proper lane, obscured vision, failure to yield, and distraction or inattention. A big rig driver was reportedly responsible for approximately one-fourth of the 318 deadly rear-end semi-truck wrecks that occurred across the U.S. in 2010.
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