Long-haul trucks, tractor-trailers, and other large commercial carriers are by far a large the most dangerous vehicles traveling our public roads and highways. Their potential for causing accidents, serious injuries, and deaths make it a matter of public safety that they be carefully and stringently regulated.
For both interstate and intrastate trucking companies, there are numerous laws and regulations with which trucking operators, truck drivers, shippers and distributors, and others must abide. These laws, including many enforced by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), address highly critical areas of focus that can substantially increase accident risks when left unaddressed, or when regulations are violated. Examples of common trucking regulations include:
- Hours-of-Service (HOS) Rules to prevent fatigued driving
- Mandatory use of Electronic Logging Devices (ELDs)
- Cargo weight restrictions and cargo loading / securement rules
- Drug and alcohol / medical condition screening
- Licensing, training, and hiring requirements
Aside from these and many other trucking regulations, laws regarding vehicle maintenance are among the most important rules on the book. That’s because reducing public safety risks posed by trucks is directly dependent on how commercial vehicles are maintained.
The Dangers of Negligent Truck Maintenance
Any poorly maintained vehicle is a danger to those around it, but a poorly maintained commercial truck is a tremendous hazard with even greater potential to deadly consequences. Tractor-trailers are massive machines weighing up to 80,000 pounds, and the thousands of miles they log can cause an immense amount of wear and tear to critical vehicle components. Without proper and regularly performed maintenance, commercial trucks can quickly become ticking time bombs.
Below, we discuss the top 3 reasons why these vehicle maintenance regulations exist, and why trucking companies need to abide by them so as to prevent disastrous truck accidents.
1. Tires Blowouts & Related Risks
Equipment failure of any type is one of the most concerning hazards when it comes to commercial trucking. However, failures or blowouts of a truck’s tires are perhaps the most concerning equipment-related hazards. While there are some cases where trucking wrecks are caused by defectively designed or manufactured tires (for which manufacturers can be held responsible under product liability claims), many cases of tire blowouts result from inadequate maintenance.
Tires are the simplest yet most integral parts of vehicles, and their upkeep is critical to safe operation. Unfortunately, there are a number of ways trucking companies can fall short in ensuring their rigs’ tires are adequately maintained and in proper, compliant shape, and big risks that result.
- Worn tires – Failing to replace tires which have become excessively worn, make trucks unsafe, and more likely to experience a blowout. Tire blowouts can be devastating, causing truckers to lose control of their rigs, swerve into nearby motorists or oncoming traffic, and cause multi-vehicle wrecks. Drivers are also far less likely to regain control after a tire blowout, and may potentially cause trucks to flip, roll-over, or jackknife when they attempt to maneuver out of collisions.
- Retreaded tires – Using improperly treaded tires or retreaded tires in violation of FMCSA regulations (i.e. using retreaded tire on the front axle). Retreated tires are also more likely to malfunction, fail, or blowout, and can compromise vehicle stability when they’re used improperly on certain parts of the vehicle.
- Tires and road conditions – Using the right tires, and ensuring legally compliant tires are properly maintained and in working order, is essential in adverse road and weather conditions. Wet, icy, and snowy roads, for example, can spell disaster for rigs with unrepaired or worn-out tires.
2. Brake Failure & Increased Accident Severity
There’s no doubt that braking systems are one of the most important safety features on any vehicle. Without them, things will not end well. Ensuring brakes on large commercial trucks are in proper working order is of crucial importance, which is why federal regulators have rules to ensure operators maintain their rigs’ brakes. Inadequate brake maintenance can have devastating consequences, including:
- Partial brake failure (or “soft” brakes) that make trucks more difficult to bring to a complete stop in a sufficient amount of time, within a certain distance, in collision-critical situations, and before they cause rear-end accidents, or strike pile-ups or existing accidents.
- Total brake failure, which can result in runaway trucks that become nearly uncontrollable dangers, especially on high speed, steep grade, and congested roads. Brake failure commonly results from worn, missing, or incompatible / unequal components, leaks or freezing in the braking system, and other preventable issues.
- Increased force of impact, caused by any type of braking system failure or malfunction. When brakes fail, either partially or completely, trucks are more likely to crash at higher rates of speed, which is one of the most significant factors which can increase the severity of injuries or the likelihood that victims suffer fatal harm.
3. Cargo Hazards, Stability Issues & Roadway Hazards
Commercial trucks have a singular purpose: transport good and cargo where they need to go. Though they are all designed to haul heavy loads, trucks can vary in design and components used depending on the types of cargo they’re designed to carry. Ensuring proper maintenance specific to the type of vehicle and its various chains, locking mechanisms, trailer hitches, and coupling devices is crucial to avoiding cargo-related accidents, including those which include:
- Shifting or unsecured cargo – Failing to properly maintain trucks and components critical to safe and compliant cargo securement can cause cargo to become lose, shift within a truck, or dislodge entirely. Such movement, depending on the cargo and the vehicle, can severely compromise stability and a driver’s ability to steer and maneuver their rig. The result is a greater potential for lane and roadway departures, head-on collisions, and serious wrecks involving roll-overs or jackknifing.
- Fallen cargo – Whether contained in an open or closed cargo carrier, any type of cargo can become a hazard when it becomes lose and falls off a truck. Often the result of cargo violations and poor vehicle maintenance, fallen cargo can not only cause trucks to lose control and crash, but may also scatter debris on roadways that is later struck by a motorist or the cause of a crash in which a motorist had attempted to swerve and avoid hitting the cargo.
- Hazardous materials – There are many types of trucks that transport highly dangerous materials, from dangerous and highly combustible chemicals to carcinogenic substances, environmentally toxic products, and flammable gas or liquids. Should vehicles be maintained in any capacity, trucks carrying hazardous materials can become more likely to crash, posing risks of explosions, fires, and severe injuries to victims, as well as toxic exposure and environmental damage to communities and those nearby.
Knowing the overwhelming potential for serious injuries, wrongful death, and other types of devastating outcomes is why our Cleveland trial attorneys at The Becker Law Firm are committed to handling serious truck accident cases. In addition to holding companies accountable for their negligence and violations and setting an example that such conduct should never be tolerated, our firm is expressly committed to helping clients protect their rights to justice and financial compensation for their damages.
If you wish to discuss a truck accident anywhere in Cleveland or the state of Ohio, our legal team is standing by to help. Contact us online or call (440) 252-4399.