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Recent Truck Accidents May Lead to Increased Regulations

Commercial vehicles and trucks pose a significant threat on the roadways, not only because of their sheer size and weight but also because their drivers are asked to work long hours under frequently extreme conditions. If a truck driver drifts out of consciousness, even for a second, an accident can cause devastating damage and significant injuries or death. With numerous high profile and tragic truck accidents in the news lately, the laws regulating truck drivers have understandably come under fire in an effort to better protect other travelers.

Over the last several years there has been a steady increase in deadly traffic accidents involving large trucks across the nation. According to the latest available data, there were 333,000 traffic accidents involving large trucks in 2012. Those accidents were responsible for 104,000 injured victims and 3,921 deaths. Although difficult to prove, the cause of many of these unfortunate accidents is driver fatigue from working extended hours in search of extra money. Last year in New Jersey alone, 250 citations were given to truck drivers who were found to have been driving beyond the legally mandated limit. Driving drowsy can be just as dangerous and fatal as driving drunk. A truck driver suffering from drowsiness can be less alert, have slower reaction times, suffer from impaired judgment and may even drift in and out of consciousness.

This past April, a FedEx tractor-trailer was involved in an accident with a school bus carrying students as passengers on a field trip. Thirty individuals suffered injuries in the collision and 10 people were killed. Most recently, in June of 2014, actor and comedian Tracy Morgan suffered significant injuries in an accident with a Wal-Mart truck in the early morning hours in Cranbury, New Jersey. Mr. Morgan suffered broken ribs and a severely broken leg. Allegedly, the driver of this commercial truck struck Mr. Morgan's vehicle from behind, causing the accident which led to the death of Mr. Morgan's good friend, comedian James McNair, and injuries to other passengers. The driver of the vehicle was subsequently charged with vehicular homicide.

From the documents filed with the court, it is alleged that the driver of the truck had been awake for more than 24 hours when the accident took place. In the 24 hours before the accident the driver commuted from his home in Georgia to work in Delaware, a trip totaling roughly 700 miles, and then finally came to a stop in Pennsylvania. The accident occurred during the driver's trip from Bristol, Pennsylvania to Perth Amboy, New Jersey. According to reports, at the time of the incident the driver was traveling at 65 mph while the speed limit on that road was usually 55 mph but had been lowered to 45 mph the night of the accident due to nearby construction. All of this occurred despite the fact that the truck was equipped with technology meant to prevent accidents such as forward-looking radar and a system capable of slowing the truck's speed, notifying the driver of upcoming stopped traffic. Wal-Mart has recently struck back by alleging that Morgan and the other passengers were at least partially responsible for his own injuries because he was not wearing a seatbelt at the time of the incident.

Given the propensity these massive vehicles have to cause incredible damage if involved in an accident, federal laws have been implemented to combat driver error during their operation. To stop drivers from working dangerously long shifts and to prevent them from traveling great distances in a single trip, the Federal Carrier Safety Administration (FCSA) officially requires that truck drivers take off-duty breaks and limits the number of consecutive hours a driver can spend working to 14. Drivers are also required to keep logs of their driving hours, and they may be monitored by electronic systems that use computers to log this driving data. Additionally, transportation companies are legally required to employ safe and cautious drivers. Those with a history of traffic violations or driving under the influence are not permitted to operate such dangerous machinery.

Often, when an accident occurs involving a commercial vehicle or large truck, an injured party can hold the truck driver's employer legally responsible for the accident through the legal concept of vicarious liability. Given the significant injuries and complex legal theories often involved in a truck accident case, it is best to consult the advice of a knowledgeable attorney. An experienced attorney can ensure you hold the right parties responsible for your injuries. If you or someone you know has been injured in a truck accident, you should contact an attorney as soon as possible to protect your rights.

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