We’ve all seen it before while driving down a highway: the car up ahead struggles to stay within its lane. We’ve watched the vehicle drift over the dotted lines and then abruptly swerve back into its own lane. These familiar scenes usually have us thinking one thing, “That driver is texting, fiddling with an iPod or otherwise distracted by something.”
Now, rather than a Honda Civic swerving all over the road, imagine that the distracted driver is operating an 80,000 pound commercial truck. It’s easy to see how even the smallest sideswipe could turn deadly when such a size disparity exists between your vehicle and a semi truck that is nearly 20 times its size.
Distracted driving is not just irresponsible; it is deadly. As we mentioned in our blog about it, distracted driving is to blame for crashes that killed 5,870 people in 2008 alone, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Association (NHTSA). According to our own Joseph Fried, driver distraction is a HUGE problem these days and it is getting worse.
Not Your Typical Workplace Multitasking
Potential distractors for commercial truck drivers fall into two categories. Fried states, “First, there are transportation-related systems – including traditional CB radios, GPS devices, and on-board systems that allow for communication between the truck and dispatchers in real time. [On board systems] are like texting devices and should never be used while the truck is being operated. Second, there are what I will call life-related technologies. Truckers live in their trucks sometimes for weeks on end and oftentimes the trucks are outfitted like small apartments. Some have internet access, computers, fax machines, DVD players, Satellite TVs, multiple monitors, playstations, xbox and the like. We have handled cases where truckers have used these devices while driving, to horrific consequences.”
While outlawing cell phone use may save lives – ours and truckers’ – even legislation cannot protect against all distractions, specifically the life-related technologies.
From Texting to Typing: On-board Computers in Trucks a Danger
And even when legislation is in place, it’s not always effective, as in the case of on-board computers. Truck drivers rely on on-board computers to relay and respond to a variety of important messages, including:
- Dispatch Instructions
- Weather Reports
- Directions/Route Information
- Pay Requests
- Information About Loads
The good news is that Qualcomm, the biggest manufacturer of on-board computers for the trucking industry, puts lockout devices on their computers so that messages cannot be read while the truck’s wheels are turning. While on the road, drivers receive a notification alerting them to a new message, which they can then listen to. However, the driver must pull over to view and respond to the message by typing on a digital keyboard.
The bad news? Truckers have learned ways to disable the lockout device, giving them access to the computer while they are driving. Trucking industry insiders say many companies turn a blind eye to this behavior and some even unlock the computers for their drivers – thereby forcing drivers to use the computers while driving. This unfairly endangers both the truck driver and the other people on the road.
Whether it is on the part of the company or the individual driver, this abuse of the system is not only dangerous, it is illegal. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) prohibits the use of on-board computers while the vehicle is in motion.
Clearly some truck drivers and trucking companies think themselves above the law or are so profit-driven that they are willing to sacrifice the safety of everyone on the road to maximize productivity.
Brit Drivers Just as Brazen
Last month, the Daily Post in the United Kingdom reported that British police have been arresting truck drivers for tampering with their tachographs. Tachographs are devices that provide a record of speed, distance traveled and other data to ensure that truckers are not driving for longer than they are allowed by British law. The truckers affix electromagnets to their tachographs, which make it appear as if the vehicle is not moving. Electromagnets also disable the antilock break, the speedometer and the speed limiter (which sets the maximum speed of the truck to 60mph). The penalties for disabling such devices are steep, with up to £5,000 in fines and two years in prison.
Litigation When Legislation Isn’t Enough
At regular highway speeds, a commercial truck requires up to 250 feet to come to a stop – more than two-thirds of the length of a football field. In addition to their mammoth size, tractor-trailers may be carrying hazardous and explosive chemicals. Truck drivers have a great responsibility to the public to safely operate these giant vehicles.
It’s very clear that truckers must give their full attention to driving to ensure the safety of everyone on the road. Unfortunately, laws can only make demands, and no amount of policing can ensure that every driver and company follow the rules. When an accident is caused by a distracted truck driver, that driver (and often the truck fleet owner) must be held responsible by the victim and their family through a personal injury or wrongful death claim.
Although it isn’t easy, an experienced trucking attorney with access to a team of investigators can determine if an accident was caused by a distracted truck driver and with what that driver was preoccupied. Hiring an attorney who you can trust is vital to a case, and must be done quickly before the trucking company has time to alter or destroy evidence.
If you were injured or if you lost a loved one in a trucking accident, you have no time to lose. By hiring one of our skilled attorneys immediately, you give us the opportunity to build a powerful case on your behalf. Contact us for a free consultation.
Tell Us What You Think
Do you think there is a way to ensure that fleet managers and trucking companies don’t abuse the on-board computer systems? What do you think can be done to increase the overall safety of the roads, especially in regard to distracted driving?
The best way to deal with a risk is to know that it exists. Share this blog with your friends and family so that they are aware of the dangers of sharing the road with truckers who may be distracted by on-board computers.