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New Haven Connecticut Personal Injury Law Blog

Trucker fatigue the focus of annual roadcheck

From June 5 to 7, the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance held the International Roadcheck where traffic safety organizations and police officers across the nation ramped up enforcement of bus and commercial truck safety guidelines. Drivers in Connecticut, even if they don't operate buses or trucks, may want to know what the most common safety violations were.

While the numbers are still unclear for 2018, data from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration shows that there were 33,000 violations of hours-of-service regulations last year. In other words, those truckers were found working over the prescribed 14-hour limit for each day. This was the number one offense; however, it only accounted for 33 percent of the citations issued in 2017.

Truck injury and fatality accidents increased in 2016

In Connecticut, accidents that involve large trucks have the potential to be especially catastrophic. A recent report by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration shows that these types of accidents increased in 2016 over the number of truck accidents that occurred in 2015.

According to the FMCSA, the number of fatal large truck crashes increased from 4,074 in 2015 that killed 4,094 people to 4,213 in 2016 that killed 4,317 people. Large truck accidents that resulted in injuries increased from 83,000 accidents that injured 116,000 people in 2015 to 104,000 accidents that injured 145,000 people in 2016. A majority of the fatal large truck crashes happened in rural areas at 61 percent.

Using technology to prevent distracted driving truck accidents

Distracted driving accidents in Connecticut and around the country are often blamed on cellphone use or the sophisticated entertainment and navigation systems offered by many auto manufacturers, but studies suggest that a disturbing number of motorists crash while lost in thought. Accidents involving distracted drivers are especially dangerous when commercial vehicles weighing up to 40 tons are involved, but technology is being developed by several fleet management firms to reduce these risks.

In addition to watching truck drivers for signs of distraction or fatigue, these systems use hours of service data and work schedules to identify drivers that may be a danger to other road users. They are also extremely sophisticated. A driver monitoring system being developed by a Texas-based fleet management company that evaluates risks based on more than 1,000 different variables.

Safety group looks to eliminate traffic deaths entirely

The Road to Zero coalition believes that traffic deaths can be completely eliminated by the year 2050. While the safety advocacy group acknowledges that this sounds like an ambitious goal, it offers several ways to make Connecticut roads safer. Among the recommendations in its April 22 report is an increased effort on seat belt compliance.

Currently, 90 percent of drivers wear their seat belts. Of those who die in traffic fatalities, however, half are not buckled up. Simply reaching 100 percent in seat belt compliance could make a big difference.

Software could be the key to combating driver distraction

Proponents of autonomous vehicle technology claim that self-driving cars could virtually eliminate human error on the roads, but questions about the reliability of these systems have been raised in Connecticut and around the country after a self-driving vehicle was involved in an accident that claimed the life of a pedestrian. An SUV that was being used by the ride-hailing company Uber to test autonomous systems struck and killed a woman as she stepped into the road, and video footage taken from inside the SUV suggests that the person behind the wheel may have been distracted at the time.

Police have found evidence of driver complacency when investigating other accidents involving vehicles with autonomous systems. The Boston-based technology startup Affectiva develops software and artificial intelligence algorithms that monitor and interpret facial gestures and eye movements, and the company is working with major auto manufacturers like Daimler AG and BMW to adopt this technology for use in vehicles. A representative of Affectiva says additional hardware will not be required as the software being developed could be installed in the cameras used by self-driving cars.

Autonomous vehicles suffer from human influence

For many people in Connecticut and across the United States, one of the most appealing factors of autonomous vehicle technology is the way that it could help improve safety and reduce the number of traffic accidents. Since interest in these technologies is so safety focused, there is a high level of interest and publicity when accidents do happen involving driverless vehicles. In March 2018, a pedestrian fatality in Arizona involving a self-driving car received widespread news coverage. One professor believes that it is the influence of humans themselves that limits the safety of autonomous vehicles.

A professor of engineering at Arizona State University noted that the companies working to develop autonomous vehicles, like Uber and Google, are seeking to replicate a humanlike driving experience to the greatest extent possible. Of course, car accidents and driver errors are also a major part of the human driving experience. Since humans are creating these self-driving vehicles, the cars remain susceptible to human error.

Hard enforcement of the ELD mandate is just around the corner

Some Connecticut residents are seriously injured when they are involved in accidents with large trucks. Because some of these accidents are caused by truck driver fatigue, the federal government issued the electronic logging device mandate.

The ELD mandate is a regulation that requires truck drivers to use electronic logging devices instead of the handwritten logbooks that they used to use. The Department of Transportation mandated the use of the electronic logging devices in an effort to keep drivers from skirting their hours of service rules. Because these devices automatically record the miles that truck drivers travel and when they are driving, they should help to prevent drivers from lying about their hours.

Soft tissue damage and its common symptoms

Drivers in Connecticut who were involved in an accident have been suffering from aches and pains ever since will want to know more about soft tissue damage because this may be to blame. Soft tissue refers to the muscles, tendons and ligaments. When these non-bony parts of the body are strained, sprained or torn through any sudden, uncontrolled movement, they can lead to chronic pain and swelling. In serious cases, these injuries lead to bleeding and the loss of motor functions in the limbs.

Soft tissue injuries are common in auto accidents because the impact, swerving and braking of an accident jolt the body back and forth. Unfortunately, soft tissue damage cannot be detected by X-ray and is therefore difficult for doctors to diagnose. The symptoms may appear soon after the accident, or it may take days until they appear. In the meanwhile, victims may choose to delay treatment, negatively affecting the healing process.

OOIDA petitions for more service hour flexibility

Commercial truck drivers in Connecticut and across the U.S. are aware that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration currently regulates service hours around a 14-hour daily clock. The agency requires all truck drivers to take a 30-minute break within the first eight hours and does not allow the 14-hour clock to stop.

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association hasfiled a petition asking for the FMCSA to allow breaks of up to three consecutive hours in the 14-hour clock. Under the petition, the rule requiring drivers to take 10 consecutive off-duty hours before their next shift will be maintained. The OOIDA is, above all, asking for the 30-minute break rule to be abolished and for service hours to be more flexible as a way to improve highway safety. This comes at a time when the FMCSA is studying the feasibility of letting drivers split up that 14-hour duty time into "split-sleeper" options. While the consecutive 14-hour clock may be said to jeopardize drivers, it could take years before studies prompt the agency to enact changes.

Overloading is a major cause of truck accidents

Overloaded trucks can pose a serious safety hazard for people on Connecticut roadways. Every year, overloaded trucks are a major cause of trucking accidents that cause harm and injuries to truck drivers as well as others on the road. This is because the addition of an unbalanced or overweight load increases the chance that the driver will lose control of the truck and be unable to stop it from crashing. Excessive loads can also be more likely to shift during operation, leading to improper distribution and an increased risk of rollover during lane changes or sharp turns.

Even in cases where a truck has an acceptable load weight, improper balancing can mean that the truck is at risk of rolling over. Truck rollover accidents can cause serious injuries, lifelong disabilities and even death to truck drivers and others trapped under a rolling truck. Loads that are not properly secured can also pose a serious risk as cargo could fall out of the truck as it is in motion. Overweight and improperly loaded trucks lose some of their capacity for handling and operation in case of emergency; for example, the braking distance increases, which could cause drivers to underestimate the time necessary to stop. Downhill runs can be particularly dangerous as overweight trucks can speed down a hill much more quickly than expected.

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Mark H. Pearson, Attorney at Law
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