The Harsh Truth About Truck Crashes
(And why commercial drivers are held to higher standards)
The statistics on truck crashes in New Mexico are alarming. According to the New Mexico Department of Transportation’s annual crash report, heavy trucks were involved in 2,939 crashes. Of those, 56 involved fatalities. In fact, the state is number three in the nation for dangerous driving, with approximately 52 deadly crashes per 100,000 drivers. New Mexico is surpassed in the number of reckless drivers only by Texas and Mississippi. That is not a point of distinction in which most residents take pride.
New Mexico is home to some of the busiest highways in the nation. Interstates 25 and 40 are among the quickest and most direct routes from New Mexico to California. Where these two roadways intersect is known by locals as the “Big I,” which is not a positive connotation. This crossroads is notorious for having some of the most frequent and severe crashes in the state. These roadways are dangerous enough without adding in distracted or speeding drivers, or those under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
Contributing factors in truck crashes
Most commercial truck drivers who must travel to California do so by way of New Mexico. The familiarity with the state does not decrease the odds of being involved in a traffic crash while traveling on its roadways. On I-25 and I-40, there are many long and lonely miles with very few rest stops for truckers. Add in these contributing factors, and it can spell disaster:
- Distracted drivers are responsible for crashes that cause serious injuries deaths each year. The latest figures available for New Mexico attribute 167 fatalities to distracted driving and more than 21,000 crashes. Distracted driving is not just about texting or talking on the phone while behind the wheel. It can include setting your navigation system, finding a radio station, and eating food or drinking beverages.
- Fatigue is another issue that can plague truck drivers when they are behind the wheel. Federal regulations, known as Hours of Service, dictate when commercial drivers must rest and take breaks.
- Unfamiliar roadways can complicate driving a big rig. Even drivers who are using a GPS system to help them navigate can become confused. GPS systems also can lead to distracted driving.
- Speeding is a contributing factor in many vehicle accidents in New Mexico, and not just the ones involving trucks. The state is unique in that it does not force a lower speed limit for tractor-trailers on roadways. The heavier the truck, the more difficult it is to stop quickly when traveling at high speeds.
- Weather changes frequently in New Mexico. One minute it can be hot with the sun glaring through your windshield, and the next it can be stormy with flash flooding.
Higher standards, harsher penalties
Commercial drivers are held to higher standards when it comes to safety on the roadways. Additional skills and expertise are needed to operate big rigs. Truck drivers are expected to strictly adhere to federal safety regulations dictating when they must take breaks from driving. If they are caught violating federal safety standards, the penalties are severe. It is not just the drivers who are accountable when crashes occur. Drivers (and their trucks) can be placed on lockdown and they may face fines from local and state law enforcement. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) also can levy civil penalties on a driver or carrier from $1,000 to $11,000, depending on the severity of the incident. Trucking companies and shippers who have hired independent owner-operator truck drivers to move their freight are financially and legally responsible as well, especially if failure to follow guidelines causes an accident.
There are some rules truck drivers must follow regardless of whether the state they are traveling through has similar laws on the books. For example, the FMCSA does not permit commercial drivers to use a cell phone while driving. Only wireless Bluetooth earpieces can be used while a truck is in operation. Some commercial trucking companies go so far as to require drivers to submit to regular alcohol and drug screenings.
Truck drivers are not always at fault in an accident. However, they are scrutinized more closely due to federal regulations. In addition to losing their commercial license for infractions, they also can be personally liable for any injuries or property damage caused due to negligence or failure to follow federal safety guidelines.
How is fault determined in a truck crash?
Whether you are a commercial driver involved in an accident or an injured party, determining fault is crucial if legal action is pursued. Commercial trucking companies can leverage a multitude of resources to defend against personal injury lawsuits involving their drivers. Independent owner-operators may not have that advantage.
Police reports and any citations issued at the scene of an accident carry the most weight when assigning fault in a truck crash. On-scene police investigators conduct an official investigation which can include talking to witnesses and all parties involved. Sometimes blame is obvious and due to factors like excessive speed or driving under the influence. Reports from insurance adjusters also are factored into the decision.
Choosing the right representation
Choosing the right representation can make all the difference in your truck crash case in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Whether you are a driver who needs to defend against charges after an accident, or a victim who was injured, Cameron & Russell can help. We have extensive experience in both criminal defense and personal injury. Give us a call at 505-218-7844 or drop us a line and a member of our team can schedule your no-obligation consultation.