Commercial Truck Accident FAQ
How are the laws for Pennsylvania commercial truck accidents different from the laws for car accidents?
A: Just as differences exists in the size and weight of passenger cars and commercial trucks, there are differences in the laws and regulations that govern the operation and use of commercial trucks in interstate commerce. The laws that govern commercial trucks, such as tractor-trailers or 18-wheelers, are specific and cover many subjects. Volume 49 of the Code of Federal Regulations sets forth many of the special requirements for commercial trucks and their drivers. Some of the more significant differences are that:
- Trucking companies and drivers are responsible for monitoring the driver’s traffic citations.
- Truck drivers must follow hours of service regulations, which prevent trucking companies from overworking their drivers.
- License suspension is triggered by certain statutory violations like violating a driver or vehicle out-of-service while transporting hazardous materials, leaving the scene of an accident, or DUI. After an accident, you must investigate the driver, their qualifications, their character, and their experience. It will be important to know how the driver got the job and what role the trucking company played in the driver’s training and supervision.
How can I learn more about the trucking company involved in my Pennsylvania truck accident case?
A: A lot of trucking company background information is available to the public at state and federal government offices and on the internet. One source of public information is the website for the Federal Highway Administration’s Safety and Fitness Electronic Records System (SAFER). You can visit this site and obtain a free profile of any federally licensed motor carrier, including a complete background about the trucking company and its insurance coverage.
How many tractor trailers and other large trucks are on the roadways throughout the U.S.?
A: According to the American Trucking Association, there are about 2.3 million large trucks on roadways in the U.S.
How many trucking companies are there in the U.S.?
A: According to the American Trucking Association, there are more than 500,00 trucking companies in the U.S. About 80% of them have 20 or fewer trucks.
As skilled Erie injury lawyers who have helped injured clients and their families with truck accident cases, we understand how to investigate truck accident cases and can help you obtain the funds necessary to pay for medical care, to cover lost wages, and to make up for other losses.
Should a Pennsylvania truck accident investigation include a thorough inspection of the truck?
A: In addition to learning how and why a commercial truck accident happened and the background, experience, and qualifications of the truck driver, particular emphasis also should be placed on the tractor-trailer itself. You will need to learn whether the truck was consistently inspected and maintained properly. It will be essential to preserve and obtain this and other evidence, such as engine control module technology, truck company policies and procedures, and any previous violations involving the truck.
What are IVHS (Intelligent Vehicle Highway Systems)?
A: IVHS, or Intelligent Vehicle Highway Systems, is a broad term which covers a wide array of technologies, including electronic sensors, computer hardware and software, and radio communications. The purpose of IVHS is to increase the efficient use of existing highways by reducing travel time, fuel consumption, air pollution, and the number and severity of accidents.
What are some of the biggest differences between passenger cars and commercial trucks (besides the obvious size difference)?
A: There are many differences between passenger cars and commercial trucks. Here are just a few of the biggest differences:
- Stopping Distance. The size and weight of commercial trucks creates tremendous momentum. An average passenger car traveling at 65 miles per hour can stop in about 160 to 170 feet. A tractor trailer traveling at the same speed won’t stop for about 420 feet (or the length of almost one-and-one-half football fields).
- Brake Systems. The braking systems of commercial truck and passenger cars are completely different. Big trucks have air brake systems. In an air brake system, pressure increases braking force, and the compressed air can increase braking force by several times. When locking up the brakes occurs, the truck continues to move forward and the risk of a truck jack-knife accident increases.
- Underrides. Trucks are supposed to have safeguards to prevent an accident known as an “underride,” but sometimes they do not. An underride accident happens when a commercial truck stops suddenly and a passenger car crashes into the rear or side of the truck, often resulting in the cab of the car being cut off. This sort of accident kills approximately 1,000 people each year. In 1996, the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) required all trucks made after 1998 to have adequate rear underguards and side and rear reflector tape. Still, older trucks were not required to be retrofitted with these safeguards.
What are the different Gross Vehicle Weight classes for commercial trucks?
A: Most on-highway tractors fall into Class 8, which includes all vehicles that weigh over 33,000 pounds. The other classes are as follows: Class 7 – between 26,001 pounds and 33,000 pounds; Class 6 – between 19,501 and 26,000 pounds; Class 3 – 5 include vehicles between 10,001 and 19,500 pounds; and Class 1 & 2 – under 10,000 pounds (which includes, for example, pickup trucks, cargo vans, and minivans).
What dangers are presented by Pennsylvania commercial trucks?
A: In addition to the inherent dangers of commercial trucks due to their size, their weight, and the speed at which they travel, some other dangers include 1) inadequate training of truck drivers, 2) compensation systems that encourage faster speeds and more consecutive driving hours, and 3) unrealistic schedules and unfair expectations that trucking companies place on their drivers and that encourage commercial truck drivers to hurry and avoid breaks.
What do Erie truck accident lawyers mean when they refer to a truck's 'No Zone'?
A: A commercial truck “No Zone” (sometimes called a “Blind Spot” in passenger cars) is the area behind and beside a commercial truck, where the truck driver has either limited or no visibility. Objects, such as passenger cars close behind the truck and near the truck’s left rear corner and right rear corner, often cannot be seen through the side mirror. Generally, if you cannot see the side mirror of the commercial truck in front of you, the truck driver cannot see you.
What does it mean to 'Jackknife' a tractor-trailer?
A: In the context of commercial truck accidents, to “jackknife” means to place the trailer at a very sharp angle to the tractor. This often causes the trailer to cross other lanes of travel and happens when there is a sudden application of the brakes. Jackknife accidents can lead to serious and sometimes fatal consequences when vehicles in adjacent lanes, or following vehicles, are unable to stop in time.
What investigation do Erie truck accident lawyers recommend?
A: A thorough and timely investigation is important in all accident cases – and this is especially true in commercial truck accident cases. The investigation must focus not just on what happened, but also on why it happened. These answers sometimes can be found in the driver’s log, where the particular driver’s records are maintained. The log should reveal when, where, how far, and for how long the driver was driving on the day of the accident. It will be important to determine whether the log was kept properly and whether the driver was within the allotted hours of driving time when the accident occurred. The maintenance records of the commercial truck also can provide answers to how and why an accident happened.
What is 'Dead-Heading'?
A: Dead-Heading is when a truck is being operated without cargo.
What is 'Shipping Weight'?
A: The shipping weight, or “dry weight,” of a truck is its weight including all standard equipment, exclusive of fuel and coolant.
What is a 'Bobtail'?
A: A “bobtail” is a tractor operating without a trailer. This is also known as “straight truck.”
What is a 'Commercial Truck' in Pennsylvania truck accident law?
A: A commercial truck is a truck used in business to transport goods or heavy equipment. Some examples of commercial trucks are tractor trailers (commonly called “18-wheelers” or “semis”), tanker trucks, delivery trucks, or freight trucks. These trucks can be used for both local deliveries and “over the road” or highway travel.
What is a 'Reefer' in Pennsylvania truck accident law?
A: In the context of commercial trucks, a “Reefer” is a refrigerated trailer with insulated walls and a self-powered refrigeration unit. Reefers are most commonly used for transporting food.
What is a 'Semi-Trailer'?
A: A semi-trailer is a truck trailer supported at the rear by its own wheels and at the front by a fifth wheel mounted to a tractor or dolly.
What is a 'Shipping Container'?
A: A Shipping Container is a standard-sized rectangular box used to transport freight by ship, rail, and highway. International shipping containers are 20 or 40 feet long, conform to International Standards Organization (ISO) standards, and are designed to fit in a container chassis towed by a trailer. The ones you might see on our highways are Domestic containers, which are up to 53 feet long, are made of lighter construction, and are designed for rail and highway use only.
What is a 'Tractor'?
A: A Tractor is a truck designed primarily to pull a semitrailer by means of a fifth wheel mounted over the rear axle or axles. A Tractor is sometimes called a “Truck Tractor” or “Highway Tractor” to differentiate it from a Farm Tractor.
What is a 'Trip Recorder'?
A: A Trip Recorder (On-Board Computer) is a cab-mounted device which electronically or mechanically records data such as truck speed, engine rpm, idle time, and other information which is useful to trucking management (and which can be useful in accident reconstruction).
What is an 'Upper Coupler'?
A: An Upper Coupler is the load-bearing surface on the underside of the front of a semitrailer. The Upper Coupler rests on the fifth wheel of a tractor or dolly and has a downward-protruding kingpin which is captured by the locking jaws of the fifth wheel. This is basically how the trailer attaches to the tractor.
What is a Pennsylvania Commercial Driver's License?
A: A Commercial Driver’s License, or CDL, is a license which authorizes a person to operate commercial motor vehicles and buses weighing over 26,000 pounds gross vehicle weight. For operators of freight-hauling trucks, the maximum size which may be driven without a CDL is Class 6 (maximum 26,000 pounds gross vehicle weight).
What limits are placed upon a Pennsylvania commercial truck driver under federal regulations?
A: On January 4, 2004, the hours of service regulation for commercial truck drivers were changed. Truck drivers may now drive up to 11 hours out of 14 hours on duty and are now required to have 10 hours off duty. The regulation still does not permit a truck driver to operate a commercial vehicle after being on duty for 60 hours in a seven-day period or 70 hours in an eight-day period. This on-duty cycle may start over whenever a driver is off for 34 consecutive hours.
What makes a Pennsylvania commercial truck accident case different from car accident cases?
A: There are many considerations unique to commercial truck accident cases which make them different from (and often more complex than) other car accident cases. Here is a sampling of some of the important differences:
- Trucks are required to carry more insurance coverage than passenger cars.
- Commercial truck drivers must meet higher safety standards than drivers of passenger vehicles.
- Many federal regulations (which do not apply to cars) govern the operation and use of commercial trucks because commercial trucks are often used for interstate commerce.
- Trucking companies must perform background checks of drivers before they are hired, and trucking companies must then evaluate the drivers periodically after they hire them.
- Commercial truck drivers may drive each day for only a limited number of hours.
- Equipment and load safety issues play a role in truck accidents more often than they do in typical car accident cases.
These considerations create issues not found in other car accident investigations. These and other issues require investigation in order to properly evaluate and prepare your commercial truck accident case.
Why do Pennsylvania tractor-trailer accidents cause more damage than car accidents?
A: Physics helps to explain why commercial truck accidents frequently cause so much more harm than a typical car accident. For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. A fully loaded 18-wheeler can weigh about 80,000 pounds. This is more than 25 times the weight of an average car, which weighs about 3,000 pounds. The difference in weight and size, coupled with the laws of physics, means that an 18-wheeler accident with a common passenger car will result in tremendous impact and serious (and often fatal) injuries.