Alabama Has A High Rate Of Highway Deaths Involving Large Commercial Trucks.
A trucking safety group labeled Alabama one of its “deadly dozen” states. That’s not a good label! According to the group’s research, Alabama is one of the twelve deadliest states for commercial truck crashes. When you look at the data by total number of fatal commercial truck wrecks, Alabama is 10th. Think about that — Alabama has more total truck crash deaths than states that are much larger in population. When you look at the data by the rate of accidents per person, Alabama becomes the 6th deadliest state. That’s a number that should really concern all of us as our families drive the roads and highways of our state.
Alabama faces unique dangers. We have large Interstates running the entire length of our state north to south as well as east to west. Truckers must cross Alabama to transport products into many neighboring population centers. Any truck traveling west from Atlanta crosses Alabama. Most trucks traveling to or from Florida cross part of Alabama.
We Need To Improve Commercial Truck Safety To Prevent Needless Injury And Death.
I’ve written lots of articles about large truck safety. Many of my articles deal with driver issues like intoxication, fatigue and health. For example, we have a crisis in this country involving truck driver health and the system we use to certify truck driver health. We need to address driver health and certification. On a positive note, the government has developed a clearinghouse which will hopefully remove more impaired and intoxicated drivers from our roads.
Many of my articles also address truck equipment and safety regulations. An example of this involves side safety guards. Side guards are standard in Europe and have saved many lives. Yet, our country refuses to act.
A Primary Safety Issue — Distracted Driving.
Since April is traditionally Distracted Driving Awareness Month, I thought I would again address that issue today. Distracted driving is an issue for all drivers. Both commercial and non-commercial. When it comes to big trucks, these drivers face many additional distractions. Plus, a big truck already requires additional time and distance to maneuver or stop. So, let’s look at trucker distraction.
We all know cell phones are distracting for a lot of drivers. Cell phones are the leading cause of distraction for ALL drivers. Cell phones are especially dangerous because they involve all three types of distraction: Manual. Visual. Cognitive.
Is a cell phone the only form of distraction for drivers? Of course not. In addition to cell phone usage and texting, truck drivers face numerous other distractions. Surfing the internet. Checking social media. Eating. Drinking. Changing the radio. Talking on a dispatch device. Looking in mirrors. Reaching for things around the cab. The list goes on and on. Any time a driver is not focusing on the driving task at hand, they are a distracted driver. Large trucks present many possible distractions for their drivers. Distraction is especially tempting to truck drivers because they spend so much time on the road away from home.
In early March, Alabama and several neighboring states partnered with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) to step-up their monitoring of dangerous truck driver activity like texting. I’m interested in seeing the data as to whether this partnership yielded results!
Distracted Truck Drivers Dramatically Increase Accident Risks.
Let’s look at some recent research data on distracted truck drivers. A study by Heavy Duty Trucking indicates:
- Truck drivers distracted heavily by cell phones are involved in collisions at a rate of 2 times higher than the least distracted drivers
- Drivers identified as “most distracted” roll through stop signs and traffic lights at a rate of 2.7 times higher than the least distracted drivers.
- Drivers distracted heavily by cell phones had speed incidents of 10 plus mph over the speed limit at a rate 3.2 times higher than the least distracted drivers.
- Drivers identified as “most distracted” drift out of lane at a rate 2.3 times higher than those identified as “least distracted” drivers.
- Drivers identified as “most distracted” fail to wear a seatbelt at a rate over 3 times higher than “least distracted” drivers.
- Distracted truck drivers are 72 percent more likely to have a “near-miss” accident than any other drivers.
Distracted driving accidents often involve high speeds or lack of braking. Just yesterday, I was talking with a client who was patiently waiting at a red light. Suddenly and without warning, a car slammed into her from behind. Thankfully, it wasn’t a big truck. If it had, the crash would have been fatal. Instead, it was a teenage driver. At the scene, our client was hurt severely. Witnesses at the scene saw the teenage driver texting and not paying attention in the seconds before the crash. The teenage driver ultimately admitted her distraction to police. If that young driver had remained focused on the road, the serious crash would never have occurred.
When the distracted driver is operating a large and heavy truck, the probability of the accident being fatal are very high. Even if a person survives a crash with a heavy commercial truck, the probability of severe or disabling injuries is much higher.
Does Alabama Have Any Distracted Driving Laws?
Yes, we do. Alabama does have a law prohibiting texting and driving. You can see our current law at — Alabama Code 32-5A-350. But, the fines are very, very small. They certainly do not deter this dangerous behavior. In recent years, the Alabama Legislature has continuously debated, but refused to pass, a hands-free law. Some of our state legislators act as if safety is not a real or important issue. Alabama needs to work harder to prevent deadly distracted driving.
In addition to Alabama law, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has rules and regulations which govern commercial truck drivers. Under FMCSA rules, it is illegal for a commercial trucker to text while driving. And, the FMCSA regulations contain much higher fines than Alabama’s texting law. Under FMCSA regulations both the driver and his company could be fined.
If you are injured by a distracted driver, you can pursue a negligence or wantonness (recklessness) claim against the at-fault driver for compensation. You can pursue a claim for your damages such as medical bills, lost wages, pain, suffering, permanent impairments, rehabilitation, and other losses. Seek an attorney who understands and focuses their work on personal injury law. Seek an attorney who is willing to investigate and pursue your case to court if necessary. In distracted driving cases, we pursue available witnesses and cell phone information to build the best case for our injured clients. We understand the rules that apply to cars as well as the FMCSA regulations that apply to commercial truck drivers.
Distracted driving is a dangerous activity that we should all work hard to prevent. We need to focus on education, regulation and technology. It’s important to protect the safety of our loved ones on Alabama roadways and highways.