We all have to trust that transportation companies know what they are doing and that every truck on the road is well maintained.
Usually, this is true; in fact, it’s federal law. Trucks must pass inspections and undergo regular maintenance. The Department of Transportation (DOT) oversees commercial freight. Its agency, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), regulates commercial motor vehicles in interstate commerce. A “commercial motor vehicle” includes any vehicle with a gross weight and/or weight rating of 10,001 pounds or more, as well as any vehicle transporting certain hazardous materials. This covers most of what we refer to as “trucks,” particularly semi-trucks and trailers. The state of Washington also regulates commercial motor vehicles traveling within its borders, including load size for haulage and oversize vehicles.
For any number of reasons—economic pressure on independent truckers; corner-cutting from a larger company; even sheer carelessness—truck maintenance is not always what it should be. And poor maintenance can have deadly consequences. One FMCSA study in the last decade found that 10% of truck crashes involved a vehicle malfunction. Brake problems topped the list of associated factors causing truck crashes.
Poorly maintained equipment can result in many other kinds of catastrophic situations, such as:
- Tire blowouts
- Brake failure
- Engine failure
- Falling cargo
- Trailer hitch detachment
Any of these can cause a catastrophic accidents endangering other drivers or pedestrians on the road.
What Can Investigators Look For?
Federal regulations set out a maintenance and inspection schedule for trucks. Aside from its annual DOT inspection, the FMCSA requires a driver for a carrier company to inspect the truck after each driving day, noting the condition of key equipment and making a report if there are any defects. The carrier has to keep records of these inspections for a specified period, and they must also make any necessary repairs.
In the event of an accident, these reports will serve as evidence—in one way or another. Forensic investigations of a crash site can uncover discrepancies between maintenance reports and the condition of equipment. The sooner you contact a knowledgeable attorney after an accident, the sooner they can arrange to have the vehicles secured, and retain forensic investigators.
Newer trucks are likely to have one or more heavy vehicle event data recorders (HVEDRs) installed. Event data recorders—referred to as EDRs in most vehicles—keep a record of the vehicle’s movements such as steering and braking so that accident investigators can refer to it. However, unlike an airplane’s “black box,” an EDR does not keep voice data or retain any ongoing passive record. It is triggered to operate when something suggests an accident—a hard knock, an engine problem, an airbag deployment. Then it records data for a very brief time. Since 2010, the US government has required new EDRs to collect data on specified elements of a vehicle’s operation, such as speed at the time of the accident and when or whether the brakes were engaged.
HVEDR data can shed light on the critical seconds leading up to and during an accident, but it requires careful interpretation by investigators. HVEDR data must be extracted by a qualified expert. It is critical to keep in mind that the HVEDR does not always retain its data indefinitely, so it is important to start work on recovery of the HVEDR as soon after an accident as possible.
If you or a loved one has been injured in an accident involving any vehicle that might be classified as commercial, it is essential to speak to an attorney about it as soon as possible. Attorneys who are experienced in truck accident cases will understand how to investigate the situation and bring the correct claims so that you can recover against an operator or carrier that put an unsafe vehicle on the road. An experienced attorney will help you recover financial compensation you are entitled to, including medical expenses, lost wages, emotional distress, pain and suffering, loss of enjoyment of life and other damages that my apply in your situation. Call Cascade Injury Law at 425-654-8121 today, and schedule an appointment to talk about your case.