Interstate 35 between the Laredo border and Dallas may be the most dangerous section of highway in the country. This weekend, there was another example of how it can be so dangerous. Around 9:30 Saturday morning, an 18 wheeler was heading south on I 35 about 45 miles north of Laredo when it crossed the median and hit a car occupied by Manuel Arizola, Johanna Sandoval, and their 11 month old son, Romen Arizola.
These types of wrecks seem like they should never occur, but they’re more frequent than drivers might expect. From both a lawyer perspective and a citizen perspective, I always ask, “Why?” Why did the truck cross the median? Why did the trucker lose control? No one will really know the answers until a complete investigation is done by the law enforcement officials and the lawyers.
But there are a number of recurring patterns we see in trucking cases that might be used to explained what happened in this wreck.
The first factor might be weather. We had a number of storms in the South Texas area over the weekend, and truckers are susceptible to the same weather dangers as the rest of us. They’re driving large vehicles, and a slight hydroplane can be disasterous.
A second factor may be driver distraction. Like normal drivers, truckers often engage in text messaging, using cell phones, and even using the computer while driving. All of these distract a truck driver just like they distract normal drivers.
But the causes of a trucking accident may go farther than that. When we’re investigating truck accidents, there is often other conduct by the trucking company that makes a collision inevitable.
One of these factors is driver fatigue. In the trucking industry, time is money. Truckers and trucking companies aren’t making money while the trucks are sitting idle. As a result, there is always a temptation for trucking companies to push their truckers to drive harder. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has adopted limits on the hours that truckers can drive, but those are often ignored.
Another factor is driver qualification. We’ve found that trucking companies often don’t meet their duties to hire good drivers and their duties to train and supervise those drivers once the drivers are hired. Again, because time is money, required training programs are often inadequate or non-existent.
A third common factor in truck accidents is the driver’s use of controlled substances. A truck driver isn’t supposed to drink alcohol within four hours of starting his or her shift. Similarly, a truck driver can’t use controlled substances while on duty. To help minimize these problems, trucking companies are obligated screen drivers before their employment, when they have a reasonable suspicion the drivers are violating these limits, and when there is an accident. Trucking companies are also required to have random drug screening. Despite these restrictions, alcohol and drug abuse continue to be a primary cause of trucking accidents.
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