The American Association for Justice recently issued a report showing that accidents involving big-rig trucks have increased, including those that caused death or serious bodily harm. In 2011, 3,757 people nationwide died in accidents with trucks, and Texas had the highest number of deaths at 381. Trucks currently represent 4.7% of all vehicles on the road, yet they account for 12.4% of all fatal collisions, and 83% of the time it is the occupants in the other vehicle to die rather than the truck driver.
What is contributing to this increase? There are several factors that have created a negligent environment in the trucking industry. First, truck drivers are paid by the mile, not hour. This creates an incentive for truck drivers to drive well beyond their own physical and legal limits in order to make ends meet. About 20% of truck drivers admitted to falling asleep at the wheel at least once a month. This was after a 2004 change which limited the hours truck drivers could drive per week. Since drivers are not compensated by the hour but mile, drivers are not paid during loading or unloading periods. Thus, a widespread practice of forging of logbooks has grown so drivers get more time on the road. Sleep deprivation is not the only problem with impaired truck drivers, an estimated 43% of all collisions involve legal drug use, prescription or over the counter medications.
Trucking companies have also been negligent in the enforcement of policies and protections for the public at large. Due to a lack of resources, government agencies have been unable to fully regulate and catch serially problematic drivers. The responsibility, thus, rests on trucking companies themselves to ensure truck drivers who are a hazard to the public are not let loose on our streets. There is a wide array of technologies available that would help reduce the amount of collisions per year, but trucking companies have complained that the measures are cost-prohibitive. Further, spotty enforcement has allowed reckless drivers to continue despite obvious warning signs. Due to job-hopping, some drivers avoid detection and there have been documented cases of drivers who failed drug tests yet still driving trucks with hazardous material for over a year. Some trucking companies have avoided liability through a similar pattern of name changing and bankruptcy protection.
The trucking industry is vital to our economy; however, this does not give trucking companies and drivers a license to be negligent in their jobs. Solutions range from beefing up government agencies with resources to enforce regulations to allowing a more market-driven approach by allowing insurance companies to hold negligent companies and drivers accountable for their mistakes. The tragedy in all these deaths is that they could have been avoided.