Truck, Car, Motorcycle and Motor Vehicle Accidents

A motor vehicle accident involves any motorized vehicle colliding with another vehicle, human, or animal.  Most are car crashes involving two automobiles.  The most dangerous motor vehicle accidents are those involving motorcycles or large, commercial trucks (18 -wheelers, big rigs).

Many motor vehicle accidents are minor: they cause negligible property damage, and no one is hurt.  Sometimes, these incidents are so minor that the driver chooses not to call the police or to file a claim with his insurance carrier in order to avoid a possible rate increase.

In these situations, it's important to assess circumstances carefully.  Whiplash, for example, may take days or weeks to fully reveal itself, as can other bodily injuries (e.g., internal hemorrhaging, Mild TBI).  Property damage may not be fully evident at the scene of the most minor of accidents, as well.  Leaks and tears may not reveal themselves until several more miles have been driven on the road.  Most attorneys do not advise that any motor vehicle accident be dismissed without, at  the minimum, a police report being made. 

Unfortunately, motor vehicle accidents are one of the major causes of death in the United States today.  Driver error is a factor in many of these accidents; other causes include the type of vehicle involved in the crash.  A Mercedes-Benz S-class has a 1% incidence of occupant death in actual car accidents; compare this to the Subaru Impreza, which has a corresponding 8% occupant death rate. 

When a motor vehicle accident involves a large commercial truck, the fatality rates skyrocket.  Large trucks are heavy, especially when carrying a full load of cargo.  A passenger sedan pitted against a fully-loaded big rig, crashing at highway speeds, has little change of escaping serious, devastating injury to both the car and its occupants. 

Commercial truck drivers work according to a set schedule, and they are notorious for driving hour after hour without sleep in order to meet a delivery deadline.  While this dedication can be achieved within the current hours-of-service (HOS) rule, many challenge the HOS as being the reason for most truck accident fatalities. 

Under current federal trucking regulations, a driver may drive 11 hours straight (after 10 consecutive hours off duty).  If his truck has a sleeper berth, the commercial driver may that required 10 hours of sleep into two periods, as long as neither is less than two hours.  The more hours driven, the less alert the truck driver is and the slower is his response time.  By his 11th hour on the road, the driver is especially vulnerable to driving errors and motor vehicle accidents. 

Truckers point to errors made by drivers of passenger vehicles as the major cause of fatal big rig accidents.  A study released by the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute supports this argument: the UMTRI findings, based upon national crash statistics involving collisions between commercial trucks and at least one passenger vehicle, found errors by drivers of passenger vehicles caused 70% of the crashes.  Their study found drivers of heavy trucks responsible for 16% of the accidents, and the drivers of both vehicles jointly responsible for the accident in 10% of the cases.

Much more the accepted fact is that drivers of passenger vehicles are usually responsible for fatalities in motorcycle accidents.  In most motorcycle fatalities, passenger vehicle drivers report that they simply “didn't see” the motorcycle prior to the crash.  In recent years, this has been especially true of drivers of sport-utility vehicles. 

Another component to the high rate of fatality deaths in motorcycle accidents is the failure of the motorcyclist to wear a helmet.  Many complain that helmets restrict the driver’s range of view, with sight range being especially important to the motorcycle rider: often times the biker must proactively maneuver on the road, anticipating the failure of other drivers to see him, to break properly, or to turn without signaling.

In any motor vehicle accident, damages will include both property damage, as well as possible injuries to one or more individuals.  Accumulating the proper facts to successfully obtain all available insurance coverage, as well as expenses not covered by insurance, can be complicated, overwhelming, and voluminous.  Accordingly, not only do some personal injury attorneys limit their practice to motor vehicle accidents, some lawyers form a subspecialty focusing upon solely victims of motorcycle accidents, or victims of commercial truck accidents.

Accident victims often times face permanent disabilities, especially those involving traumatic brain injury (TBI) or spinal cord injury.  Exorbitant medical expenses must be assessed, and the proper defendants made responsible.  In commercial trucking accidents, the responsibility may be shared by several entities.  The truck driver, the owner of the truck, the owner of the cargo, the owner of the trucking line, the distributor of the cargo, the entities responsible for maintenance of the truck, the entities responsible for maintenance of the roads, as well as the company expecting the delivered product or cargo: all may be proper defendants in a lawsuit to obtain damages from resulting from a commercial truck accident.  Having an attorney with experience in dealing with these complexities can be very advantageous to the injury victim and their families.

Similarly, some attorneys have a subspecialty in motorcycle accidents due to the uniqueness of motorcycles on the road.  The vulnerability of the motorcycle rider on today's highways, despite that rider’s level of skill, together with safety requirements and road conditions, makes these motor vehicle accident scenarios consistently unique in assessing liability.  However, damages resulting from motorcycle accident are often the same as a commercial truck accident, and require the same level of consideration in determining defendant responsibility.

Trends: the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Motorcycle Safety Foundation have joined together in the National Agenda for Motorcycle Safety.  The National Agenda is a proposal for joint action by the federal government and all state governments; the motorcycle industry; and other groups, including insurance companies, safety organizations, and manufacturers to increase motorcycle safety on American roads.  The Agenda recommends research on how to increase safety, as well as educating both types of drivers. 

According to the national non-profit public interest organization, Public Citizen, almost 5000 people are killed and 110,000 injured every year in truck-related crashes – many related to truck driver fatigue.  So, Public Citizen joined with other safety organizations (Parents Against Tired Truckers and Citizens for Reliable and Safe Highways) to sue the federal government, specifically The Federal Motor Carriers Association, to prohibit regulations allowing for increasing in hours driven without rest, and won.  In July 2007, the federal appeals court agreed with Public Citizen’s position that the August 2005 HOS regulations issued by FMCA put motorists at risk. 

The Public Citizen lawsuit successfully fought against the 2005 FMCSA HOS rule: truck drivers could drive for 11 consecutive hours before resting, and they could “restart” their weekly hour totals after they had taken a break of 34 hours. The  "restart " meant that savvy truckers could work their schedules to drive 77 hours in 7 days, or 88 hours in 8 days, and a driver working 14-hour shifts could work as many as 84 hours in 7 days or 98 hours in 8 days.   

For more information:

Public Citizen July 2007 Press Release

National Transportation Safety Board

Public Citizen

Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Organization – Trucking HOS

Security World: University of Michigan Study of Truck Accident Fault Rates

MotorcycleCruiser.Com – National Agenda on Motorcycle Safety

Motorcycle Safety Foundation