Last week, a tractor-trailer barreled into six vehicles on I-35W in north Fort Worth and caught fire, injuring nine people and shutting down the highway for six hours. The truck driver was speeding and could not stop in time to avoid the crash. I suspect he was also distracted.
I am feeling a moment of déjà vu that I am again representing a client who was injured by a reckless trucker in this same spot.
A distracted trucker plowed into my client’s car in the same location a few months ago, seriously injuring her and killing her boyfriend. Several years ago, also in this same area of I-35, I represented the family of a young tow-truck driver who was struck and killed by a fatigued trucker who fell asleep at the wheel.
When the same problem occurs over and over again, it’s time to fix it.
We know the dangers. How do we fix it?
4,067 people died in 2015 in tractor-trailer accidents, an increase of close to 10 percent over 2014. These fatality statistics includes pedestrians, cyclists, motorcyclists, motorists and the truckers themselves.
Why are deaths increasing?
Speeding is the number one reason that commercial vehicle drivers crash. Second most common cause is distraction. Third is impairment, which includes fatigue, alcohol and illness. Often, these factors are dangerously combined, compounding the risks. For example, a sleep-deprived driver speeds to make a delivery deadline or a tired driver glances at his phone.Trucking companies and regulators are well aware of the problems affecting the trucking industry and have the means for making our roadways safer. All three of the horrific accidents that occurred in the same location on Interstate 35 West could have been avoided had the trucker simply maintained the legal speed limit, paid attention to his driving and gotten plenty of sleep before heading onto the road.
With so much at stake, I am frustrated that companies have not implemented commonsense policies and regulators have constantly met opposition to rules that would save lives.
What the trucking industry can learn from pizza
Remember when Dominos Pizza advertised the 30 minute pizza delivery guarantee? The customer would get the pizza for free if the delivery person didn’t get the pizza to her doorstep within a half-hour from the time she placed the order. Other pizza companies had to follow suit to stay competitive. Delivery drivers were pressured to speed and drive recklessly to meet the unreasonable demands the company placed on them through their marketing campaign. Predictably, a deliveryman hit and killed a child while rushing a pizza to the customer’s home. As a result of that tragedy, the pizza companies ended their dangerous delivery policies.
Unreasonable delivery deadlines have imposed these same sorts of pressures on 18-wheeler drivers.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) imposes hours of service rules on truck drivers. Limiting drive time is just common sense. We have seen time and again that a tired driver is not in the condition to maneuver a large commercial vehicle, or actually any vehicle.
Yet, drivers who are paid by the mile have an incentive to speed and forgo sleep. Likewise, their employers may skirt the law to stay competitive with companies that make next day delivery promises.
Regulations also prohibit texting and talking on handheld phones. But, employers need to enforce these policies for them to be effective.
Trucking companies can do more to protect their drivers and the public. I hold the trucking corporations accountable for the totally preventable injuries caused by their drivers.