Truck drivers must travel long distances each day, often under adverse weather conditions and in heavy traffic. If they take their eyes off the road, even for a few seconds, the consequences can be devastating. Because accidents involving commercial motor vehicles are more likely to cause serious or fatal injuries to motorists, truck drivers face increased penalties for distracted driving in addition to the possibility of a personal injury or wrongful death lawsuit.
Distracted Driving Rules for Commercial Drivers
Research conducted by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) recently found that the odds of a commercial driver being involved in a collision, near collision, or other safety-critical event is 23.2 times greater when the driver is texting. Because of this drastic increase in safety risk, commercial drivers are not allowed to text and drive under any circumstances. Texting is defined as sending or reading text messages, emails, and instant messages. Drivers are also not allowed to access web pages from a smartphone or another electronic device.
FMCSA research has found that using a cell phone increases a commercial driver’s risk of being involved in a safety-critical event by six times. As a result, drivers are not allowed to reach for or hold a cell phone while driving or press more than a single button. To remain in compliance with the law, drivers must:
- Use an earpiece or speakerphone to make calls
- Use voice-activated or one-touch buttons to make, answer, and end calls
- Reach for a cell phone in a way that doesn’t require a change in driving position while restrained by a seat belt
Truck drivers who are caught texting or otherwise violating FMCSA distracted driving laws face civil penalties of up to $2,750, with a potential disqualification of their commercial driver’s license for multiple offenses. Additionally, motor carriers can be held liable for fines of up to $11,000 when a driver violates FMCSA distracted driving rules. Any violations will negatively affect their Safety Measurement System (SMS) ratings.
Although states are free to make their own regulations regarding distracted driving, FMCSA rules apply to all commercial drivers regardless of their location.
Additional Forms of Distracted Driving
Texting and using a cell phone receive the most attention, but they're not the only forms of distracted driving that are a concern. Other distracted driving offenses the FMCSA says pose a safety hazard include:
- Using a dispatching device while driving
- Using paper maps to navigate while driving
- Completing paperwork or writing notes while driving
- Eating or drinking while driving
- Reaching for other objects in the vehicle while driving
- Paying excessive attention to billboards, advertisements, and other items outside the truck that aren't related to safe operation of the vehicle
Liability for Personal Injury and Wrongful Death Claims
If you've been seriously injured in an accident caused by a distracted truck driver, you're eligible to file a personal injury claim. You may seek compensation for past and future accident-related medical expenses, past and future loss of income due to your accident-related injuries, and the pain and suffering you endured as the result of the driver's negligence.
In the event of a fatal accident, spouses, adult children, and certain other immediate family members are eligible to file a wrongful death claim seeking compensation for medical expenses up to the time of death, funeral or burial costs, loss of the deceased's wages, and loss of the companionship of their loved one.
Depending on the circumstances, there might be several different parties liable for damages caused by a distracted truck driver accident. Often, the vehicle owner, the employer, and the driver are named as parties in a personal injury or wrongful death claim. However, this issue should be discussed in greater detail with a qualified attorney.
To learn more about protecting your legal rights following an accident involving a distracted commercial driver, schedule a free, no-obligation case review with the experienced attorneys at Neblett, Beard & Arsenault.