Often while driving along a highway or an interstate, we nervously ride beside large vehicles, normally commercial trucks, knowing that their size and speed means physics wouldn’t be on our side if something were to happen.
And because commercial trucking is susceptible to human error, it’s unpredictable as well.
To help reduce the number of trucking accidents caused or worsened by high speeds, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMSCA) have partnered to issue a joint proposed rule requiring the installation of devices that limit the maximum speed vehicles weighing more than 26,000 pounds can travel.
The rule is meant to help protect the average driver from the trauma we see accident victims suffering.
For example, a case I had the opportunity to take to court this year involved a 1999 Freightliner colliding with a passenger van on I-65 after the driver of the Freightliner unexpectedly swerved into the van’s path. The crash forced the van off the road and caused severe injuries that will affect its driver and two passengers for the rest of their lives.
The occupants of the van, Gwendolyn Craft, Brandy Craft and Julie Butler, brought negligence and wantonness claims against Triumph Logistics Inc., the truck company, and Reco Williams, the truck driver; and negligent hiring, training and supervision claims against Triumph.
Though the truck driver claimed he never swerved into the van’s lane, he admitted during a deposition his blinker was turned on, and the defense’s reconstructionist acknowledged that the vehicles’ first impact occurred while the truck was “far right” in the van’s lane. The truck’s swerving was also confirmed by witness testimony. The case was settled for a confidential amount after two days of trial.
Though the NHTSA and FMCSA have yet to announce their plan for the max speed, they’ve considered setting it at 60, 65 or 68 mph, according to the proposed rule published in the Federal Register. The agencies made the proposal based on data showing a relationship between travel speed and crash severity.
“The agencies estimate that limiting the speed of heavy vehicles to 60 mph would save 162 to 498 lives annually, limiting the speed of heavy vehicles to 65 mph would save 63 to 214 lives annually, and limiting the speed of heavy vehicles to 68 mph would save 27 to 96 lives annually,” according to the proposal.
Proponents, often large trucking fleets, advocate for the speed cap, while small fleets and single-truck owners and operators say the cap proves ineffective as the number of high-speed crashes are small compared to the total number of truck accidents. Those on both sides mentioned increased speed differentials between large trucks and other, smaller vehicles could actually increase the number of crashes.
The jury is still out on whether the proposal will take effect and, if so, what the speed cap would be, but regardless, safely sharing the road with large trucks is a major concern for drivers.
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Beasley Allen attorney Chris Glover handles cases of personal injury involving heavy trucks, log trucks, 18-wheelers and other commercial vehicles. For more information about these types of claims, contact him by email at Chris.Glover@BeasleyAllen.com.