Written By: Christopher B. Dolan and Emile A. Davis
This week’s question comes from William B. in Berkeley who asks: On the news I heard about a truck that collided with a group of cyclists. It was horrendous. Some cyclists were terribly injured and one even died. I realize, as a cyclist, how vulnerable we cyclists are, even when we are being cautious and aware. What protections do we have if a truck takes us out? Anything?
Dear William: Thank you for this important question about trucks, cycle safety and protections. As a cyclist myself, and having represented hundreds of cyclists, I am all too aware of the dangers caused by automobiles in general and the particular issues raised by large trucks. To answer your question, I look to three categories of protection:
1) steps that can be taken, as a cyclist, to avoid accidents with trucks;
2) rules truck drivers must follow to ensure they are alert and aware; and, finally, if the first two fail,
3) remedies and inquiries to seek justice after a collision.
Steps that Cyclists Can Take to Avoid Accidents
The sad truth is that many motorists simply do not see cyclists. It is not merely inattention, but a neurologic phenomenon sometimes called, “filling in.” People’s brains are continuously anticipating what we will see. If an object is obstructed, the brain simply, “fills in,” the missing information with its best guess. There are several steps a cyclist can take to make sure they are actually seen. The easiest is to use anti-camouflage; wear bright colors and reflective gear, have lights and reflectors on a bicycle in order to stand out from the environment and draw attention to yourself. That way the cyclist is seen and the driver does not just, “fill in,” the scenery.
You hit upon perhaps the most important other steps that can be taken – actively being cautious and using situational awareness to know when danger is increasing. These are key to a cyclist’s safety in relation to not only trucks, but traffic in general as well as roadway defects.
Department of Transportation Rules to Keep Truck Drivers Safe and Alert
Often, thankfully, long haul truck drivers are some of the best and most experienced drivers on the road. Additionally truck drivers are subject to many specific rules and regulations designed to make sure they are alert and driving safely. The Federal Department of Transportation, through the FMCSA (Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration) has regulatory authority over truck drivers. They have a number of safety-based regulations affecting property-carrying vehicles. Initially, the driver must be at least 21 years of age, possess a commercial license and complete a road test. Any driver who has been convicted of a DUI or transporting drugs would be disqualified from employment in this field.
Once a driver is hired, they must record and certify in a log their driving start and end times as well as days off to demonstrate that they have followed basic safety requirements such as:
- A driver must have had 10 hours off duty before beginning a shift.
- A driver may not drive after a period of 14 consecutive hours until he has had 10 hours off duty.
- A driver may drive for a total of 11 hours out of this period of 14 consecutive hours.
- A driver may not be on duty for a period of more than 60 hours in 7 consecutive days or 70 hours in 8 consecutive days.
The requirements are even more stringent if the driver is transporting passengers. A complete list of DOT regulations can be found at: https://www.fmcsa.dot.gov/regulations/title49/b/5/3
Recovery if a Collision Does Occur
Unfortunately the above precautions are not always enough and a cyclist is injured by a truck. When that occurs the law provides that a responsible party pay for the damages suffered by the person injured. The law anticipates that trucks have the potential to cause greater harm than typical automobiles. Insurance coverage for trucks, unlike the relatively small insurance policies required by automobiles, are more substantial. Large commercial trucks transporting goods are required to carry a minimum of $750,000 in available insurance. Companies are often also encouraged to carry additional Commercial General Liability insurance to protect their assets, and individuals injured because of the potential trucks have for creating very serious injury, such as the collision that prompted you to write.
To obtain justice for a person injured by a truck a good lawyer will confirm all available insurance policies. They will also investigate to determine if the DOT safety regulations were properly followed. Where there was a failure, it is important to determine if it was merely a failure of the truck driver to do the right thing, or, whether the employer of the driver set expectations or policies that required a driver to push the limits of the regulations and to drive unsafely. Similarly, a company that employs truck drivers may not properly screen or train drivers appropriately for the type of driving they are tasked to do. Employer failures of this type can open the employer up to the potential liability to compensate an injured person beyond the limits of an insurance policy.
As with many activities, if everyone does their part to avoid accidents, they become far less likely. However, they do still occur. If you or someone you know is injured by a truck driver, while cycling or otherwise, consult an attorney such as those at the Dolan Law Firm who are experienced in that area of law.