Written By Christopher B. Dolan
This week’s question comes from Steve, who asks: I’m originally from Southern California and now live in the Bay Area. I often visit family in Los Angeles and drive interstate 5 depending on traffic conditions, this drive can take me 7-8 hours. During my years of going and visiting my parents, I have seen several commercial truck accidents and have become concerned to the point where I try to stay far back or far ahead of any commercial truck. Some trucks can move rapidly into lanes, and I have seen some trucks swerve back and forth, almost causing a car crash. Are truck drivers specially trained? Is there a California hotline I can call to report bad truck drivers? What should I do if I am involved in a truck accident? Should I get a truck accident lawyer?
Hello Steve, thank you for your questions. You are right to feel concerned about driving around commercial trucks, and I encourage you to continue practicing the safe driving habits you describe. It is reasonable to feel the need to keep your distance from commercial trucks. In California, more than 3,000 truck accidents result in injuries every year, and approximately 300 Californians die annually in collisions with large trucks. The sheer weight and size of commercial trucks make them formidable figures on highways and the drivers in control of them should be held to a high standard to maintain safety on our roadways.
So, what are these safety standards?
The California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) and the US Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) regulate commercial trucks in California. FMCSA was established in 2000 with the primary mission of preventing commercial motor vehicle-related fatalities and injuries. The FMCA holds commercial drivers to a higher standard than ordinary drivers because of the risk of injury and death that comes with operating a large truck.
FMCSA requires any commercial truck driver to obtain a Commercial Drivers’ License (CDL) before they can operate commercial trucks on the road. To apply, CDL applicants must pass medical testing, vision testing, have their driving record checked, and complete 15 hours of behind the wheel training. To get a CDL, applicants must pass skills and knowledge tests geared to these higher standards. California DMV imposes additional requirements for applicants of a CDL in California.
How are truck drivers held accountable for failing to adhere to the higher safety standard?
It is vital for professionals and commercial truck drivers to be held accountable. Accountability occurs through the FMCSA and local authorities. Drivers with a CDL must adhere to the standards set forth by these regulators because failing to stick to these standards raises the risk of serious injury and death.
If you witness unsafe driving by a commercial vehicle, you can submit a complaint to the FMCSA Safety Violation Hotline (1-888-DOT-SAFT) (1-888-368-7238) from 5 am‒5 pm PST, Mon‒Fri. The FMCSA also has a portal for the public to report unsafe driving through the National Consumer Complaint Database. To file a complaint online, click here.
Or you can call the California Highway Patrol and file a report with them. Also, many commercial trucks will have a phone number or website on the back of their vehicle to file a complaint about their driving directly to their employer.
What should you do if you are in a truck accident?
The first thing you should do, if possible, is getting to a safe location off the road and away from moving traffic to prevent further injury. You should call 911 as soon as possible.
Make a report of what happened to the police. Collect the insurance information of the truck driver and other drivers involved.
Document everything at the scene of the accident. Take photos and video of the scene and any damages and injuries. Keep track of bills, costs, repairs, and medical costs. The more detailed your records are of costs, bills, repairs, etc., the better off you will be in obtaining compensation for those damages.
Avoid discussing the accident with others, including insurance adjusters. Some insurance companies may reach out to you and ask you for a statement. You do not have to speak with the insurance company, and it is best that you leave that up to an experienced truck accident lawyer who is aware of pitfalls and can advocate for your rights.
After getting in an accident with a large truck, who’s to blame may seem straightforward. But, several different parties can be liable for a truck accident, including a negligent truck driver, a trucking company, or even a manufacturer who produced faulty parts. One of the most critical steps in obtaining compensation is to thoroughly investigate the causes of the incident to identify all responsible parties and uncover evidence of their wrongdoing.
Once insurance companies identify the at-fault parties, the work of obtaining compensation begins. Despite what insurance companies may portray, truck accident victims’ damages can go far beyond just their medical bills. Compensation is determined from economic and non-economic damages depending on the circumstances of the injuries and how it impacts the victim(s). Trucking and insurance companies have enough money to compensate you for your injuries, but they also have a big budget to spend on legal representation so they will not have to.
When someone is seriously injured, or a loved one is killed in a truck crash it should not have to be an uphill battle to get the support needed to recover. Unfortunately, these large insurance and trucking companies have made the path to recovery a challenge. If you are ever in a truck accident, you should find a lawyer who knows how to negotiate with these companies and navigate you through the legal process to put you in the best position possible to have a healthy recovery.