truck driver distracted by a mobile phone

Truck Accidents Due to Distracted Driving

Operating a commercial truck requires the driver’s undivided attention. Commercial truck drivers need to keep their eyes on the road, their hands on the wheel, and their minds focused on the task of maneuvering a massive vehicle that is more than 50 feet long and can weigh up to 80,000 pounds.

Unfortunately, distracted driving is a pervasive problem in the trucking industry. From texting to changing the radio station to talking on the phone, any number of different distractions can draw a truck driver’s attention away from the road. In the blink of an eye, any loss of focus can lead to a serious accident.

At Maggiano, DiGirolamo & Lizzi, our truck accident lawyers have more than a century of combined experience representing the victims of big rig crashes. We have in-depth knowledge of the issues that cause these collisions, including distracted driving.

What Are the Trucking Regulations on Distracted Driving?

The trucking industry is heavily regulated. Regulations are imposed in proportion to the harm faced by the public as a result of certain actions.

Obviously, distracted driving is a pervasive problem on the nation’s roads. It should come as no surprise, then, that the federal government has taken steps to crack down on this behavior among truck drivers.

Restrictions on Texting and Driving and Mobile Phone Usage

Specifically, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has promulgated rules banning the use of cell phones behind the wheel of a commercial vehicle (Parts 392.80-392.82 of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations). Truck drivers are prohibited from doing the following:

  • Composing text messages
  • Reading text messages
  • Using other text-based programs on a smartphone, such as email, instant messenger apps, web browsers, etc.
  • Reaching for, dialing, and talking on a handheld mobile phone

Commercial drivers who violate these rules can be fined up to $2,750 per incident, as well as face disqualification of their commercial driver’s license for multiple infractions. Trucking companies can be fined up to $11,000 if they fail to supervise drivers or force them to use their cell phones while operating a truck.

Hands-free technology is allowed for making and receiving calls while operating a commercial truck. Unfortunately, hands-free devices provide little improvement on the distractions presented by a mobile phone, resulting in a 36% increase in distractibility behind the wheel.

Other Types of Distracted Truck Driving

Federal regulations are largely mute on other forms of distracted driving that can give rise to truck accidents. Common types of distractions that often lead to semi-truck crashes include:

  • Eating and drinking
  • Personal hygiene activities
  • Adjusting the radio
  • Filling out driver logs
  • Checking GPS
  • Talking on a CB radio
  • Smoking
  • Looking at objects and activity outside the truck

Stress is another major source of distraction for truck drivers. The strict (and sometimes unrealistic and unforgiving) time tables commercial drivers are on can lead to feelings of anxiety that reduce driving performance. Drivers who are stressed may become overwhelmed emotionally, as well as stay on the road longer than they should in an effort to keep to a schedule.

The FMCSA has adopted hours of service regulations in an effort to get commercial drivers to take rest breaks and sleep. Unfortunately, truck drivers sometimes ignore these rules and/or they are forced to violate them by unscrupulous employers. When this happens, accidents can occur as a result of fatigue.

How Many Truck Accidents Are Caused by Distracted Driving?

From 2002 to 2019 (the most recent year of data), the New Jersey Department of Transportation recorded a total of 23,660 accidents where cell phone usage was a factor. Over this 18-year period, 88 people were killed and 18,651 were injured in distracted driving accidents in New Jersey.

The most recent FMCSA statistics show that 4,377 crashes in New Jersey involved large trucks. In total, these accidents resulted in 54 fatalities and 2,435 injuries in 2020.

Further analysis of 2020 data shows the impact of distracted driving on the ability to operate a commercial truck safely. A study by Omnitracs found that truck drivers who get into collisions are as much as 90% more distracted than those who avoid collisions. Predictably, mobile phone usage accounts for the highest rate of distraction among truck drivers.

How Can I Prove Distracted Driving in a Truck Accident Claim?

As you can see, truck drivers are not immune from the epidemic of distracted driving. Unfortunately, it can be challenging to actually prove that the truck driver was distracted and his or her distraction led to the crash that caused your injuries.

Most distracted driving accidents happen suddenly. In the majority of cases, victims don’t get a good look at the driver. This is especially true with 18-wheeler collisions, as the cab of a semi-truck is typically about twice as tall as the average passenger vehicle.

So, how can you prove that the truck driver was distracted immediately prior to the accident? It is in your best interest to contact a trucking accident attorney as soon as possible.

A truck accident lawyer will investigate to determine what caused the crash. Potential evidence that can help prove distraction on the part of the truck driver may include:

  • The truck driver’s cell phone records
  • Information from the event data recorder (a device installed on the truck that records and preserves critical details surrounding a crash)
  • Photos of the accident scene (photographing and reconstructing the crash can help determine what actions the truck driver took or failed to take, which may support your claim of distracted driving)
  • Accident reports
  • Video footage of the truck accident (if available)
  • Eyewitness testimony

It is also important to consider what role the trucking company may have played in a distracted driving crash involving a big rig. Your truck accident lawyer will closely review employment records and trucking company policies to determine if the commercial carrier failed to perform proper background checks, train, and/or supervise the truck driver. If this is the case, the trucking company can be held liable for negligence that contributed to the distracted driving accident.

Trucking companies may also contribute to distracted driving by requiring or encouraging their drivers to use their cell phones, forcing them to work past the federal hours of service, and more. If the carrier engaged in these actions and an accident occurred because the truck driver was distracted, his or her employer can be held liable.

Our Truck Accident Lawyers Can Help

Maggiano, DiGirolamo & Lizzi is a leader in the field of truck accident litigation. Our attorneys have achieved millions of dollars in verdicts and settlements in claims against truck drivers, trucking companies, and other parties.

Time is of the essence if you or a loved one has been involved in a crash with an 18-wheeler. Our lawyers will investigate the accident promptly, collect all available evidence, and identify how the collision occurred and who is responsible.

Evidence of distracted driving and other forms of negligence will not last long. It is crucial to speak to a knowledgeable attorney as soon as possible to start building your case.

Please call Maggiano, DiGirolamo & Lizzi at (201) 585-9111 today for a free consultation. Our truck accident lawyers serve clients in Fort Lee and throughout New Jersey, as well as New York.