The reality and dangers of rear-end crashes involving commercial vehicles surfaced this morning when I, like many other commuters, was stopped in traffic on northbound Interstate 95 in Lawrence Township as a result of a fatal, rear-end collision involving a tractor-trailer and two vehicles.

According to statistics from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (“FMCSA”), commercial trucks are responsible for an average of 400,000 crashes each year.  Alarmingly, nearly 80,000 of those crashes are rear-end collisions.  A vast majority of those crashes could be prevented, if trucking companies and truck drivers followed state and federal rules and regulations governing the operation and maintenance of commercial vehicles.

Faulty brakes is one of the leading causes of rear-end crashes involving commercial trucks.  A FMCSA study revealed that trucks involved in rear-end crashes are twice as likely as other vehicles to have defective or poorly adjusted brakes.  Under state and federal regulations, both trucking companies and truck drivers are responsible for ensuring that the brakes on their tractors and trailers are in adjustment and working properly.  For example, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations require that trucking companies “systematically inspect, repair, and maintain” all vehicles and equipment under their control.  The Regulations specifically require trucking companies to ensure that all brake inspections, maintenance, service, or repairs are performed by an appropriately trained, experienced, and certified brake inspector.  Similarly, the Regulations require truck drivers to complete a “Driver Vehicle Inspection Report” on a daily basis, which requires the driver to inspect the brake system of his or her tractor and trailer before and after use.  If proper inspections are completed and the appropriate remedial action is taken when problems are discovered, faulty or poorly adjusted brakes should never be the cause of rear-end crashes.

Driver fatigue or inattention is another leading cause of rear-end collisions involving commercial trucks.  Driver fatigue can result from violations of the Regulations’ hours-of-service rules, which are designed to limit the number of hours that a driver can operator a commercial vehicle.  Even if a driver observes the hours-of-service regulations, he or she can still be fatigued.  Commonly, medical issues, such as sleep apnea, deprive drivers of the necessary rest required to safely operate a commercial vehicle.  Although drivers that suffer from sleep apnea, and other medical conditions that could impair their ability to safely operate a commercial vehicle, should be medically disqualified to drive under the Regulations, many drivers circumvent these restrictions by concealing pertinent medical information from examining doctors or the examiners themselves fail to make the necessary inquiries or overlook potentially dangerous conditions.  Driver fatigue should never be the cause of a rear-end collision, if hours-of-service rules are followed and drivers are properly medically screened.

Finally, driver inattention is another inexcusable cause of rear-end collisions involving commercial vehicles.  Driver inattention can be caused by a number of different factors, including the use of handheld cell phones, which is prohibited under state and federal law, and failing to properly “see” the roadway and safely follow other vehicles on the roadway.  For example, the New Jersey Commercial Driver License Manual instructs truck drivers to look ahead 12-15 seconds, which is the equivalent of a 1/4 mile at highway speeds.  The New Jersey Commercial Driver License Manual also instructs truck drivers operating a 60 foot tractor-trailer over 40 miles per hour on a dry roadway to leave 7 seconds between their truck and the vehicle that they are following.  Driver inattention should never be the cause of a rear-end collision, if a truck driver is obeying the law and the rules of the road.

If you or a loved one is involved in a rear-end crash caused by a commercial vehicle, it is imperative that you obtain knowledgeable legal representation immediately in order to ensure that the crash is properly investigated and critical, time-sensitive evidence is preserved.  As a member of Stark & Stark’s Trucking Accident Litigation Team and a commercially licensed driver with a background in litigating tractor-trailer crashes throughout the United States, I am pleased to offer free consultations to the victims of these preventable crashes.