Absolutely not! While it might seem that all motor vehicle accidents would be handled the same way, when a large truck or tractor trailer is involved, the rules are different. The trucking industry is highly regulated by the federal government, as well as by each state, depending on whether the trucks in question travel interstate (through more than one state) or intrastate (within one state). Just to be considered a large truck, the gross volume weight must exceed 10,000 pounds. So when 18-wheelers and other types of large trucks are involved in accidents, the weight of the vehicle alone makes the chance of severe injury or death higher than in auto-only crashes.
In 2011, large trucks were involved in 287,000 crashes; 88,000 people were injured and 3,757 killed in these crashes. In South Carolina in 2011, there were 1,092 fatal crashes, 79 of which involved large trucks, while in North Carolina, those numbers were 1,682 and 118, respectively. While the total number of large truck-involved accidents is only 5.4% of all reported vehicle accidents, the percentage of people killed in crashes involving large trucks is double that of car wrecks.1
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration governs interstate trucking and has in place numerous safety and reporting requirements that trucking companies must follow. Each state Department of Transportation may have additional rules that must be met. Some of the requirements with which trucking companies must comply include hours of service rules that limit how long a driver may be behind the wheel and are intended to prevent driver fatigue; driver background checks, including accident history and drug and alcohol testing; load weight limits by type of truck that must be met; truck maintenance records that must be kept; and vehicle log books which must be stored for six months. In addition, federal law requires that any truck driver involved in a crash where there are fatalities, serious injuries or where the vehicle had to be towed must report for a drug and alcohol test following the crash. Unfortunately, this does not always happen.
When we take cases involving 18-wheelers, we begin an immediate investigation of the crash and the trucking company. There is a sense of urgency in that current laws only require trucking companies to maintain logbooks and other key data for a limited period of time. Maintenance and driving logs can become critical evidence in any large truck crash. If they are not preserved, that evidence may simply be gone. We look at such things as the trucking company’s record to see if there is a history of safety violations. We check to see whether or not the hours of service rules were met and the post-crash drug and alcohol testing completed. A trucking accident reconstruction expert may also be sent out to the crash site or to inspect the truck itself for possible equipment issues.
In short, if you have been seriously injured or a loved one has died in an accident involving a large truck in the Columbia area or elsewhere in South Carolina, North Carolina or Georgia, you need to be sure the lawyer you choose to represent you has experience handling 18-wheeler crashes. A large truck crash cannot be treated in the same fashion as an auto accident involving only cars. Make certain your rights are protected by hiring a tractor trailer accident lawyer!