The Elephant on the Road: Truck Accidents and Personal Injury

November 5, 2017
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Howie, Sacks & Henry – James R. Howie

James R. Howie

Former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau once remarked to an American audience, “Living next to you is in some ways like sleeping with an elephant. No matter how friendly and even-tempered is the beast, if I can call it that, one is affected by every twitch and grunt.” Drivers of smaller vehicles who share the road with large commercial trucks likely have similar feelings. If there is a collision involving an elephant and a mouse, you probably wouldn’t want to be the mouse.

In this blog post I review common causes of truck accidents, the commercial motor vehicle law and inspection regulations designed to reduce the risk of truck accidents, and safety recommendations for drivers of smaller vehicles sharing the road with these elephants.

Common Causes of Truck Accidents

Truck on the roadRecent statistics show that more than 80 per cent of fatal truck crashes and more than 50 per cent of injury-causing truck crashes occur on highways. Peak times for truck accidents occur between 8:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. on weekdays, which might not be what you would expect.

Like other motor vehicle accidents, common causes include driver fatigue, distracted driving, excessive speed, vehicle malfunction, drug or alcohol-related impairment, illegal manoeuvres, reckless driving and unfamiliarity with the route. Trucks also carry loads which may cause an accident if they are improperly secured, overloaded, or they shift or dislodge.

Interestingly, statistics suggest truck drivers involved in accidents on the road are more often found not to be at fault. This may partially be a result of the law and regulations in place to improve the safety of operating these large vehicles, and partially due to improved truck driver training.

Truck Inspection and Safety Regulations

The safety regulations which relate to trucks are enforced by Ministry of Transportation enforcement officers and police officers through on-road inspections. Such inspections include the assessment of a truck’s tires and wheels, brakes, suspension hydraulic brake system (air brake system), steering, instruments and auxiliary equipment, lights, signals, and lamps, electrical system, hitches and couplers, and power train (engine and axel).

Where a truck’s condition is considered “critically defective,” it is impounded for a minimum period of 15 days. Only one critical defect is necessary for an officer to remove the truck’s licence plates and inspection stickers and impound it. Such critical defects include wheel separation (which can result in wheels falling off) and malfunctioning electronic speed limiters (a truck’s speed is typically capped at 105 km/h).

The Highway Traffic Act requires truck operators to inspect their vehicles on a daily basis. The objective of these inspections is to find and fix defects which may cause or contribute to an accident. Inspections are conducted according to an inspection schedule and all defects must be recorded on an inspection report; both documents must be carried by the truck driver.

There are also regulations which seek to limit the risk that a truck driver will be fatigued while driver and at risk for being inattentive while at the wheel. The Hours of Service regulation under the Motor Vehicle Transport Act prescribes the maximum driving times and minimum off-duty times for truck drivers. In a 24-hour period a driver must have at least 10 hours off, not drive more than 13 hours, and not drive after 14 hours on-duty. During a period of seven or 14 consecutive days, a truck driver is prohibited from driving after being on-duty for 70 hours or 120 hours, respectively.

Truck Safety Recommendations

For truck drivers, Transport Canada recommends that the following safety measures and systems be used: fatigue management programs, scientific napping/recovery guidelines, fatigue monitoring technology, crash avoidance technologies (electronic stability control, forward collision warning systems, lane-departure warning systems, blind-spot cameras), use of rest areas, and roads employing rumble strips.

If you are driving near a truck, you must be vigilant and adjust your driving behaviour accordingly.

Some helpful safety tips for non-truck drivers include:

  • Giving a truck the right of way. Do not travel in a truck’s blind spot (“no zone”) for any longer than is necessary. If the truck driver is not visible in the truck’s wing mirrors, then it is likely that the driver cannot see you.
  • Never cut off a truck. It takes a longer period of time to pass a truck and you must be sure that you are clear of the front of the truck before pulling over in front of it.
  • Always use your turn signals when changing lanes and merging.
  • Maintain a safe distance when following a truck.
  • Reduce your speed to account for any water, debris, or dirt from the truck’s tires which may impair your visibility or vehicle’s operation if a truck is passing you.
  • Avoid positioning your car between two or more trucks as you may not be visible to one or both truck drivers.
  • Leave sufficient room for the truck to drift backward during start up, when stopped behind a truck on an incline.

Injuries and Deaths Resulting From Truck Accidents

Personal injuries arising from truck-related accidents can have a tremendous impact on a person’s life. Any person injured in a truck accident may be eligible to obtain statutory accident benefits support. A person who is not at fault can also initiate a lawsuit to obtain compensation and damages. Managing your injuries and recovery, dealing with the legal options can be daunting on your own, so it’s important to remember experienced personal injury lawyers can assist you in accessing your legal rights.

If you or a loved one has been severely injured or someone you know has been killed in a truck-related accident and you have questions, please contact HSH Founding Partner and personal injury lawyer James R. Howie at jrhowie@hshlawyers.com or 416-361-3551.

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