Tractor-Trailer Accident Laws in South Carolina
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), in 2012 large trucks were involved in 6.8% of all fatal accidents on South Carolina highways. With the total gross vehicle weight of large combination trucks being capped at 80,000 pounds and the average weight of a passenger vehicle being between 3,000 and 5,000 pounds, it is no wonder that accidents involving trucks tend to be very serious and often lead to fatalities or incapacitating injuries. Because of these dangers, there are strict licensing standards for commercial drivers, and South Carolina’s legislature has enacted laws to help prevent truck accidents.
Despite state laws and federal regulations designed to encourage safety, truck accidents happen every day in South Carolina. Most of these truck accidents are avoidable. Many are caused by the careless or negligent behavior of the truck driver and/or the trucking company.
If you have been injured in a truck accident, you deserve to receive the maximum compensation that the law allows. For a free consultation and claim evaluation, contact the Columbia truck accident lawyers at the Louthian Law Firm by calling us toll free at (803) 454-1200. If you prefer, you can also fill out our convenient online contact form.
Based in Columbia, the Louthian Law Firm has represented injured South Carolinians in personal injury suits since 1959. With our firm on the case, you can rest assured that you’ll get hands-on help and exceptional results, whether your injury resulted from the actions of a negligent truck driver or an irresponsible trucking company.
Driver Characteristics that Cause Truck Accidents
According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), driver-related factors are the leading cause of truck accidents. Driver-related factors were recorded in 31 percent of fatal accident cases involving large trucks, according to FMCSA figures. Speeding was the most common driver-related factor, with failure to stay in the correct lane or failure to pay adequate attention coming in second and third.
Based on their analysis of thousands of crashes, these are the top causes of truck accidents due to driver behavior:
- Prescription drug use. This was a factor in 26.3 percent of crashes attributed to driver behavior.
- Speeding or traveling too fast for conditions. This was a factor in 22.9 percent of driver-induced crashes.
- Lack of familiarity with the roadway. Defined as traveling on the road fewer than six times in the prior six months, this was a cause of 21.6 percent of crashes caused by drivers.
- Over-the-counter drug use. This accounted for 17.3 percent of driver-related crashes.
- Inadequate surveillance. Failure to keep a proper lookout was an associated factor in 13.2 percent of these crashes.
- Fatigue. Tiredness was an associated cause in 13 percent of cases.
- Work-related pressure. On-the-job stress was cited in 9.2 percent of cases.
- Illegal maneuvering. 9.1 percent of crashes caused by truck drivers involved illegal maneuvering.
- Inattention. A failure to pay adequate attention was a factor in 8.5 percent of crashes caused by big rig drivers.
- External distractions. External distraction factors were attributed to 8 percent of driver-related crashes.
- Inadequate evasive action. In 6.6 percent of cases, failure to take evasive action played a role in causing a large truck accident.
- Tailgating or other aggressive driving behavior. This was cited in 6.6 percent of cases.
- A lack of familiarity with the vehicle. In 6.5 percent of cases, the driver had operated the vehicle fewer than six times in six months.
- Following too closely behind the lead vehicle. This was a factor in 4.9 percent of driver-caused crashes.
- Making false or incorrect assumptions about the actions of other drivers or road users. In 4.7 percent of driver-induced crashes, the truck driver made a false assumption.
Another factor which has a bearing on a truck driver’s safety on the road is his or her own health. In January 2014, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health reported the results of a survey of nearly 1,700 long-haul truck drivers. Of those questioned, 88 percent said they had at least one risk factor for chronic disease, such as high-blood pressure, smoking, or obesity. That compares to 54 percent of the general U.S. adult working population. Considering the long hours truck drivers spend sitting in the driver’s seat, the fact that truck stops aren’t known for having healthy menu choices, and the large percentage of truck drivers who smoke, it’s not surprising that we hear about accidents caused by a medical crisis like a heart attack.
Vehicle-Related Causes of Truck Accidents
Sometimes a truck accident is caused by equipment failure or the characteristics of the vehicle itself. Brake failure was found by the FMCSA to be the most common vehicle-related cause of accidents involving large trucks. Rollovers may happen due to the truck’s high center of gravity. Trucks have large blind spots, or no-zones, which limit a driver’s view of other vehicles nearby. And the height of the trailer worsens the impact for a smaller vehicle which rear-ends a truck, increasing the risk of under-ride fatalities.
It is essential that large trucks undergo pre- and post-trip inspections . . . in fact, it’s the law. The Code of Federal Regulations requires that before driving a commercial motor vehicle, the driver shall check and service brakes, steering, lighting and reflectors, tires, horn, windshield wipers, mirrors, emergency equipment and coupling devices. He or she is to check the cargo and make sure it’s secured. In addition, the driver is to review the last driver’s post-trip vehicle inspection report and sign off on it to assure that any noted deficiencies were addressed. Every time a truck driver makes a stop, he is to check the tires, and a post-trip inspection must be made at the completion of each day’s work.
Why Truck Accident Causes Matter
NHTSA data indicate that the majority of the fatalities that occur in large truck accidents involve individuals other than the driver of the truck. In fact, 74 percent of those killed were occupants of another vehicle, 10 percent were non-occupants and only 16 percent were occupants of the truck itself. The numbers are similar for non-fatal injuries involving large trucks, with NHTSA reporting that 71 percent of those injured were occupants of another vehicle and 3 percent were not occupants of any of the vehicles involved. This is why truck safety is a concern for every person on the road, whether in a privately owned vehicle, on a bicycle or motorcycle, or walking on the sidewalk.
Truck accidents often leave victims who suffer as a result of the negligence or careless behavior of the truck driver. Victims of truck accidents or surviving family members of those killed in truck accidents can file a personal injury lawsuit against the truck driver who was responsible for the accident.
In addition, because trucking companies are considered to be responsible for the actions of their drivers under South Carolina law, the trucking company may be sued if a driver is careless or fails to act with reasonable care when behind the wheel. Trucking companies can also be held responsible for their own negligence, such as failure to properly maintain their equipment, pushing drivers to break hours-of-service rules or hiring unsafe drivers.
Get Help from Our South Carolina Truck Accident Lawyers Now
Truck accidents can be complex, both because of the large amounts of money that may be involved due to the seriousness of the accident and because of the potential for multiple defendants. It is important to consult with a qualified South Carolina tractor-trailer accident lawyer to make sure your rights are protected.