An Overview of Georgia Truck Accident Laws, Lawyers, Lawsuits and Settlements
Truck Crash Statistics in the State of Georgia
Large trucks, tractor-trailers, big rigs, however you refer to them, are ubiquitous. With Atlanta being the “Hub” of the southeast, many interstates run through and around the city on their way to Atlanta itself or are headed to some other destination. Additionally, on Georgia’s eastern border, Interstate 95 feeds the eastern seaboard with goods and materials as it passes through the state. That means motorists in Georgia must constantly compete with big rigs for space on the road.
Given the amount of miles driven by trucks, there is little wondering why there seem to be so many accidents involving large trucks in Georgia. According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), there were 182 fatalities caused by truck crashes in 2015. There were 155 fatalities in truck crashes in 2014. Georgia ranked fourth deadliest state for tractor-trailer crashes in the U.S. in 2015. Only Texas, California, and Florida experienced a greater number of fatal truck crashes.
Nationwide, 4,067 people died in truck crashes in 2015. Perhaps not so surprisingly, 74% of the people killed were traveling in a passenger car and an additional 10% were pedestrians and bicyclists. Additionally, 116,000 people were injured in tractor-trailer accidents nationally. That number increased by 5,000 from 2014.
Statistical analysis for 2015 performed by the FMCSA yielded some interesting results. These are the most current statistics and were released in February of 2017. For instance:
- 27% of all fatalities nationwide occurred on interstate highways,
- 63% of all fatal accidents happened in rural areas,
- 78% of truck collisions occurred during the weekdays,
- 73% of the workday crashes happened during the day, or between 6:00 a.m. and 5:59 p.m.,
- Only 5% of all fatal heavy truck crashes occurred in work zones,
- 2% of drivers in fatal crashes had a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.08% or higher (it is a crime in Georgia to operate a commercial vehicle with a BAC of 0.02% or greater),
- 20.1 % of commercial drivers have at least one prior accident on their driving history, and
- Just over 20% of large truck drivers had at least one prior speeding conviction.
Types of 18-Wheeler Truck Accidents in Georgia
18-wheeler truck accidents in Georgia vary depending on the traffic conditions and road conditions at the time of the collision. According to the FMCSA, the most common truck crash is a rear-end collision with another car or other vehicle. Other types of accidents include head-on crashes, sideswipes, leaving the road, backing, and intersecting paths of vehicles. Intersecting the path of a passenger car could place the occupants of the car to underride the truck. Underriding the truck simply means that the passenger car passed beneath the trailer. However, passenger cars cannot fit under the trailer and stop when the windshield and roof are crushed against the side of the trailer.
Large truck crashes can also involve a total loss of control of the truck by the driver. Examples of those instances would be rollovers, jackknifes, and skids. Additionally, accidents can occur when freight falls from the trailer or flatbed and onto the road.
One type of accident which is not often examined but is a real threat is when a car crashes because of the operation of the truck but does not collide with the big rig. Driving a passenger car near a tractor-trailer is highly intimidating. The driver of the passenger vehicle certainly understands that one wrong move by the tractor-trailer driver could have catastrophic consequences. Accidents can occur when smaller cars are forced to take evasive action to avoid a collision and end up losing control. Those cars spin out, drive into other lanes, drive off of the road, or across medians. In that scenario, the truck driver could be at fault for the crash despite never colliding with the other car.
Common Causes of Semis and Tractor Trailer Truck Crashes in Georgia
The FMCSA identified numerous causes of large truck accidents in Georgia. The FMCSA groups accident causes into three categories. They are driver initiated, equipment related, and environmental. Some causes, as might be expected, are more common than others.
Many accident causes can be attributed to more than one category as well. For instance, if a tire fails due to worn tread which leads to a crash, the cause might be best described as equipment failure. However, a truck driver has an obligation to inspect the tires before the trip begins. Consequently, the driver could have found the defect and replaced the tire, thereby preventing an accident. Similarly, environmental factors are certainly beyond the driver’s control. But, if the driver exceeded a safe speed for the environmental conditions then human error would be the root cause of the crash.
Analysis of tractor-trailer accidents by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the National Transportation Safety Board, and the FMCSA demonstrates that over 20 critical factors initiated by drivers that cause accidents. Each identifiable cause initiated by the driver is proof that the driver deviated from his or her responsibilities and duties as a tractor-trailer driver. The crashes analyzed might not have occurred if one or more of these factors were not present. In some instances, more than one factor could be present. The primary factors present in driver initiated truck wrecks are:
- Physical driving errors such as falling asleep behind the wheel, fatigue, or illness,
- Recognition errors such as inattention due to daydreaming, internal distractions such as radios, cell phone usage, and texting,
- External distractions like looking at something irrelevant to the safe operation of the big rig, and improperly or insufficiently keeping an eye on the road for potential hazards,
- Driver decision factors such as speeding, driving too fast for the conditions to be able to stop the trailer timely, misjudge the distance between cars or underestimate speed of on-coming car, following too closely or tailgating, overestimating other’s actions, illegal maneuver, failing to take all proper evasive actions such as braking when braking and steering could have prevented the crash, driving too fast on turn or curve, and aggressive driving,
- Poor Driver Performance such as oversteering, braking too hard, or not controlling the vehicle with sufficient skill to prevent a preventable crash.
- Tires or wheels failed,
- Brakes failed,
- Steering failed,
- Cargo shifted,
- Suspension failed,
- Doors, hood, or body failed,
- Trailer failed,
- Degraded braking ability, and
- Transmission or engine failure.
As mentioned above, equipment failure is foreseeable and dangerous. That is why FMCSA regulations require pre-trip, trip, and post-trip examinations of the trailer, cargo, and the trucks capability to function. Routine yet thorough inspections are vital to the safety of the truck driver and fellow motorists. As a result, regulations obligate the driver to inspect the vehicle after every 3 hours of drive time or 150 miles, whichever comes first.
Truck Driving Regulations in Georgia
Commercial vehicle operation is a highly regulated activity. The state of Georgia has issued regulations for operating large trucks and other commercial vehicles and has also adopted the federal regulations as a component of the state’s regulatory scheme as well. Georgia’s initial requirements for driving are quite rudimentary. They require a person to have attained their 18th birthday, be of a good moral character, and have sound judgment. State law requires that a person operating a large truck or other commercial vehicle have in his or her possession a valid Commercial Drivers License (CDL). Georgia’s Department of Driver Services regulations manual describes the qualifications for a CDL in much greater detail. That manual also provides information to drivers on the safe operation of the vehicle and an explanation of how to avoid or prevent crashes from occurring as well as the driver’s obligations to make safety checks.
FMCSA’s regulations are wide-sweeping in addition to being highly detailed. The federal regulations are the minimum standards by which a commercial vehicle can operate. Those regulations spell out in greater detail what procedures to follow regarding cargo securement, vehicle inspection, and hours of service.
The hours of service might be the most critical regulations a trucker must follow. Drivers are strictly limited to the number of hours in a day they can drive and that they can be on duty. This is to prevent fatigue. A fatigued driver is as dangerous as a drunk driver at times because drivers in each condition lose their cognitive abilities, their judgment, perception, and motor skills.
A recent event demonstrates how dangerous fatigued driving can be. A dashcam video depicts a large truck barreling down an interstate when the road gently and gradually swings to the right. The problem occurs when the truck does not follow the curvature of the road. Instead, it heads straight into a guardrail and flips over. Fortunately, the driver was not seriously hurt, and there were no other cars involved. The driver admitted he was falling asleep behind the wheel. Even if a driver strictly complies with the hours of service requirements, there is no guarantee he or she will not tire. Sleep problems such as apnea and irregular sleep patterns contribute to fatigued driving despite regulatory compliance.
Even though hours of service must be documented daily, truck drivers can push themselves when tired. Trucking companies can push them to meet deadlines despite non-compliance, or they could have self-imposed expectations and drive when fatigued because of a financial incentive.
Proper cargo securement is essential to the safe operation of a heavy truck. Federal regulations specify where the load must be placed in the trailer and the types of tie-downs the driver must use depending on the nature of the cargo. Failing to secure cargo will cause a load shift. Load shifts are dangerous events for truck drivers. A load shift will upset the balance of the big rig and can cause the whole truck to flip over; the cargo can fall off the trailer and into the road or can slam up against the cab thereby endangering the driver.
Types Of Injuries In Georgia Truck Crashes
The sheer size and weight differential between a large truck and a passenger car are enormous. A tractor-trailer can weigh as much as 80,000 pounds fully loaded and can exceed 100,000 pounds with a special permit in Georgia. Collisions between the two are frequently violent and destructive. As mentioned above, about 74% of all people killed in tractor-trailer accidents were in the passenger car.
Even surviving the accident may come with a price. Truck crash survivors frequently experience catastrophic injuries such as amputation, coma, and paralysis. Other injuries include:
- Broken bones,
- Torn and strained muscles including whiplash,
- Bulging discs and nerve damage,
- Head trauma such as concussions, memory loss, vision and hearing problems,
- Contusions, and
- Massive lacerations which can lead to scarring, especially when the cuts are to the face.
The occupants of even the safest car are in peril if they collide with a large truck. Injuries occur when the truck strikes the car, then the body inside the car strikes the interior of the car. The problem is compounded when the person’s brain, tissue, and organs strike the skeleton and then recoil. The trauma can be too much for the human body to withstand if a seatbelt restrains the person and an airbag cushioned the blow.
On some occasions, the person is too damaged to save if with an immediate medical response. Thankfully, the medical response has improved which gives the victim a chance to survive.
Damages Available for Truck Crash Victims in Georgia
Georgia truck accident law permits truck crash victims to recover monetary awards for their loss. No amount of money can compensate you for the death of a loved one. However, holding those responsible for your loved one’s untimely death may provide you and your family with a measure of justice and peace. To be sure, money can never make you whole again. But, financial compensation may help you replace the salary you or your loved one once made that was lost because your injuries prevented you from working. Georgia law permits recovery for other damages as well.
Under Georgia law, a person injured by another can recover for medical bills, future medical expenses, lost wages, loss of future earnings opportunity, as well as pain and suffering. In the event that the driver was wanton and reckless, then punitive damages may be appropriate. In a wrongful death lawsuit, the family is entitled to compensation for the whole life of the deceased. The is certainly difficult to quantify because a human life is invaluable. However, consideration can be given to the financial and educational status of the person, as well as the person’s life expectancy.
Time is of the Essence – Georgia Statute of Limitations
The time to file a Georgia truck accident personal injury claim against a truck driver and the trucking company is limited. A Georgia truck crash victim has only two years to file a lawsuit. Therefore you must not delay in seeking legal representation for your Georgia large truck accident claim.
Cited within and selected Georgia statutes