According to Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration data, 4,657 large trucks were in fatal crashes and more than 56,400 involved in crashes caused injuries in one year. While many of these truck crashes were caused by driver error, vehicle-related factors were listed as the cause for approximately 5 percent of the accidents.
The agency that oversees the regulation of commercial trucks in the United States—the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration—requires “systematic repair, replacement, and maintenance” on commercial trucks, but mechanical failure remains a relatively common reason for truck accidents.
Types of Mechanical Failure in Trucks
Commercial trucks travel thousands of miles over relatively short periods of time. This, in combination with a truck’s’ massive size and weight, can cause the truck’s mechanical systems to fail. Some of the most common issues related to the mechanics of the truck that may cause accidents include:
At 20-30 times the size of the average passenger car, trucks take more distance to come to a safe stop. Particularly in the stop-and-go traffic of urban areas, this can take a toll on the truck’s braking system. In spite of brake failure being a frequently listed cause for truck accidents, the air brakes on commercial trucks don’t simply fail according to an op-ed published in 2012 by Trucking Info.
Instead, they may malfunction or heat up and therefore become less effective, but generally accidents due to brake failure are caused by the truck owner’s failure to properly maintain the vehicle, an improperly manufactured braking system, or someone manually adjusting the brakes so many times that the clutch mechanism has worn out, resulting in the automatic brake adjuster “unadjusting” them when the brakes are applied.
Problems with the truck’s steering mechanism can create a number of dangerous situations, including: hard steering, particularly during cold weather or when turning fast; inability to negotiate a tight turn; loose steering that causes the truck to wander on the road; the truck pulling in one direction, particularly when braking; or complete seizure of the truck’s steering system. Any of these issues can impact the driver’s ability to retain control of the vehicle.
The truck’s suspension is especially vulnerable to wearing out if regulations pertaining to overweight vehicles are not followed. Worn out suspension will cause the truck to bounce, even when the roads aren’t terribly bumpy, which can make the truck harder to control.
Tires are the most common mechanically-related cause of large truck accidents. As noted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, tire blowouts resulted in 738 fatal traffic crashes in 2017. One of the things that make blowouts in big trucks so dangerous is that a tire blowout often impacts the driver’s ability to control the vehicle. This danger is magnified when the out-of-control vehicle is a giant commercial truck on the road with much smaller cars.
The transmission system on a semi-truck is one of the most common mechanical parts to need repair, due to the harsh driving conditions in which truck drivers often find themselves. These problems usually present signs of impending doom, including fluid leakage, unusual noises, and difficulty shifting. Aside from impacting the driver’s ability to shift in a vehicle whose size already makes maneuverability difficult, another accident risk posed by transmission failure is that the truck will break down on the road, posing a collision hazard for other motorists.
Liability in Truck Accidents Caused by Mechanical Failure
In addition to presenting their trucks for annual inspections by qualified inspectors, commercial truck drivers are required to inspect their vehicles after each day they drive and to report any defects or known mechanical issues to their motor carrier company. The motor carrier must then certify that the issues have been repaired. These daily post-trip inspection reports must be retained for at least three months.
In an accident, particularly if vehicle-related issues were listed on the police report as the cause of the accident, one of the first things an experienced truck accident attorney will want to see is the post-trip and annual inspection reports for the vehicle. Some of the questions that need to be answered by viewing the post-trip and annual inspection reports include:
- Did the driver perform the required post-trip inspections? If so, did these inspections flag any concerns about the vehicle’s condition?
- Did the motor carrier address all defects that were pointed out during the post-trip inspections? If so, what work was done to repair the issue?
- Who performed the work to repair known vehicle defects? Who performs routine maintenance and repair on this truck?
- Were annual inspections performed on the vehicle as per Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration requirements?
- Were there any concerns pointed out in annual inspections of the vehicle?
- Who performed the annual inspection and what is their expertise in inspecting and repairing large trucks?
- Were any parts of the vehicle recently repaired or replaced? If so, which parts were used? What company manufactured those parts? Are there any known issues or recalls involved with the replacement parts?
- Who loaded the trailer for the trip during which the failure occurred? What was the weight of the load?
In a truck accident caused by mechanical failure, there can be multiple at-fault parties, such as:
- The driver, for failing to inspect and report known issues with the vehicle.
- The motor carrier, for failing to address any issues that were discovered during the driver’s post-trip inspection.
- The motor carrier, for failing to have the truck inspected at least once a year.
- The individual or entity responsible for repairing or replacing defective systems on the truck and providing routine maintenance on the vehicle.
- The shipper or the driver, for improperly loading the truck or overloading it. Overweight loads are one of the main causes of mechanical failure in big trucks.
- The manufacturer or distributor of parts that may have failed due to defects in the product’s design.
If you or your loved one were injured in an accident involving a commercial truck in the Boston metro area, you may be eligible to receive compensation for your injuries. Contact a truck accident lawyer for a consultation and case review.