Semi Truck Crash Risk and Unsafe Driving Violations

As part of the Safety Measurement System (SMS), the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) now analyzes unsafe driving of semi trucks and other commercial vehicles for purposes of determining whether there should be intervention in the way of a warning letter, investigation or roadside inspection. The SMS methodology involves detailed calculations of safety violations, and specific unsafe driving violations are given varying “violation severity weights” based on the crash risk.

Below is a list of some of the unsafe truck driving violations with their violation severity weights (10 being the highest):

  • Texting (10): FMCSA recently banned texting while operating a semi truck or other commercial motor vehicle (CMV) in interstate commerce. Many states have also banned texting while driving a CMV. (Note: FMCSA regulates interstate traffic and states regulate intrastate (within the state) traffic.)
  • Phone call (10): FMCSA also recently banned use of a cell phone while operating a CMV. Again, many states have done the same.
  • Reckless driving (10): This means a semi truck driver was ticketed and found guilty of reckless driving.
  • Speeding: The violation severity weight is dependent on speed—1 to 5 miles over (1), 6 to 10 miles over (4), 11to 7 miles over (7), 15 miles or more over (10).
  • Failure to obey traffic control devices (5): This seems low for running a red light, but in most circumstances there would also be a reckless driving violation (10) with this.
  • Following too close (5): If you have ever been in the unfortunate position of being in front of an 18-wheeler following too closely, a 5 seems way too low.
  • Improper lane change (5): This common violation is responsible for many, many accidents, and a 5 is too low in some circumstances. Perhaps a more detailed approach for this violation would be better.
  • Improper turns (5): I have had so many cases of serious personal injury and wrongful death involving improper turns that a 5 seems too low.
  • Failure to yield the right of way (5): This is related to improper turns, at least at an intersection, and is highly dangerous behavior for a semi truck and a 5 is too low.
  • Unlawful parking (1): The family I represented who lost a son because a tractor-trailer truck was illegally parked would say this should be a 10. It is usually intentional behavior, as was the case with the wrongful death of my clients’ son.

The SMS is an enforcement tool, and I would argue that there could be improvements to ensure that FMCSA takes steps to enforce regulatory compliance on the part of every trucking company. There is no excuse for allowing unsafe trucking companies to carry on business as usual on our nation’s roads.

If a safety violation by an 18-wheeler or other big rig causes an accident, the above violation severity weights are irrelevant, but the history of violations is not. If the truck driver or trucking company has a history of safety violations, there may be a claim for punitive damages. This would mean more money for the accident victim and his or her family, which does not undo the suffering but does send a message to the truck driver, the trucking company and the trucking industry.

Contact Attorney Eric Hageman for a free consultation by calling 1-888-377-8900 (toll free) or by submitting our free consultation form.

Eric represents accident victims and their families throughout the United States in lawsuits against trucking companies for personal injury and wrongful death. He has been given the highest rating by Martindale-Hubbell for an attorney, AV Preeminent, and was recently named an “Attorney of the Year” by Minnesota Lawyer, a respected legal publication.

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Category: Accidents
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