Distracted driving by truck drivers killed four people recently in Minnesota, Connecticut, New York and Pennsylvania, leaving courts to decide liability and punishment. The blatant cases of distracted driving by commercial truck drivers come at a time of rising violations of laws meant to keep cell phones out of use in moving vehicles. Now there’s a movement in several states to expand and amend those laws to go beyond prohibitions against texting on cell phones. The new laws, such as one in Washington state, specifically outlaw
video streaming of any kind while driving.
For instance, one tractor-trailer driver in Pennsylvania killed a motorcyclist while watching an NFL football game last October while motoring down an interstate highway, prosecutors allege. The driver had placed a wager on the game and was watching the broadcast on his smartphone, according to the criminal complaint. The motorcyclist who died was John Thomas Baum Jr., 56, of Walnut Bottom, Pennsylvania.
Semi-truck accident attorney Fred Pritzker represents victims of crashes caused by distracted driving, speeding, following too closely, drowsiness, lane drifting, careless driving and other inattentive safety lapses. His firm has collected millions of dollars for victims in truck crash lawsuits.
“Distracted driving is a choice and all drivers must choose not to do it,’’ Pritzker said. “No family should have to go through the pain of losing a life or suffering any degree of injury due to a distracted truck driver.’’
Large truck accident lawyer Eric Hageman, who heads commercial truck crash litigation for the Pritzker-Hageman law firm, said jury verdicts and lawsuit settlements in tractor-trailer crash lawsuits across the country can’t help but change behaviors in the long run.
“Inattentive truck drivers walk away from the vast majority of these of crashes, but the impacts are devastating if not lethal to other motorists,’’ Hageman said. “Any distraction can end in disaster when a truck is involved.’’
A recent example happened in Minnesota, where a semi-truck driver was charged with criminal vehicular homicide for allegedly being on his phone when he crashed into a car stopped at a traffic light on a Minneapolis-St. Paul highway. Killed instantly was 54-year-old Robert Bursick of Amery, Wisconsin.
First responders said they could not determine the make or model of the car because it was crushed so badly. The deadly truck collision prompted an outcry of “enough is enough’’ from the Minnesota State Patrol. “Make no mistake about it, we believe this crash was caused because the driver of the semi was paying attention to his phone, looking at his phone rather than driving… We see it too regularly,’’ State Patrol Col. Matt Langer told reporters.
The truck driver in the Minnesota case, Samuel W. Hicks, 28, was charged with criminal vehicular homicide. Prosecutors said he was using his mobile phone during the eight seconds before slamming into the rear end of Mr. Bursick’s car.
Each year in Minnesota, distracted or inattentive driving is a factor in one of four crashes, resulting in at least 70 deaths and 350 serious injuries. The state Office of Traffic Safety said the scope of the problem probably is worse because it’s difficult for law enforcement to pinpoint distraction as a crash factor.
Nationwide, the epidemic is believed to cause 6,000 deaths and 500,000 injuries a year. Texting while driving doubles your risk of a crash or near-crash. And if you drive 55 miles per hour and you send a text, you have essentially traveled the length of a football field with your eyes closed.
In Connecticut, a semi-truck barreled into stopped traffic on the Interstate near Waterbury. The chain reaction killed a 19-year-old woman who was studying for a career in movie animation. Prosecutors said the truck driver was distracted and he recently was convicted of first-degree murder and first-degree assault.
In New York, a 28-year-old truck driver was sentenced this summer in Buffalo to more than 18 months in prison one year after a crash that killed Ellen Volpe, a college professor from Rochester. Investigators say the driver was traveling at 79 mph in a construction zone and using his mobile phone when his commercial truck rear-ended Volpe’s car in a suburb of Buffalo.
Also this summer, a tanker truck crash in Massachusetts also was blamed on a distracted driver. The trucker was reaching for cup of coffee when his rig carrying 10,000 gallons of gasoline crashed down an embankment in Northbridge, narrowly missing a home. Fortunately, no one was hurt.