Distracted Truck Drivers on California Highways

Navigating the Aftermath: The Impact of Distracted Truck Drivers on California Highways

Imagine driving down a California freeway when a truck weaves into your lane. This frightening situation can become a reality for regular drivers – and the cause is often distracted driving.

Distracted driving is not just a minor concern but a major safety issue. Recent statistics reveal that distracted driving contributes to a significant number of accidents every year. One recent survey found that about 3,000 people die yearly in distracted driving incidents.

Research by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) found that truck drivers are 6 times more likely to get involved in a crash or near-crash when using their cell phones.

To understand how distractions impact a driver’s ability to react, if you send or read a text while driving at 55 miles per hour, that is the equivalent of crossing the length of at least one football field with your eyes closed. We now know that texting while driving is more hazardous than drinking and driving under the legal limit.

For truck, tractor-trailer, and big rig operators, driving is a job that requires their full attention. Distracted driving in a passenger car is dangerous enough, but accidents are often catastrophic when you add the size and weight of large trucks and their cargo. If a distracted truck driver causes a crash, they and their employer can be legally responsible for the consequences.

Types of Distractions Affecting Truck Drivers

Distractions can take many forms, from eating to dialing a phone number. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recognizes three “types” of distractions:

  • Visual distractions happen when the driver takes their eyes off the road, whether that involves looking at a GPS device, reading an email, looking down to clean up a spilled drink, or glancing at something off the side of the road. 
  • Manual distractions occur if the driver removes their hands from the steering wheel, whether to eat, adjust the radio, or handle cargo-related documents. According to the Federal Highway Administration, texting has the highest crash risk of all distractions.
  • Cognitive distractions are often the most insidious and involve the driver’s mind wandering away from the road and the task of driving. This can be because of stress, fatigue, or conversations with passengers or on the phone.

While everyone is vulnerable to these distractions, truck drivers are particularly susceptible because of their long hours on the road. Fatigue can worsen the impact of distractions on a driver’s attention, making it even harder to focus. Plus, the increasing reliance on technology for navigation and communication can add more distractions.

The Consequences of Distracted Truck Driving

The repercussions of truck accidents tend to be severe, with many resulting in significant injuries, substantial property damage, and fatalities or wrongful deaths. Survivors often face long recovery periods, mounting medical bills, and psychological trauma in the aftermath. Surviving family members of fatality victims are left trying to pick up the pieces.

Both federal and California laws impose strict regulations to lower the risks of distracted driving in the trucking industry. Distracted driving is also considered a form of negligence, which allows victims of trucking accidents to get compensation for their losses and damages.

California’s Trucking Regulations Around Distracted Driving

Both federal and California trucking laws are designed to protect not only truck drivers but also others on the road, especially those in smaller passenger vehicles. For example:

California’s cell phone ban prohibits all drivers from holding or handling cell phones or texting while driving. The federal law is even stricter for commercial drivers, who are banned from using handheld phones entirely while driving, even for calls. Commercial truck drivers can only use fully hands-free phones located close to them in the cab. This rule applies even if the truck is stationary in traffic or sitting still at a stop light.

If a truck driver violates these rules, they can face thousands of dollars in fines, disqualification from driving commercial vehicles, and impacts on their future employability.

Trucking companies are also legally required to educate their drivers about these regulations and make sure that their drivers follow the rules and stay in compliance. Employers, including trucking companies, can be legally responsible for employee actions taken on the clock.

Can Truck Drivers Talk on the Phone While Driving in CA?

In California and across the country, truck drivers are only allowed to use fully hands-free mobile devices. That means everything must be done through voice commands or single-touch activation. This is designed to minimize the distraction caused by handling a phone.

Despite these allowances, truck drivers must understand that even hands-free cell phone use can be distracting. The cognitive load of engaging in a conversation can divert attention from the road, potentially causing dangerous situations. As a result, truck drivers should make a habit of limiting their phone conversations to essential communications, even when hands-free.

Your Legal Recourse After a Distracted Truck Driving Accident

Maybe you or another witness saw the truck drifting or swerving between lanes before the accident. Maybe the truck driver’s cell phone logs show that they received or sent text messages at the same time that their GPS shows them driving. If distracted driving turns out to be a factor in your truck accident, you have legal options.

The first and possibly most important step is to reach out to an experienced truck accident lawyer in your area of California. Your attorney can help you navigate the complexities of trucking accident cases, which includes dealing with the trucking company and insurance companies. Your lawyer can also help gather the evidence you need to support your claim and improve your chances of a good settlement.

Under the rules of the road, truck drivers have a legal responsibility to pay attention and operate their vehicles up to proper safety standards. That includes following all traffic laws, including laws banning the use of handheld phones while driving.

The dangers of distractions while driving are well documented. A truck driver or trucking company that fails to take the proper precautions and causes an accident because of distracted driving can be held liable for compensating you financially for your losses. That includes your medical expenses, lost wages, and any pain and suffering resulting from the accident.

At Sepulveda Sanchez Law, we can help. Click here now for your free case consultation.