Maine Trucker Distracted Driving Endangers Motorists

Authorities have issued a summons for a tractor trailer driver who was allegedly distracted while operating his rig on Interstate 95, causing him to wreck into several trees in the median.

Although no other vehicles were involved and the 26-year-old, who had been hauling wood chips was not injured, troopers who arrived on scene were placed in danger. They arrived to find the fuel tank of the vehicle submerged in mud and leaking.

According to media reports, the crash in Island Falls was precipitated by the trucker reaching to find the switch to heat his mirrors. He reportedly had never driven this type of truck before and was not familiar with the controls. That no one was injured is cause for gratitude, as crashes involving such large trucks have the potential to result in serious and permanent injuries and even death.

Our Portland truck accident know that this case highlights two major issues with regard to large truck safety: Distraction and inexperience. In either case, both the trucker and carrier could be held liable in the event an accident causes injury to other motorists. A theory of vicarious liability could be asserted solely on the fact that he was employed by the parent company, even if the firm engaged in no wrong act or omission. However, there could also be an assertion of negligence due to inadequate training of the driver.

By entrusting this massive machine to a worker, the carrier is promising to have taken reasonable measures to protect the safety of both the driver and others with whom he shares the road. Failing to train him on how to operate the vehicle would be a major omission.

The distraction issue is less subtle. We tend to think of distraction as typically involving smart phones or GPS devices. But any action that tears one’s eyes away from the road is a danger, and this is a good example.

Further illustrating this point is a 2009 study conducted by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration on the impact of driver distraction in commercial motor vehicle operations. What researchers found was troubling. They analyzed 60,000 hours and 3 million miles of continuous data. Of 4,450 “safety-critical events” (i.e., crashes, near-crashes and unintentional lane deviations), study authors learned that drivers engaged in non-driving tasks in 71 percent of crashes, 45 percent of near-crashes and 61 percent of all safety-critical events.

Unsurprisingly, tasks that took driver’s eyes off the road (as opposed to, say, carrying on a cell phone conversation) were associated with higher crash rates.

The agency reports an average of 413,000 large trucks are involved in crashes each year, resulting in approximately 4,800 deaths.

In Maine, the governor’s office reports 8,000 crashes and 41 traffic deaths were attributable to distracted-driving from 2011-2014. That is likely a low estimate, considering distraction is not easy to track and not always greatly reported. This is particularly true of commercial drivers, who may have incentive to avoid reporting their own distraction, lest they face professional consequences.

Some large truck carriers in Maine have agreed to spread the message regarding the dangers of distracted driving by plastering anti-distraction messages on the side of rigs. We can only hope those inside the cabins heed those warnings as well.

If you are the victim of a Portland car accident, contact Peter Thompson & Associates at 1-800-804-2004 for a confidential consultation to discuss your rights.

Additional Resources:

Tractor Trailer Operator Summoned for Distracted Driving, Oct. 27, 2014, New Desk, WABITV-5

More Blog Entries:

Two Die in Fatal Maine Crash, Distraction Blamed, Nov. 3, 2014, Portland Truck Accident Lawyer Blog


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