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Real truck accident lawyers use checklists

Checklists from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s own list safety violations can make your case stronger

This is my second blog in my series of advice for truck accident lawyers. It’s being written as I prepare for two upcoming legal seminars on the subject.

Here’s a tip: Use the checklists from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration for identifying important safety violations during truck discovery and in litigation. This list gives you a logical checklist to use after a truck accident to make sure you are reviewing all of the possible safety violations to hold the motor carrier accountable and better protect your client.

These checklists identify safety violations contained in the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations. They promise to make your job a whole lot easier.

Each safety violation is actually weighted to determine how likely it will be to cause a truck accident. The higher the points (ranging in severity from 1-10), the more likely it is to be a cause or contributor to a truck crash.

Truck accident attorneys should use this list at the start of each case and throughout discovery.
Then there’s also the Commercial Vehicle Preventable Accident Manual: A Guide to Countermeasures. This book is produced for the U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration, and is in its third edition. The manual shows the primary causes of commercial vehicle accidents and the countermeasures that should have been used to avoid them. The focus is on safety management, preventive maintenance and defensive driving. This manual is available from J.J. Keller Associates, Inc. for $18.39. It’s best to purchase the book. But you can get the material, without the helpful illustrations, free from the FMCSA.

Example of a section from the Prevention Truck Accident Manual

Below is a typical section from the Preventable Accident Manual.

Driving in adverse conditions B11

Countermeasure:

Objective: To prevent accidents by developing the driver skills and judgment necessary to operate vehicle safely during adverse traction and visibility conditions.

Description: Failure to adjust to adverse conditions is a major factor in accident causation. The adverse conditions most frequently encountered cause reduced traction and reduced visibility. Reduced traction conditions include rain, snow, ice, slush and gravel. Reduced visibility conditions include twilight, darkness, rain, snow and fog. Drivers should not only develop the skills and judgment necessary to keep their own vehicle safely under control, they should also try to anticipate and be prepared to compensate for errors other drivers make during such poor driving conditions.

Questions for truck company management:

  1. Does the truck driver know how to judge safe speed on slippery surfaces?
  2. Does the truck driver know what causes jackknifing and how to prevent it?
  3. Have truck drivers ever been trained to safely maneuver on slippery surfaces? How, when and by whom?
  4. Is there a safe off-road area available to truck drivers for practicing vehicle handling on slippery surfaces?
  5. How do trip schedules take into account the effect of inclement weather ?
  6. Should truck tire chains be used in severe weather?

Maintenance checks:

  • Tire tread wear and tire pressure. Availability of tire chains when needed.
  • Windshield wiper and washer condition. Mirror system.
  • Proper functioning of all lighting circuits, Headlight beam aim, including emergency flashers.

Driving tips:

Reduced traction conditions:

  • Increase following distance enough to avoid a rear-end collision if other driver brakes hard.
  • Use moderation in judging safe speed. To maintain a safe stopping distance, slow down, but not so much that you become a hazard to drivers behind.
  • Apply brakes gently and steer without jerky movements.
  • Beware when running empty or bobtailing. Lightly loaded wheels lock up easily during braking and this induces jackknifing.
  • Beware of travelling too slowly on slick, banked curves. The vehicle might slide sideways into opposing traffic or off the road.

Reduced visibility conditions:

  • Use moderation in judging safe speed. To maintain a safe stopping distance during reduced visibility, slow down, but not so much that you become a hazard to drivers behind. Keep vehicle clean, especially headlights, windshield, tail lights. Use emergency flashers in extreme conditions.
  • Be prepared to get off road and wait for conditions to improve if necessary.

(References: FMCSR Part 392.14, Part 383 Subpart G. D1.)

Related information to protect yourself:

Help for attorneys handling truck accidents

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Blog Author Steven M. Gursten
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