If truck drivers use “extreme caution” in bad inclement weather, as required, most truck accidents caused by snow and ice become preventable
I was driving back from Monroe, Michigan last week during our storm. There are always a lot of trucks on I-75 when I make this drive, but I was astounded to see so many on the roads, driving above the speed limit.
This was a very nasty snow storm – a snow storm that was so bad that I had already called in and closed down my office that day so people could get home before the roads became terrible.
Those trucks should not have been on the roads. They should have pulled off completely, or they should have been driving considerably below the posted speed limits, as they are required to do under the Michigan CDL driver manual. And it highlights a problem that many people – especially lawyers who are not familiar with truck accident litigation – are unaware of: many truck accidents that seem like they were caused by bad weather conditions really are not.
In reality, it is the truck driver failing to be as careful.
Here’s the law:
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (49 CFR Section 392.14), and Michigan truck safety regulations (that are modeled after the federal regulations), put a duty of “extreme caution” on truck drivers of commercial motor vehicles whenever any conditions negatively affect visibility or traction. This includes rain, snow, fog, ice, smoke and other conditions.
But what does “extreme caution” really mean? Well, the FMCSRs don’t define it, but industry training materials do. For example, the Commercial Drivers License Manual (CDL Manual) says that because wet roads can double stopping distance, truckers should reduce speeds by one-third when roads are wet and when there is ice or snow. Many truckers heed these warnings, but some do not. Even worse, many people in charge of safety at these companies, or in charge of dispatch, put pressure on these truck drivers to make their deliveries and to not slow down. Rules don’t protect truck drivers or the public when companies don’t enforce them.
“Extreme caution” can mean more than slowing down. It means truck drivers must be extremely attentive and careful – as always – when driving a truck. It means being extremely observant and on the lookout for hazards caused by inclement weather conditions.
I help a ton of truck drivers who are injured in crashes caused by people in cars, but I always get a comment from some trucker who complains that this standard for truck drivers is different than what is expected for car drivers. Well, yes, legally the standards are completely different.
Car drivers are expected to use reasonable care when they drive. Car drivers are not professional drivers, do not have CDLs, don’t have to do pre-trip inspections, and are not driving vehicles that by their size and weight can cause catastrophic damage. This standard for drivers of cars is different from the standard of “extreme caution” during bad weather that is required of truck drivers.
This is why truck drivers can be held responsible for a truck crash even when they made the same bad decisions that a car driver did. The federal regulations, as adopted in almost every state including Michigan, holds commercial truck drivers to a higher standard. They are expected to be professional drivers. They earn their living by driving. They have more training than car drivers. The have to take a test and hold a special license. And they are driving trucks that can weigh as much as 80,000 pounds.
Something to think about the next time you see a bad truck accident in a Michigan snow storm. It was likely not the weather’s fault.