While most truck drivers are independent contractors that contract themselves out on a job-by-job basis, others are employed by trucking or shipping companies. In the event of a trucking accident, under legal theory known as “vicarious liability,” a company that employs a truck driver involved in an accident can be held liable for the accident as long as the driver was acting within the course and scope of his or her employment at the time of the accident.
Fatal Consequences of Trucking Company Policies
Over the past two decades, the number of truck accidents has increased by 20%. Even though large trucks are only responsible for 3% of injury-causing motor vehicle accidents, trucking accidents typically cause much greater harm than ordinary traffic accidents due to the large size and heavy weight of most big rigs.
If the equipment on a truck doesn’t work properly, it doesn’t matter how safe the driver is, and if one of the parts breaks down, the result can be catastrophic.
Most mechanical causes of truck accidents are due to failure to properly maintain equipment. In the rush to get the load out and on the road, trucking companies often sacrifice safety by ignoring proper maintenance of vehicles.
Big Rig Brake Failure Due to Inadequate Maintenance
Due to its mass and weight, a fully-loaded big rig takes almost twice as long to stop as a lighter vehicle, making braking one of its most important functions. Big rig brake systems require regular inspection and maintenance. The entire brake system includes an engine-mounted air compressor, numerous lines and valves, several tanks, and the actuating units at each wheel. Especially important and in almost universal use are the “S” cam drum brakes, with adjustment requirements that are critical for optimal brake operation.
Although federal trucking laws dictate that drivers and trucking companies should know about the condition of their brakes at all times, in the endless rush to make a delivery, comprehensive tractor-trailer brake maintenance is frequently ignored.
Removing or Depowering Front Brakes
To minimize wear on tires and brakes and avoid replacement costs, trucking companies often depower or remove the front brakes. Depowering and removing the front brakes is a dangerous way to decrease operating costs.
To make a quick stop, a driver must then rely on the brakes of the trailer and downshifting to stop or slow the vehicle, making the truck more likely to jackknife. Over time, those brakes tend to fail, overheat, or malfunction.
Other Causes of Big Rig Brake Failure
Brake failure can be caused by a number of other factors, including old or worn-out brakes, overly thin brake pads, and brakes coated with oil or grease.
Federal regulations require that commercial trucking companies keep maintenance records, demonstrating that truck maintenance has been performed according to schedule. Required inspections include:
- Checking the brake shoes to ensure they function properly and do not contain missing or broken parts
- Checking for loose brake components
- Listening for air leaks in the brake chamber
Trucking Companies Shut Down for Safety Violations Skirt the Law
To protect motorists and ensure trucking companies take safety seriously, the federal government can and does shut down dangerous companies. After being ordered out of service due to safety violations, a “chameleon carrier” will create a new company to avoid the compliance history of the old company; and repeat this illegal and dangerous behavior until caught. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) estimated that, in 2010, there were more than 1,100 “chameleon carriers” in the U.S.
For more information about trucking laws and liability, visit our website at: www.portlandtruckaccidentlawyer.com.
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