Friedman, Hirschen & Miller, LLP

Research shows distracted driving, a widespread problem, can raise the risk of large truck accidents and injuries to other drivers significantly.

Despite strict state laws against texting and handheld phone use, distracted driving remains a significant problem in Albany. In 2012 alone, distraction or driver inattention played a role in over 48,000 New York auto accidents, according to the New York Department of Motor Vehicles.

Distracted driving can be deadly even when only small vehicles are involved. When people driving larger vehicles take their attention off the road, the results can be devastating. Unfortunately, statistics indicate that distraction among commercial truck drivers is not so uncommon, and the consequences can be steep.

Risks and prevalence of distraction

In 2009, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration investigated the role distraction plays in commercial vehicle accidents and near-accidents. Researchers surveyed data from two naturalistic observation studies of over truck 200 drivers, who drove more than 3 million miles over the time that the data was collected. The study produced the following findings:

  • Texting increased the likelihood of a "safety critical" event more than 23 times.
  • Texting took drivers' eyes off the roadway for 4.6 seconds, longer than any other activity.
  • Dialing a cell phone increased the risk of a safety critical event more than 5.5 times.
  • Using or reaching for other electronic devices, such as two-way radios, increased safety critical event risk more than 6 times.
  • Looking away from the road for over 2 seconds almost tripled the risk of a safety critical event.

Although the study was conducted more than a few years ago, the risks it describes have not likely changed. Furthermore, recent events indicate that driver distraction remains a common problem.

In April, an ABC investigation caught many truck drivers engaging in distracted driving behaviors. Cameras positioned on New York highways recorded drivers dialing, talking and texting, according to ABC. One driver was even seen using two cellphones at once to carry on separate conversations.

The same source reports that over 16,000 truckers received tickets for using cellphones in 2013 alone, according to the Department of Transportation. Only four of those drivers were suspended, however.

These findings are especially alarming considering that other motorists, rather than truck drivers, often face the worst outcomes when truck driver errors result in two-vehicle accidents.

Accidents with steep consequences

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety reports that, in 96 percent of fatal accidents involving a large truck and at least one car, the victim is a passenger vehicle occupant. Large trucks have a lower crash rate per mile driven than other vehicles, yet large trucks play a role in one-tenth of all motor vehicle accident fatalities.

There are a few factors that make accidents with trucks especially deadly. Trucks can weigh up to 30 times what passenger vehicles do, according to the IIHS. Not surprisingly, trucks require much more distance to stop than other vehicles, which means timely driver reactions are crucial. Trucks also have higher ground clearance, which raises the risk of rollovers or accidents in which other vehicles ride under the truck.

Sadly, distraction-related truck accidents will likely affect many New Yorkers this year. Anyone who has been injured in a large truck accident and believes that the truck driver was at fault should meet with an attorney to discuss seeking compensation.

Keywords: truck, accident, injury