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Why weather isn’t really the cause of most truck accidents

Written by Steve Gursten Posted December 27th, 2012

Truck drivers are required by law to use “extreme caution” in inclement weather, and they cause crashes when they don’t

During the winter season, we see too many big truck crashes where it looks like weather conditions played a role in causing the crash.  But, was it really the weather conditions that caused the wreck or the truck driver failing to be as careful as he or she was supposed to be?

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (49 CFR Section 392.14), and state trucking safety regulations that are modeled after the federal regulations, put a duty of “extreme caution” on drivers of commercial motor vehicles whenever any conditions negatively affect visibility or tractions.  This includes rain, snow, fog, ice, smoke and other conditions that affect visibility or traction.

So what does “extreme caution” mean?  Well, the regulations don’t define it, but industry training materials do.  For instance, the Commercial Drivers License Manual (CDL Manual) says that because wet roads can double stopping distance, truck drivers should reduce speeds by 1/3 when roads are wet and by even more when ice or snow is present.   Most truckers don’t heed these warning and most trucking companies don’t enforce these rules.

“Extreme caution” means more than just slowing down.  It also means being hyper vigilant – even more attentive and careful than you should always be when driving a truck.  It means being super observant, looking for hazards caused by less experienced (or just less careful) drivers who do not appreciate the dangers of the conditions.

Is this standard different than what is expected of car drivers?  Yes.  Can drivers are expected to use reasonable care when they drive a car.  This standard is different that the standard of ‘extreme caution.”  This is why sometimes truck drivers are held responsible for a crash when what they did is the same thing that the driver of a car did. Driving a truck is much more complicated than driving a car.

Is it fair to hold truck drivers to this higher standard?  The law answers that question by saying yes and the basis for doing so is that commercial truck drivers are expected to be professional drivers and are expected to act that way.  They earn their living on the road, have much more training and experience than most car drivers, and are driving vehicles that weight as much as 80,000 pounds.

The law says it is fair to hold commercial drivers to a duty of “extreme caution.”  What do you think?

Related information:

How truck accidents are different than car accidents

Steven Gursten Photo

About Steve Gursten

Attorney Steven Gursten is president of the Motor Vehicle Trial Lawyers Association and past president of the American Association for Justice Trucking Litigation Group. He has been named a Michigan Lawyers Weekly "Leader in the Law" for his efforts to prevent truck accidents and promote national truck safety. Steve was also a Michigan Lawyers Weekly "Lawyer of the Year" for a record settlement in a truck accident case. He has received the top reported truck accident jury verdict and top reported truck accident settlement in Michigan for multiple years, according to published year-end compilations of all jury verdicts and personal injury settlements by Michigan Lawyers Weekly. He has been named a "Top 50 Super Lawyer," by SuperLawyers, is listed in Best Lawyers in America, and has been awarded an AV-rating by Martindale-Hubbell, which is the highest rating for legal ability and ethics. Steve speaks to lawyers throughout the country on truck accident litigation. He is a founding member of the Truck Accident Attorneys Roundtable, head of Michigan Auto Law, and has dedicated his legal career to making our roads safer.