Anyone who has driven in winter weather knows that traffic accidents can very easily occur during snowstorms, “zero-visibility” fog, or icy roads created by freezing rain. Though most people may be quick to blame these crashes on the weather, driver negligence quite often contributes to collisions and resultant injuries and deaths that might have been avoided if all motorists practiced safer driving in poor weather. This is especially true of those who drive large commercial vehicles. Eighteen-wheel truck drivers, in particular, generally have financial incentives to cover great distances in short periods of time, which can eclipse their better judgment to slow down in extremely bad weather conditions. When they don’t, the result frequently is that they cause serious crashes – usually involving lots of vehicles – because of their negligent bad-weather driving.
On a January afternoon in 2018, for example, two 18-wheeler trucks, a Greyhound bus and several smaller vehicles were involved in a crash under precisely such conditions. The wreck paralyzed Interstate 65 near Bonnieville in Hart County, Kentucky, for several hours. A total of 21 people were transported to area hospitals for injuries they suffered in the wreck. Fortunately there were no deaths. Eighteen of the injured however, were occupants of the Greyhound bus. It was later determined that at least one of the commercial vehicle drivers was being investigated for not driving “appropriately” for the bad weather conditions.
Can the driver of an 18-wheeler or other commercial vehicle be found liable for injuries or deaths they cause that lead to a winter-weather accident? Those who are deemed to have driven carelessly in such deteriorating weather can be liable for accidents and the injuries or deaths they cause.
Trucker negligence during poor weather can occur when driving too close to the vehicle immediately ahead and the driver is unable to stop in time on an icy road to avoid the wreck. Creating greater following distance may have helped the trucker avoid the Bonnieville wreck. Pulling a trailer is far trickier in inclement weather. This is why commercial vehicle drivers require special driving skills, so they understand when and how to adjust their driving habits to fit the conditions of the road.
Jackknifing can occur in the blink of an eye on a snowy or icy road, Recovering from one can be very difficult – if not impossible. And the constant stress to deliver freight on time naturally places even more pressure on drivers and dispatchers to push through, regardless of weather conditions. Responsible companies – and drivers – can lessen the risks by having responsive bad-weather protocols that involve the entire company, from dispatchers and operations down to the drivers. Cargo haulers can also be held liable for legal damages if they encourage drivers to disregard weather conditions for the sake of keeping to their delivery schedules.
Similar company protocols for fog and whiteout conditions, when drivers suddenly encounter zero visibility or severe weather conditions in general, are also signs of responsible transport carrier practices and can also help to prevent accidents. Clearly stated policies that encourage driver safety in inclement weather can further protect trucking companies from the possibility of being drawn into large damage claims when their drivers choose to “fight through the weather,” when they should slow down or pull off the road and “wait-out the weather.”
If you or a family member was injured by a big truck or some other commercial vehicle in inclement weather, please contact the attorneys at the Billy Johnson Law Firm by calling us at 606-433-0682, or fill out our online contact form.