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Commercial Motor Vehicle Accidents: “What you don’t know can hurt you.”


There are common themes that have become the mainstays of truck accident litigation for decades:

  • Driving too fast for conditions.
  • Logging too many hours without taking appropriate breaks.
  • Shoddy vehicle maintenance.
  • Inadequate training.
  • Driver inattention.

While these potential root causes will always need to be thoroughly evaluated in any trucking accident case, new tools need to be employed in attempting to establish why a crash involving a big rig occurred. One thing that has not changed, however, is the need to deploy these new techniques as quickly as possible after an accident before the data is lost or destroyed, either accidentally or intentionally.

Perhaps the most critical piece of data in examining the root cause of a trucking accident that needs to be explored is a download of the involved tractor’s “black box.” The black box, or electronic data recorders (“EDR”), is essentially a computer module that monitors and records critical data points when certain circumstances occur, including a sudden and unexpected loss of the semi’s velocity. Although the universe of data that is captured by the EDR varies according to the engine’s manufacturer, typical information includes throttle, clutch, and brake application; in addition to vehicle speed; and whether or not the cruise control was engaged. Rather than just covering a few fleeting seconds before an event occurs, the EDR can capture almost two minutes of data before a crash occurs. The captured data can then be downloaded by a trained technician and can provide powerful evidence as to what a truck driver and the semi itself were doing immediately before the crash, providing the backbone for the accident’s reconstruction.

Some commercial semis are also equipped with technology that can actually help a truck driver avoid a collision. Using sensitive radars, the accident avoidance system can alert drivers to another vehicle in their blind spot or even slowing ahead. In the event of a crash, the data from the accident avoidance system can also be downloaded in an effort to recreate precisely what information was being communicated to the driver immediately before the crash occurred.

In the modern transportation age, semis are often dispatched electronically to their next destination. Electronic dispatch records are often integrated with global positioning systems which precisely track an individual tractor trailer’s location, movement, and speed.

Unfortunately, and often with tragic consequences, drivers of commercial motor vehicles sometimes make the dangerous choice of texting while driving or allowing themselves to become distracted by engaging in conversations on a cell phone. A truck drivers cell phone records, whether provided by the trucker’s employer or a personal cell, can provide powerful evidence about the possibility of driver inattention due to cell phone usage.

This data, however, will not live forever. In the days and weeks following a crash, the involved tractor can be repaired and put back into service, risking the potential for the data being written over or erased. If the crash was violent enough and the semi is incapable of being repaired, it can be sold for scrap, and in the process, destroying the critical data before it can be accessed. Digital and hardcopy files are often discarded or recycled. Similar to skid marks and witnesses’ memories, the passage of time can result in the loss of data that is critically important in performing a thorough accident investigation and recreation of a crash involving a tractor trailer.

Accordingly, if you or someone you love has been injured in a crash involving a tractor trailer, it is important that you secure legal representation as soon as possible to ensure that the available data and information is appropriately secured.

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