Federal agency focuses on the safety of medium-duty trucks

Commercial trucks are classified based on their weight. A typical pick-up truck is classified light duty, while heavy duty generally refers to semi trucks and tour buses. A medium-duty straight truck is in the middle and examples include large walk-in vans or city delivery trucks.

The National Transportation Safety Board recently recommended that drivers of such single-unit trucks should obtain commercial driver's license. Currently, drivers only need to have a CDL if they operate a combination of vehicles weighting more than 26,001 (a semi tractor-trailer, for example) or a vehicle designed to carry more than 16 passengers.

The agency made its recommendation following a five-year study, which found that these vehicles were involved in a disproportionately high number of fatal truck crashes. Findings from the study highlighted that there were frequent car occupant deaths when these trucks were involved in multi-vehicle crashes.

Other recommendations included requiring underride guards, conspicuity and blind spot technology similar to what is mandatory on larger vehicles. These recommendations would keep smaller vehicles from going under the rear or sides of a larger truck, make these vehicles more visible on dark roads and allow truck drivers to spot pedestrians and cyclists.

Accidents have been underestimated

The study looked at accidents involving vehicles over 10,000 pounds with a non-detachable cargo unit and axles attached to one frame. From 2005-2009 there were 1,800 deaths and thousands of catastrophic injuries caused by these truck accidents. NTSB Chairman Deborah A. P. Hersman stated, "These trucks are ubiquitous in our communities, yet they are exempted from many safety rules. We must do better for our citizens."

In the past, these types of truck crashes had been underestimated because of frequent misclassification. This meant they were not counted in federal and state databases.

A review of truck crashes over the last decade by the American Transportation Research Institute came up with similar findings. Their research found that medium-duty trucks actually performed worse than heavy-duty vehicles.

NTSB recommendations do not create rules, but often influence the Department of Transportation and other federal agencies.

Negligent driving and the need for an experienced attorney

When a truck driver's negligence, such as running a stop sign or failing to maintain a vehicle causes an accident there are remedies. Often the employer of the driver is also responsible through vicarious liability and the doctrine of "respondeat superior" when the driver was acting in the scope of employment at the time of the accident.

An attorney can better explain all available remedies following a truck crash that results in catastrophic injuries or the death of a loved one.