Two months ago, a Santa Cruz man was on his way to work when a tractor-trailer hauling 2-tons of dirt slammed into his car on Highway 17, a mountainous road just south of Los Gatos, CA. The 25-year-old man was the fifth car in a line of vehicles damaged or destroyed by the big rig. He was partially ejected from his vehicle and died at the scene. Seven other people were transported to a hospital for treatment, one in critical condition with a lacerated liver.
The family of the deceased man has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against three trucking companies, a construction firm, and the truck owner, all connected via contracts and subcontracts. The suit alleges that the truck driver only had his truck license for three months and was not properly trained when the brakes on two trailers failed.
While proper maintenance is important for tractor trailer safety, high-tech gadgets like ABS are useless if it fails to work in a time of need due to improper maintenance. Additionally, a driver’s inexperience can contribute to serious and deadly accidents. Because operating a tractor-trailer requires much more skill and training than a passenger vehicle, trucking companies offer driving schools to new employees to help them secure the commercial driver’s license. Unfortunately, the training is often inadequate to fully prepare the driver for the challenges involved in handling a big rig. Considering that an empty tractor-trailer weighs approximately 30,000 pounds; a fully loaded one may weigh up to 80,000 pounds, the results can be deadly.
Separate from the civil suit, the family wants the trucking industry to implement a grading system rating roads based on degree of difficulty and drivers on experience level. Then, only the well-trained and experienced drivers can haul challenging loads over treacherous roads like Highway 17. If the trucking industry won’t cooperate, the family said they’ll pursue legislative action at both the state and federal levels. Sean McNally, a spokesman for the 37,000-member, Virginia-based American Trucking Associations said that the trucking group has explored the idea of tiered or graduated trucking licenses, but only based on the driver’s age, not experience. There are also no weight limits based on a driver’s experience level. What do you think about a tiered trucking license? What should be required?
Attorney, certified civil mediator, and award-winning author of the Zachary Blake Betrayal Series. Mark Bello is also a member of the State Bar of Michigan, a sustaining member of the Michigan Association for Justice, and a member of the American Association for Justice.