The Maine Commercial Driver’s License Manual, which all truck drivers must study to get their commercial driver’s license, begins its section on nighttime driving with something of an understatement: “You are at greater risk when you drive at night.” Maine CDL Manual § 2.11.1. In fact, truck drivers are more than twice as likely to be in a crash at night than during the day.
If you were hurt in a truck accident at night in Portland, you may be owed financial compensation. Speak with our talented truck crash attorneys to learn more.
Truck Drivers Should Not “Overdrive” Their Headlights
The CDL Manual explains that, when driving at night, truck drivers “should always be able to stop within the distance you can see ahead.” Maine CDL Manual § 2.6.4. At night, a driver’s headlights “will usually be the main source of light” for them to see. Maine CDL Manual § 2.11.4. That means that a driver should not overdrive their headlights: they need to be able to stop their truck within the area they can see with their headlights at any given time.
How far can a truck driver see with their headlights? That depends on whether the high beams or low beams are on. According to the CDL Manual, with the low beams on, a truck driver can see about 250 feet ahead. With the high beams on, a truck driver can see between 350 to 500 feet. Maine CDL Manual § 2.11.4.
Truck drivers are required to be able to calculate how long it will take them to stop within these distances. Drivers are trained to understand that total stopping distance includes reaction distance (the time it takes to react to the risk) and braking distance (the time it takes for the truck to slow down). Reaction distance is similar for truck and car drivers, but braking distance is far longer for a commercial vehicle than for a car.
As the above chart demonstrates, a truck driving at 55 mph will take about 335 feet to stop, while a truck driving at 65 mph will take over 500 feet to stop.
In other words, a truck driver driving at a speed of 55mph or more must have his or her high beams on. Otherwise, the driver is overdriving their headlights.
The CDL Manual underscores that truck drivers should “Use High Beams When You Can.” Maine CDL Manual § 2.11.5. It goes on to explain: “Some drivers make the mistake of always using low beams. This seriously cuts down on their ability to see ahead. Use high beams when it is safe and legal to do so.”
Truck Drivers Must Be Visible At Night
Truck headlights are critical not only for drivers to see, but also to be seen. When truck headlights are dirty, truckers can be harder to see at night, which increases the chance of a nighttime crash.
In addition to their headlights, commercial trucks are required to have a variety of other types of lighting to ensure they are conspicuous, including taillights, marker lights, and reflectors. All of these must be clean to ensure that a truck is sufficiently conspicuous.
Reflective material has been shown to significantly reduce truck crashes. In fact, a study commissioned by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration showed that retroreflective material on trucks save an estimated 191 to 350 lives per year, prevent approximately 3,100 to 5,000 injuries per year, and prevent approximately 7,800 crashes per year.
Trucking companies are required to ensure that all their trucks have the requisite amount of reflective material required by federal regulations. They are also required to train their drivers to inspect their vehicles for adequate reflective material. If a truck crash occurs at night and the truck lacks an adequate amount of reflective material, it is likely that the trucking company’s negligence was a contributing factor in the crash.
How Can Fatigue Caused Semi-Truck Wrecks?
Truck drivers work long hours, and the work can be exhausting. For these reasons, driver fatigue is a major cause of truck crashes at night.
Section 383.111 of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations requires truck drivers, and trucking companies, to understand “practices that are important to stay awake while driving,” and what to do when a driver becomes overly fatigued.
The Maine CDL Manual underscores the importance of truck drivers monitoring their own fatigue at night:
Fatigue and Lack of Alertness. Fatigue (being tired) and lack of alertness are bigger problems at night. The body’s need for sleep is beyond a person’s control. Most people are less alert at night, especially after midnight. This is particularly true if you have been driving for a long time. Drivers may not see hazards as soon, or react as quickly, so the chance of a crash is greater. If you are sleepy, the only safe cure is to get off the road and get some sleep. If you don’t, you risk your life and the lives of others.
Maine CDL Manual § 2.11.2.
A related issue is sleep apnea, an underdiagnosed sleep disorder that increases the risk of fatigue-related crashes. Troublingly, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) and the American Transportation Research Institute of the American Trucking Associations have found that nearly one-third of truck drivers have sleep apnea.
Trucking companies are required to ensure that their drivers with sleep apnea are properly diagnosed and treated. If a truck driver’s sleep apnea interferes with their ability to safely operate their vehicle, the driver must be taken off the road.
Call a Portland Attorney After a Truck Accident at Night
If you or someone you love was hurt in a truck accident at night in Portland, it is critical that you contact a lawyer—who understands how to navigate the complex world of truck accident litigation—as soon as possible. Contact Gideon Asen for a free consultation with one of our experienced personal injury lawyers.