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How Do I Prove that a Tractor-Trailer Caused the Crash if I Got the Ticket?

In order to prove that a tractor-trailer may have caused a crash you were involved in, if you received a ticket after the accident, you may need to:

  • Obtain critical company records about the crash
  • Obtain operational documents regarding the hours the driver had been on the road (Hourly Logs) and Pre and Post Trip Inspection Reports
  • Obtain a download of the Electronic Control Module (think like the famous “black box” in airplanes)
  • Photograph the scene of the crash to identify the point where the vehicles collided
  • Photograph and inspect the tractor-trailer looking for evidence of how it happened and whether the brake and safety systems were up to par
  • Obtain 911 call records to see if there were witnesses or the driver made damaging admissions
  • Obtain Police Officers lapel microphone recordings to see if they picked up witness or driver statements at the scene

    Critical Records

Each trucking company instructs the driver of the tractor-trailer to call in after any collision. Internally, they will generate an incident or accident report. Some are short, some are long but they will often have a written statement from the driver about the early version of the event. Many companies will go on to include an analysis of whether the accident was preventable or not. Most trucking companies have a dedicated safety director who handles all of the “debriefings” after an accident and decides who is at fault and what should be done. For smaller trucking companies, these people often have little or no training.

Your lawyer should review the Commercial Vehicle Preventable Accident Manual by JJ Keller to know what data points to look for when assessing how the company safety director reviewed the accident.

Operational Documents

Every commercial interstate driver must keep a record of their driving time known as their “hours of service.” They are subject to strict federal regulations that dictate how long they can drive, work, and when they must rest. If they violate these rules, it affects their competency to drive, and drivers who are over hours are patently unsafe. If a driver is over hours in a case, it creates “heat” which can drive up jury or settlement values.

The Federal Government now requires that trucking hours be recorded electronically, which means that drivers can no longer fake them and get away with it. We are seeing far more drivers operating in violation of the regulations and their employers can no longer claim that they just did not know.

Finally, there are numerous GPS-based location systems that will tell a trucking company when a driver is speeding and even email automated reports when a driver is more than 10 or 15 mph over the limit. We have created great value for clients by showing that the trucking safety director was ignoring these speed warnings.

Electronic Control Module Download

The electronic control module is a computer at the heart of the engine and braking system. Any tractor-trailer built in the last 15 years has at least some data. Most will have a few very critical items showing what we call the “last hard stop.” The system is designed to work kind of like a surveillance camera. It is always recording but overwrites old data very quickly so its brain does not fill up. However, IF the driver slams on the brakes, it will store the data from before and during the braking event in another place. Most systems store that data for the last three hard braking events. A hard brake is usually set to record when the truck slows by between 6-9 mph within a short span of time, i.e. they “slam on brakes.”

Once this data is in hand, you will know how fast the truck was going prior to the accident, how long before impact the driver braked, and the approximate speed at the time of impact. You can also determine whether cruise control was engaged. A simple fact like driving with cruise control in the rain is a dangerous decision and can drastically affect liability arguments from the defense.

Photograph the Scene

Look, what the police officer writes in their report is not Bible. It is their opinion and there are massive differences from one policeman to the next one which courses they took in Forsyth. Some officers only take the accident investigation class while others take a much more thorough series of courses called “Accident Reconstruction.”

Get a photographer out to the scene or SAFELY take pictures yourself. When there is a massive impact, the chassis of the vehicle that is struck will often be forced downwards on the suspension and will gouge a chunk out of the roadway leaving a “gouge mark.” This mark will often be the best evidence of the “point of impact” and depending on where it is, it can establish what lane the collision occurred in.

Photograph and Inspect the Trailer and Tractor

If the case merits it, photographs of where the damage occurred on the tractor and the amount of damage are also critical to proving who was where when the vehicles collided. For example, people often ask “how do I prove that the tractor-trailer came into my lane?”

One thing to look for is where there is paint transfer on the tractor and trailer. For example, if the damage is to the front right side of the tractor then the car would have been in a blind spot and if the truck claims he saw the driver come over, he is lying.

Obtain 911 Call Records

I cannot emphasize this enough. 911 records every call made around that crash and you will often find a witness who the officer never spoke with and never noted in the report. The police are overwhelmed and once they find one witness who is reliable enough, they will simply make a blame decision and move on to the next crash. With serious injury or fatal collisions, the process is usually more careful but we have worked numerous crashes where the officer simply did a lazy job on a death.

Obtain the Dashcam and Officer’s Lapel Mic

Lapel microphones pick up all of the officers’ conversations. When it comes to tractor-trailer collisions, the car gets the worst of it and usually is not able to speak but the truck driver is clear as a bell explaining their position. In a recent case we handled, we were able to hear the defendant driver admitting he was speeding and had dim headlights due to oxidation. At the scene, people are much more honest than they are when legal proceedings get going. This evidence is essential to winning a case.

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