Night driving is dangerous due to poor visibility, glare, fatigue, limited headlight range and defective or inadequate lights and reflectors.
Every CDL driver is required by federal law to be trained to avoid accidents due to nighttime driving hazards. Commercial truck drivers must conduct pre-trip inspections to make certain that their trucks and trailers do not have any defects that would limit or impair the visibility of the truck or trailer to other drivers. Drivers must factor in the speed they are traveling, the stopping distance of their trucks and the distance that their headlights illuminate with high beams on and with the low beams on. Truck drivers are supposed to plan their route and to make sure that they are well rested before starting a trip. Fatigue and hours of service violations are often factors in nighttime crashes.
Nighttime truck accidents can be reduced if commercial drivers and their motor carriers complied with these regulations before embarking on nighttime trips. It is critical that a Board-Certified truck accident lawyer is involved in the investigation of any nighttime truck accident. These lawyers know the steps to take to preserve records relating to driver fatigue and vehicle inspections. There is also significant information about the vehicles involved that may be lost forever if a lawyer is not consulted promptly after a crash.
Headlights do not provide enough illumination for highway driving
Commercial truck drivers must avoid outpacing their headlights. As the numbers below demonstrate, truck drivers routinely drive at speeds that outpace their nighttime vision. The time and distance it takes to bring a truck to a stop involves detecting the need to stop (being able to see a hazard in the roadway), identifying the need to stop (recognizing the object as a hazard), deciding to stop (the phase when a driver evaluates whether to stop or change lanes) and then responding to the need to stop (the time it takes for the brain to trigger a physical response). Driver fatigue slows this process. Legal stimulants such as caffeine are discouraged because they are a poor substitute for a good night’s rest.
There are some hazards that may be visible independently of illumination from headlights. For example, another vehicle with its lights on. A truck travelling at highway speed requires over 350 feet to stop. At 50 miles per hour, it will still take about 250 feet to bring the same truck to a stop.
Low beam standard headlights illuminate 250 feet while standard high beam lights illuminate between 350 to 500 feet. High intensity xenon beams can illuminate 600 to 800 feet. According to CDL manuals it takes a tractor-trailer 784 feet to stop from a speed of 70 miles per hour. It should be noted that a tractor-trailer travelling with its low beams will be unable to stop within the distance of illumination at speeds over 35 miles per hour. The applicable stopping distances are 237 feet at 35 miles per hour, 430 feet at 50 miles per hour and 512 feet at 55 miles per hour. The geography of the highway can further limit the distance of illumination. A driver’s familiarity with a route is critical to analyzing nighttime truck accidents. Route planning in terms of the road selected and the time of day when such conditions are encountered is often a factor in nighttime truck accidents.
Many truck companies prohibit their drivers from making U-turns, particularly at night due to visibility problems created by the maneuver for approaching drivers.
TRUCKS MUST BE VISIBLE TO OTHER DRIVER’S AT NIGHT.
Reflective strips, and lights must be clean and operational.
A common nighttime crash involves a car driver striking a commercial truck at night. These crashes often are the result of the trailer not being visible to approaching traffic. After such an accident it is critical to obtain photographs of the trailer and truck. The red and white reflective stripes on the side and rear of trailers must be clean. If this reflective tape is dirty, it can be significantly less reflective. Also, the reflective tape reflects in the same way that a mirror reflects. If a large trailer is crossing a road at an angle the reflective tape may be ineffective at warning approaching motorists.
A pre-trip inspection is required by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Act and part of that inspection involves checking lights as well as the condition of the reflective tapes. The pre-trip inspection requires the driver to make certain that 3 warning triangles are readily accessible to be placed behind the truck in case of an emergency or if the truck stops on the side of the road.
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