Are Truck Drivers Required to Avoid Vehicles That Cut Across their Path?

Michael GrossmanSeptember 15, 2015 4 minutes

Many traffic accidents are entirely black and white. Imagine that Car A is sitting at a stop light when Car B rear-ends them. This type of accident is not very complicated, and it is obvious in this situation that Car B is at fault.

Other accident scenarios are not quite as cut and dry. For instance, if Car B is driving down the highway, and car A changes lanes right in front of Car B so close that Car B slams on their brakes, but still ends up hitting car A, Car B would not be at fault even though they rear-ended Car A. This is because the simple act of rear-ending someone doesn't automatically make someone liable. What truly determines liability are all of the other factors leading up to the rear end collision.

This same concept applies to every other aspect of driving. More to the point, this concept applies to 18-wheeler or commercial truck drivers whenever a car pulls into their path. Many would imagine a situation like the one we just mentioned and argue that if a car unlawfully pulls in front of an 18-wheeler that this car is automatically responsible for the accident. They may believe the 18-wheeler was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. However, this can also be considered a legally unsound analysis. It is not possible to place a black and white analysis on an accident in these circumstances. In this article, I will explain that while truck drivers are usually not held responsible for striking cars that pull in front of them, they can be under certain circumstances.

Details Matter

One thing that has always surprised me is how quickly both the police and news media are to assume that truck drivers are never in the wrong. There are many good truck drivers who are careful, law-abiding drivers, but there are also many that are negligent and end up killing people. Despite the fact that some drivers have proven themselves dangerous on the roadways, I have noticed cops take the truck drivers' sides more than often than they should.

What the Law Expects of an 18-wheeler

Sometimes a car will cross the center line or blow through a stop light, ending up directly in an 18-wheeler's path. When this happens, most people would expect the 18-wheeler to at least try to stop their vehicle, and in fact, the law says that the driver must try to both stop and correctly stop his or her vehicle. Here are some scenarios:

  1. Truck driver Pat is watching a movie on his phone and looks up at the road to see Car A swerve directly in front of his truck. Pat isn't sure if he will be able to stop in time, so instead of applying pressure to the breaks he swerves into the next lane without looking, hitting Car B. One person in Car B is killed. Car A made a mistake by swerving into Pat's lane, but Pat wouldn't have swerved into Car B's lane if he had been paying attention to the road.

  2. While traveling on the interstate, Car C runs out of gas. Before the passengers are able to get out to push the car over to the shoulder, Kate, our truck driver, looks up from changing the radio station and sees the car stopped in front of her. She slams on her brakes, but is not able to stop in time, and she hits Car C, injuring two of the passengers. While it isn't Kate's fault that Car C ran out of gas, she would have been able to stop sooner if she hadn't been looking down at the radio. Here, both parties have some percentage of fault, and it would be up to a jury to decide what percentage they should be responsible for.

  • Shaun's company is short drivers and tells Shaun he needs to add an extra 6 hours to his shift so they can make a few more deliveries. Because Shaun is so fatigued, he falls asleep at the wheel. Shaun wakes up when he hears the rumble strip, but as he's moving back into his lane, he hits a car that was stalled in the right lane. In this case, Shaun may be partially responsible, but some of the blame could also fall on his employer for being negligent and making Shaun work longer hours than he could safely handle.

  • Taking a Second Look

    As you can see, in the same way that rear ending someone doesn't automatically make someone at fault, neither does pulling in front of a truck. I've had one case where there was a man who had some debris hit his car, and he stopped in the middle of the highway to check things out. A truck driver following behind was watching TV on his phone and plowed into the man, instantly killing him. If someone was unaware of all of the details surrounding the accident, it may seem to be the man's fault, when in fact, it was the fault of the truck driver.

    Of course I'm not suggesting that anyone arbitrarily go after truck drivers, because as I mentioned earlier, there are some excellent men and women drivers that are very dedicated to safety. Rather, I'm interested in showing these examples because it's definitely one of the possibilities to consider before blaming the victim. It's worth taking a deeper look into the situation to see if other factors like those in the scenarios may have been present.