As those of us who handle cases involving trucking accidents know all too well, litigation involving the trucking industry has become very specialized. Trucking companies are using a variety of high tech devices that are changing the face of trucking litigation. On-board computers, electronic logging, GPS systems and satellite and wireless tracking can provide a wealth of information about an accident and the history of the driver and vehicle. On-board recorders can track over 175 characteristics, such as vehicle speed, hard-braking incidents and vehicle maintenance. This information is most helpful in trucking litigation for obvious reasons. Both sides are using the data in trials and in investigations prior to filing suit.
In a highly-regulated industry, electronic devices are a new way for trucking companies to monitor a driver’s route, how long a driver is on the road, how much time a driver spends at rest stops, and other information. Over time, the data recorders have become much more sophisticated. A primary source of information is the “black box,” also known as an electronic control module or electronic data recorder, which records events like hard-braking, cruise control settings, when the truck traveled at various speeds, and sudden decelerations.
Newer electronic on-board recorders, known as EOBRs, monitor the speed of a truck as well as the number of driving hours, and can indicate every time a driver goes over the allowed number of hours or drives over the speed limit. Some carriers have replaced hand-written logbooks with GPS satellite and wireless devices that track a driver’s schedule and route and beam the information back to the company. Other devices are now being introduced that use video cams and radar to track and warn of potential hazards, including blind spots or when a driver is drifting out of a lane. The data is then uploaded to the company computer in real time. The combined data that’s available can help reconstruct an accident. We have found that in trucking cases driver fatigue or inattentiveness by drivers is very often a factor in causing accidents. We have seen where the company knew that its driver repeatedly exceeded the hours-of-service rules, yet didn’t take the driver off the road. There have been a number of cases handled by our firm where a company failed to properly maintain a vehicle even though the on-board recorders indicated maintenance problems.
Under federal regulations, trucking companies are required to keep most records, such as daily driving logs, for only six months. Other types of documentation must be retained for one or two years, depending on the type, but there are no specific rules for electronic satellite data. Another factor is that some on-board recorders can be set to “on” or “off” by default. It’s advisable in a trucking case to send a “records preservation letter,” notifying the company of the information it must preserve. That should be a routine occurrence in all trucking accident cases. The requests should include all electronic data from the EOBR or any sort of GPS system or other on-board computers.
Source: Lawyers Weekly USA
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