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Criminal proceedings advance against truck driver in fatal crash

Several of our previous posts have focused on the increasingly stringent rules that govern commercial drivers; specifically those who drive giant semi-trucks. The trucking industry has railed against laws mandating rest breaks for drivers and laws that limit the number of consecutive hours a driver can be on the road without taking a break.

But these laws serve an incredibly important purpose: to reduce truck driver fatigue and the devastating accidents caused by truckers who fall asleep at the wheel. On March 28 of this year, an Illinois State Police trooper was killed by a young and inexperienced truck driver who had nodded off after working in violation of these federal regulations. He could serve up to three years in prison for causing the fatal crash.

The crash occurred on the southbound side of Interstate 294 near Northbrook. The 26-year-old truck driver, who had only been commercially licensed six months prior, was part way through a drive between Wisconsin and Kentucky.

He had been working for about 18 hours despite a federal law that requires truckers to take a 10-hour rest break after driving no more than 14 hours. According to news reports, the young truck driver nodded off at the wheel and his truck veered onto the left shoulder where it plowed into the back of the trooper's vehicle. Witnesses say that there were no brake lights indicating an attempt to slow down, and the truck pushed the smaller vehicle some 500 feet down the highway. The 28-year-old trooper died at the scene.

In addition to working more hours than legally allowed, it is also believed that the trucker falsified entries in his log of driving hours. If convicted, he could face up to three years in prison.

The trooper's father-in-law believes that even the maximum sentence is insufficient punishment. He noted that "if you kill someone because of your negligence, it's not manslaughter; it's murder."

In cases like this one, the criminal justice system plays an important role in holding negligent drivers accountable - but the system does have limits. That's why the families of deceased victims often choose to pursue a civil lawsuit as well. In addition to a possible criminal conviction, it wouldn't be surprising if this negligent truck driver was also named in a wrongful death lawsuit. 

Source: Chicago Tribune, "Troopers pack hearing on trucker charged in fatal crash," Jonathan Bullington, Lisa Black and Andy Grimm, Nov. 13, 2013

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