A wreck involving a tractor-trailer and two cars in Wilmington, North Carolina (NC), sent the drivers of the smaller vehicles to hospitals with injuries. The crash during the lunch hour of April 30, 2018, raises serious questions about how closely agencies that issue commercial driver’s licenses and trucking companies are ensuring the physical fitness of semi operators.
The crash happened near the intersection of Carolina Beach Road and Medical Center Drive. After the wreck, the 77-year-old truck driver told New Hanover County police that he had swerved out of his lane to avoid causing a rear-end collision before sideswiping a car. The truck continued on and collided head on with a second car.
The head-on collision inflicted serious injuries on the person behind the wheel of the car, and he remained at New Hanover Regional Medical Center the day after the incident. The driver of the sideswiped car suffered less-serious injuries but also received hospital treatment.
Authorities have charged the truck driver with failure to maintain lane control. This would be a violation of North Carolina General Statutes section 20-146(d)(1), which states, “Whenever any street has been divided into two or more clearly marked lanes for traffic, the following rules in addition to all others consistent herewith shall apply. A vehicle shall be driven as nearly as practicable entirely within a single lane and shall not be moved from such lane until the driver has first ascertained that such movement can be made with safety.”
The fact that he needed to leave his lane seems to be the real issue, however. Did the tractor-trailer driver fail to recognize that traffic had slowed or stopped? Did he recognize the change in traffic flow but experience physical limitations or mental confusion that rendered him unable to brake appropriately?
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and the North Carolina Division both recognize that vision and health problems can make operating a large commercial truck dangerous. The federal agency requires regular physicals for truck drivers who are licensed to drive across state lines, and the DMV requires anyone applying for or renewing a CDL to present proof of medical fitness.
The state also requires CDL applicants to certify that they have clean driving records and current personal driver’s licenses. After North Carolina residents turn 66, they must renew their licenses in person, pass an eye test, and, upon request, present a medical clearance for driving.
The tractor-trailer driver who police blame for causing the wreck on Carolina Beach Road in Wilmington may have met all those requirements as long as five years ago. My Carolina personal injury lawyers and I know, however, that physical health and driving performance can decline rapidly as people age. If a thorough investigation of this wreck indicates that safety concerns should have kept the 77-year-old out of the semi’s cab, both he and his employer could have responsibility for paying compensation and damages to the injured men.