Trucking companies have started using a variety of hi-tech devices, such as GPS systems, on-board computers, electronic logging and satellite and wireless tracking, which are changing the face of trucking litigation. These devices can provide a plethora of information about an accident and the history of the vehicle and driver. On-board recorders, for example, can measure over 175 characteristics, such as vehicle speed, hard-braking incidents and vehicle maintenance. In the highly-regulated trucking industry, these electronic devices are a way to monitor a driver’s route, how long the driver stops at rest stops, how long a driver is on the road and much more. This information can also be a huge advantage to plaintiff’s attorneys who are using it to bring claims against trucking companies for negligent supervision and maintenance. These new devices also attribute to trucking accidents now becoming a specialized area of litigation.
The main source of information in the truck is the “black box”, also known as the electronic data recorder, which records incidents of hard-braking, sudden decelerations, when the truck traveled at various speeds and cruise control settings. Newer electronic on-board computers can also monitor the speed of the truck, every time the driver goes over the specified number of hours that they are allowed to drive and the number of times the driver goes over the speed limit. Additionally, some companies have replaced the driver’s hand-written log notes with GPS technology that tracks a driver’s schedule and route and beams the information back to the company itself. Even more technology is being developed that can warn drivers of anything coming up in their blind spot or if they are drifting into another lane, while being uploaded to the company computer in real time. All of this combined date can help reconstruct an accident.
The paper trail left by these informative devices can lead to punitive damages if the driver was working over the legally specified amount of hours, resulting in exhaustion. It can also determine whether the driver did not maintain the vehicle even though the on-board computers indicated maintenance problems. On the flip side, however, companies are only required to keep most records for six months, meaning a plaintiff’s attorney must immediately send a “records preservation” letter to get them to keep the data. This policy also serves as a big problem since lawyers do not get these cases until long after the accident, so the data has been erased.