A truck driver was charged with manslaughter last week after a fatal crash - Oklahoma Highway Patrol officials said that he falsified information in his driver log.
The driver didn't notice traffic around him slowing, and his semi crashed into four cars, state troopers said. Two people died, and another was seriously injured.
This week, troopers revealed that the driver had doctored the log book all truckers are required to keep. Strangely, they also said the falsified log is not a criminal issue but a civil matter. I'm not sure how they reached that conclusion, but, in South Carolina, altering a driver logbook could be considered forgery, a crime that carries up to three years in prison when the forgery is not a financial document.
Why Do Truckers Have to Log Their Hours?
The Federal Motor Carrier Administration (FMCA), which regulates the nation's trucking industry, mandates that all drivers keep a written record of the times they drive, sleep, take breaks, and perform non-driving work, to make sure they follow federal rules governing how long they can drive before resting.
The rules are meant to protect everyone on the nation's roads by preventing drivers from working too many hours because tired, exhausted truck drivers can cause devastation on the highway.
Truckers are paid to drive and deliver goods, so they have a strong financial incentive to push themselves too hard. Also, some trucking companies push their drivers to work longer hours.
Almost 4,000 fatal crashes and a half a million non-fatal accidents involved large trucks or buses in 2015, according to FMCA statistics, and the U.S. Department of Transportation estimates that 13 percent of these accidents involve driver fatigue.
Is It A Crime to Alter Driver Records?
Falsifying a logbook most likely qualifies as forgery in SC.
A lot of people think forgery means signing someone else's name on a check - and it does. But, in South Carolina, it can also mean making any false document or forging a false document - it covers much more than just signatures.
Forgery in SC, when it does not involve a financial document like checks or money orders, can carry a penalty of three years in prison.
How Does the Logbook Affect a Trucking Accident Lawsuit?
The logbook alterations are going to hurt them in any wrongful death or personal injury lawsuits, assuming the changes were made to hide the fact that the driver was on the road for too many hours.
When truckers cause an accident after driving for longer than they are allowed, it's not only a violation of federal rules, it's negligence.
Like all drivers, truckers have a duty to act with the level of care that a reasonable, prudent person would exercise in a similar situation. Driving when you are exhausted - especially when you have skirted federal rules specifically designed to prevent you from doing so - is negligence.
Falsifying the logbook and trying to cover up their negligence didn't help the driver in this case - but, it may make it more likely that the driver and company are exposed to punitive damages for gross negligence...
If you have been hurt in an accident with a commercial vehicle in SC, your trucking accident attorney at Axelrod and Associates will investigate the crash, including getting the driver and company's logbook, driving record, criminal record, weigh station receipts, maintenance records, data event recorder, and any dashcam video or other evidence that we can use to establish liability.