The size and weight of semis and tractor trailers mean they handle much differently than a passenger car or pickup truck, as any commercial driver knows. A significant difference lies in their braking ability. A tractor trailer weighing 70,000 to 80,000 pounds takes a much greater distance to stop than a 3000-pound automobile. A truck driver may be driving within the posted speed limit, but still going too fast for the existing traffic conditions. If an automobile driver cuts in front of a large truck, a truck driver may be unable to brake or take evasive action in time to avoid a collision.
Truck drivers have physically demanding jobs that involve spending many hours behind the wheel. Driver fatigue is a common cause of car and truck crashes. Drowsy drivers take longer to recognize and react to sudden changes in traffic conditions. To prevent accidents caused by drowsy driving, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has rules that limit the number of hours that a driver can drive each day and each week. Trucking companies may set unreasonably tight delivery deadlines, pressuring drivers to disregard the hours-of-service rules that limit the number of hours a commercial driver may drive. When the driver of an 80,000-pound truck is drowsy or falls asleep at the wheel, the result can be a catastrophic accident.
Blind Spot Accidents
Tractor trailers and other 18 wheelers have larger blind spots than passenger cars. The blind spots include areas beside the truck, behind the truck and on the front passenger side of the truck. A truck driver cannot see a car riding in a blind spot. A truck driver may try to change lanes and collide with a vehicle riding in a blind spot or force the vehicle off the road. Motorists should pass large trucks with care and avoid lingering in blind spots.
A significant number of truck accidents are caused by inadequate maintenance and mechanical failures involving the trailer or cab. Brakes out of adjustment are a common cause of semi truck crashes. Trucking companies are supposed to perform routine maintenance and make needed repairs to keep trucks in safe operating conditions. Truck drivers are required to complete reports that identify any defects in the truck’s parts and safety equipment including the brakes, steering mechanism, reflectors, lighting devices, tires coupling devices, tie down bolsters, locking pins, king pin upper coupling device, and rear vision mirrors.
Types of Trucking Accidents
Rear End Accident
A truck driver following too closely may be unable to stop if traffic comes to a stop unexpectedly ahead of him. If a driver is distracted or drowsy, a tractor trailer may plow into the back of a car that stops unexpectedly ahead. An automobile driver who cuts off a truck driver by pulling in front of the truck may contribute to a rear end collision. Car drivers who cannot see around a truck and do not realize a traffic light has turned red may hit the rear of a truck, causing a rear-end collision.
Ride Under Accidents
Because large trucks are taller and have greater ground clearance, a car may slide under the side or rear of a large truck, crushing the passenger compartment. Many large trucks are now equipped with underride guards on the back of the trailer to prevent underride accidents. But truck underride guards often fail in crashes, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Ride under collisions can cause serious or fatal injuries to the occupants of automobiles and other smaller vehicles.
Jack Knife Accidents
Icy roads or improper braking may cause a truck to jackknife. If a truck driver locks the drive axle when trying to brake, it will cause a jackknife accident. The trailer swings out of control to a 90-degree angle with the cab, resembling the folding blades of a pocket knife. Jackknife accidents are more likely to cause multi-vehicle accidents.
Tanker trucks have a higher center of gravity and are more prone to roll over. A sudden shift of liquid in a cargo tanker as a truck rounds a banked curve can cause the truck to overturn. Rollover accidents involving tanker trucks pose a serious hazard because they often are carrying flammable liquids. The loading lines of tanker trucks are often filled with flammable liquid and can be easily ruptured during a crash, spilling gasoline or other flammable fuels.
Failing Cargo Accident
Tractor trailers and flatbed trucks must comply with regulations that dictate how cargo is tied down or secured to prevent it from shifting or creating an unbalanced load. Unsecured loads can shift and cause a truck to rollover or fall into the road and strike another vehicle, causing a crash. A freight shipper responsible for failing to properly load and secure the cargo may be responsible for the accident as well as the truck company.
Truck Accidents Frequently Asked Questions
The most common types of tractor trailer accidents are:
- Head on collisions
- Rear end collisions
- Broadside collisions
- Center lane crossover
- Lane change collisions
- Jack-knifed trucks
- Loss of control of vehicle
- Hit and Run
Trucking accidents are different from auto accidents in many ways, one of the most serious being the extent of damages and injuries when a truck and an automobile collide. Because big rigs, 18 wheelers and tractor-trailers can weigh in excess of 80,000 pounds, a trucking collision can have deadly consequences.
There are unique laws and regulations that are designed specifically to protect motorists from the negligent actions of truck drivers and trucking companies. Federal and state regulations require truckers to have adequate rest to prevent driver fatigue on the highway. There are also other specific rules for trucks including proper loading of the materials the truck is carrying and safety rules on traveling speeds and when passing other vehicles.
Trucking companies are required to follow the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s regulations concerning equipment and hours of service. Truck drivers are also required to maintain a driver’s log; however the timeframe is limited. Federal regulations require commercial trucks to carry certain levels of insurance coverage, depending on the nature of materials hauled. These regulations protect victims of large truck crashes from truck owners who may not have the financial resources to pay damages out-of-pocket.
In order to get compensation, an attorney will need to show the truck driver failed to use due care in the operation of the truck. Typically, in cases where serious injury has resulted, a plaintiff will have claims for pain and suffering, negligent and/or intentional infliction of emotional distress, and loss of consortium.
You need to contact an attorney at Younce, Vtipil, & Baznik, P.A., as soon as possible. In truck collisions, federal regulations require that certain essential evidence only be maintained for a limited amount of time. For instance, the truck driver’s log may be destroyed after six months if an attorney does not obtain a court order or take other immediate action.
The truck company may not pay your medical bills immediately. However, your own insurance will often contain medical payment provisions to pay for bills ranging from funeral costs to x-rays. It is usually not your best interest to sign a medical release/authorization or to give a statement to the trucking company or any insurance company before contacting an attorney. Contact an attorney at Younce, Vtipil, & Baznik, P.A., today to discuss your situation and injuries.
Some of the most common causes of trucking accidents include:
- Lack of training
- Overloaded trucks
- Oversized trucks
- Brake failure/defect
- Poor driving conditions
- Driver inexperience
- Running off the road
- Failure to yield the right of way
- Aggressive driving behavior
- Driving under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol
- Dangerous or reckless driving
- Mechanical failure
Anyone who is injured or has had a loved one killed in a truck accident can sue as long as some other person or entity, besides the person suing, is at fault for the accident. This includes adults and children (who can sue through guardians or parents); and even truck drivers if another person or entity was at fault for the accident.
Under federal “hours of service” regulations, which took effect January 2004, interstate commercial drivers are not allowed to drive more than 11 consecutive hours or drive after 14 hours on duty until they have had a 10-hour break. In addition, according to federal regulations, commercial truck drivers cannot drive after accruing 60 work hours during a 7-day period or 70 work hours during an 8-day period.
Unless you have a very minor injury, which is rare in truck accident cases, you should retain an attorney at Younce, Vtipil, & Baznik, P.A. An experienced truck accident attorney can secure vital evidence before it is destroyed, and can establish liability against any potential defendants to help maximize your damage recovery.