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.