The sheer size and weight difference between an 18-wheeler and a passenger vehicle is evidence alone that a truck accident will have devastating consequences for the occupants of the smaller vehicle. According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), police reported over 500,000 vehicle accidents involving large trucks in 2019, with over 5,000 resulting in fatalities. Many of those who did survive an accident with a tractor-trailer suffered extensive injuries, many of which were long-term disabilities.
The trucking industry plays a vital role in the American economy and is constantly growing. Increased consumer demand, particularly in recent years, is putting more and more trucks on the road. To prevent a truck accident, you first need to know why they are more dangerous.
Tractor-trailers are incredibly heavy, especially those with fully-loaded trailers, averaging up to 80,000 pounds or more. The heavier the vehicle, the harder it is to stop quickly, and semi-trucks need much further distance to begin slowing before reaching a stop. In heavy traffic, cars darting in an out in front of them, and sudden accidents or dangers in front of them, the risk of a collision becomes greater.
Along with weight, the sheer size of tractor-trailers compared to other vehicles on the road makes them more inherently dangerous. Tractor-trailers are generally 70 to 80 feet in length in contrast to the 10 to 19 feet of passenger vehicles, depending on the type of automobile. The 18-wheeler’s massive size virtually guarantees that property damage and injuries are likely to be significantly worse, and often fatal, for other vehicles and occupants.
The size, weight, and construction of semi-trucks makes them top-heavy, further endangering those around them. High winds hitting the trailers broadside can cause the trucks to rollover without warning, posing an immense danger to vehicles near the truck. Taking turns and exits too quickly, slippery roads from rain, snow, and ice can also cause semi-trucks to flip. In rollover situations, the truck driver is helpless in stopping the truck from flipping and is likely to suffer serious injuries as well.
All vehicles have some form of blind spot. Because of their height, length, and shape, tractor-trailers have numerous blind spots on all four sides. Drivers who do not heed the blind spot warnings posted on the trailers put themselves in immense danger of a collision, being run off the road, or even crushed.
Those who load tractor-trailers use a calculated and precise positioning of the cargo based on weight to maintain balance in the trailer. Not using such safe loading practices can start a chain reaction accident before the truck even leaves the loading dock. Unbalanced and untethered cargo present a grave danger to the driver and others on the road should the cargo shift all its weight to one side, toppling the trailer.
Every vehicle on the road is susceptible to poor weather. Rain, fog, snow, sleet, and ice make driving inherently more dangerous for everyone. Tractor-trailers are even more vulnerable in bad weather conditions for a multitude of reasons, including size, weight, and shape. On slick and ice-covered roads, trailers can easily jackknife in an instant and cannot be corrected in most instances. Any vehicle near the rig at that moment will undoubtedly be struck, drug, or crushed in the process, especially if the jackknifing trailer flips over, which is common.
Many commercial trucks carry hazardous materials, such as gasoline and other chemicals. Accidents involving trucks with hazardous materials are far more dangerous and frequently deadly, especially if the hazardous material prevents emergency personnel from rescue attempts for their own safety.
What Are Common Causes of Truck Accidents?
Some common causes of truck accidents include:
- Ignoring the laws: Drivers who do not adhere to the rules of the road are at a greater risk of an accident. One of the most common is speeding. Because the trucks are so large and heavy, they require more time and distance to slow to a stop and cannot brake quickly to avoid accidents. When collisions occur with these large trucks, the property damage and injuries are much more severe if the truck is moving at a high rate of speed.
- Impaired driving: Truck drivers operating under the influence of drugs or alcohol pose a serious threat to other motorists. To combat this, the federal legal limit for truck drivers is actually lower than it is to other drivers, and all drivers are required to submit to drug screenings before hiring. Though abuses can still happen, especially with drivers pressured to meet a specific deadline for arrival of the cargo. It is not uncommon for some drivers to use illegal substances to stay awake, improve concentration, and to drive longer hours.
- Lack of inspection: Given the size and weight of trucks, the cargo, and the distances traveled, regular inspection and maintenance are necessities to ensure safety. Trucking companies typically require drivers to perform specific inspection procedures before driving and after each stop in some cases. When drivers fail to inspect properly, or not inspect at all, they are potentially endangering anyone in proximity to the truck.
- Improper loading: Cargo that has been loaded improperly or not secured can affect the driver’s ability to control the truck or cause it to tip over if the load moves and shifts the weight.
Are There Regulations for Truck Drivers?
One main contributing factor to truck accidents is driver exhaustion. Fatigue poses great danger to others on the road and can have catastrophic consequences. Many studies have shown that drowsy driving is just as dangerous as drunk driving.
Some trucking companies require drivers to operate for long periods of time in any weather or traffic condition. Likewise, certain types of cargo require reaching the final destination in a specific time period, particularly food products. As a result, long-haul truck drivers often experience considerable pressure to meet these work requirements and deadlines, causing many to drive for long periods of time.
For many years, extended driving periods were normal operating procedures in the profession, but the last few decades have seen new federal regulations limiting the amount of consistent driving time. The FMCSA regulates the Hours of Service (HOS), which specifies the number of on-duty and off-duty hours regulations for per day and week, which also includes mandated break periods. Drivers are not permitted to drive more than 14 consecutive hours and must be off duty for a minimum of 10 hours before resuming driving. Additionally, drivers must take a 30-minute rest period if having driven eight cumulative hours without at least a 30-minute break.
All commercial drivers are required to follow the HOS regulations and many companies require drivers to record their hours through an electronic logging device (ELD). These days most trucking companies outfit their trucks with ELD software that both monitors and assists the driver to ensure safety.
Virginia Beach Truck Accident Lawyers Help Motorists Involved in Large Truck Accidents
Out of all motor vehicle accidents, those involving large trucks are the most dangerous. An accident with a commercial truck is traumatic and can leave you with lifelong medical conditions, lost wages, pain and suffering, and more. Speak with one of our Virginia Beach truck accident lawyers today. At East Coast Trial Lawyers, we have experience in all types of truck accident cases, and we can help. Call us at 757-352-2237 or contact us online for a free consultation. Located in Virginia Beach, we serve clients throughout Chesapeake, Eastern Shore, Hampton, Newport News, Norfolk, Portsmouth, and Suffolk, Virginia, as well as North Carolina and nationwide.