Due to the sheer size and weight of tractor-trailer trucks, they are prone to unique types of tragedies on our nation’s roadways. Unfortunately, if you are involved an accident with a truck and you are in a passenger vehicle, your chances of suffering serious personal injury (or death) are very high. Because these trucks often weigh over 80,000 pounds, they tend to inflict far more serious damage than automobiles involved in a collision.
• Some of the most common causes of truck accidents are:
• Improper maintenance
• Faulty brakes
• Overloaded trucks (very common cause of accidents)
• Unbalanced truck loads
• Driver error
• Driver fatigue (excessive hours, inadequate rest, failure to observe federally-mandated rest stops)
• Driver intoxication or drug use
• Road hazards
• Inclement weather
• Excessive speed
Because of their classification as “common carriers,” tractor-trailers (18 wheelers) are subject to very strict state and federal regulations including:
• The number of hours the truck can be driven at one time and the amount of rest a driver must obtain during the trip;
• The type and size of the cargo that can be hauled;
• Maintenance schedules; and
• Extensive record-keeping requirements.
Weigh stations are set up all along the highways in the United States and serve as checkpoints where trucks are supposed to stop, get weighed, and get inspected. Weigh stations will check for truck and load weight, illegal cargo, falsely reported cargo, and compliance with hours of service (HOS) laws. If an overweight truck is detected at a weigh station, the driver may only be given a ticket. This allows a dangerous truck with an unsafe weight right back on our roadways. Other violators may be detained until an overweight permit is issued or the weight can be reduced somehow.
• Tires can burst when there is too much weight
• Overweight trucks, when going downhill, travel much too fast and are difficult to control
• The added weight adds momentum which can mean too much stress on the brakes causing brake failure
• Overweight trucks need much longer stopping distance
• Overloaded trucks can have the weight shift in the truck causing steering difficulties
• An overloaded truck is more likely to roll over due to a raised center of gravity
• An overloaded truck can cause a bridge or overpass to collapse, posing a substantial danger to many people
What is a common carrier?
A common carrier is a special class of vehicle, such as a bus, train, airplane, or tractor trailer truck that is subject to strict regulations by the state or federal government. Compliance or noncompliance with any applicable regulations may be an important aspect of your case if you were injured in an accident with a large truck (also known as a big rig, 18-wheeler, semi, semi trailer, etc.).
What are the legal considerations associated with trucking accidents?
As common carriers, tractor-trailer trucks as well as the trucking companies that own them are subject to more stringent rules and regulations than private vehicles, including strict guidelines for how many hours a truck driver can be on the road, the type and volume of load, extensive rules regarding maintenance of the vehicle, and other factors.
If you have been in a trucking accident, it is important that you find a lawyer with experience and knowledge of the state and federal regulations applicable to truckers and trucking companies. You will need a lawyer who has experience handling truck accident lawsuits to properly represent your interests.
What are some of the factors involved in trucking accidents?
Large trucks are inherently more dangerous than other vehicles on the road. They are larger, heavier, and are more difficult to brake and maneuver than a standard passenger car, and, as such, they are more likely to lose control and more likely to cause serious damage in an accident. Trucks also can have defective parts or be improperly maintained. In addition, because of their larger weight and momentum, it can be virtually impossible to recover from a problem situation, particularly in wet or icy weather.
What if I was partly at fault for the accident?
In cases in which more than one party shares the blame for the accident, courts will frequently assign a percentage of the responsibility to each party, and take that into account when establishing compensation. Depending on the law of the state where the accident occurred, you may still be able to recover damages for your injuries in proportion to the responsibility of the other party.
Who can be held responsible for trucking accidents?
Multiple parties may be responsible in trucking accident, including:
• Trucking companies
• Truck manufacturers
• Truck drivers
Trucking companies have a responsibility to monitor their drivers and maintain equipment. Defective trucks can be the responsibility of truck manufacturers. Drivers who do not adhere to trucking laws, or who drive carelessly, can also be at fault.
What are the most common causes of trucking accidents?
• Driver fatigue – It is estimated that driver fatigue is involved in up to 40% of trucking accidents.
• Intoxication - Alcohol and drugs are often a factor in trucking accidents. Many drivers turn to illegal stimulants in an effort to combat fatigue.
• Weather conditions – Poor visibility and slippery roads create hazards for any vehicle. These hazards are greatly compounded for large trucks.
• Overloaded or improperly loaded trucks – Too much weight and improper weight distribution can make a large truck impossible to handle and can cause the truck to go out of control.
• Equipment failure – When equipment fails, such as brake systems or tires, even the best driving cannot always prevent a serious accident.
Are there limitations of how much time a truck driver spends on the road?
Hours of service (HOS) regulations state that drivers may be on the road for no more than 10 consecutive hours and no more than 11 hours in one day. They must take at least 10 hours off between daily driving sessions. They may not drive more than 60 hours during one week, or more than 70 hours during an eight day period. They must take at least 34 consecutive hours off each week.
Can just anyone drive a big truck?
No. Truck drivers must have a special license called a commercial drivers license (CDL). Special training and tests are required to obtain a CDL. Beyond that, there are different classes of CDL's which dictate the types and weights of trucks which drivers may operate. Extra training and tests apply to drivers who haul certain types of cargo, such as hazardous materials, or drive certain types of trucks, such as triple trailers. Accidents, traffic violations, and violations of trucking laws can cause a driver to lose his or her CDL.
What is an under-ride accident?
Because of the height difference between tractor trailer trucks and passenger cars, the hood and engine compartment or trunk can slide underneath the truck causing all of the impact to occur between the bed of the truck and the occupant compartment of the car, resulting in serious injuries, decapitation, and death. An under-ride accident can occur due to impact between a car and the front, rear, or side of a large truck.