When trucks are involved in traffic collisions, truck drivers usually walk away from the accident unscathed because they are protected by their big rig. Those in other vehicles usually aren’t as lucky. But this story changes in truck rollover accidents. All truck accidents typically result in more severe injuries than other car accidents, but truck drivers and occupants in nearby vehicles face potential death when a truck rollover accident occurs. This blog will explain the science behind truck rollover accidents, their common causes, potential injuries, examples of truck rollover accidents on Florida roads, and the steps you need to take if you are involved in a truck rollover accident.
How Truck Rollover Accidents Occur
Rollover collisions are very specific events that occur under particular conditions where a vehicle’s stability is compromised when it makes a turn or travels around a curve. Each vehicle’s stability depends on its center of gravity and the distance between the right and left wheels, referred to as track width. The center of gravity refers to the point where an object’s weight is even on all sides. For perfectly shaped items, the center of gravity lies in the middle. For unevenly shaped items, like semi-trucks, the center of gravity moves. It also changes based on the size and distribution of any load it is carrying. A high center of gravity with a narrow track width makes for the most unstable vehicle.
Now consider an empty semi-truck. The trailer is already much higher than anything else on the road. When loaded, the semi’s center of gravity moves even higher. If a semi travels around a corner or curve too fast, the gravitational force pulls the weight of the trailer away from its center of gravity, making it unstable and wobbly. When quick changes of direction occur, gravity can pull hard enough to cause a truck to skid sideways and rollover. If you see a truck driver going too fast for conditions or traveling too fast for curves and turns, it’s in your best interest to remain as far away from the truck as possible to avoid being involved in a truck rollover accident.
Truck Rollover Accident Causes
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) and other researchers and agencies who study large truck crashes have given considerable time and attention to learning about the causes of large truck rollover collisions. Understanding these dangerous crashes help the FMCSA educate truckers and the public about rollover avoidance and prevention. In 2008, two scientists analyzed one of the FMCSA’s landmark studies about rollover collisions to further isolate the common causes of truck rollover accidents. They define the direct cause of a rollover as “something that increases the roll moment about the longitudinal axis of the vehicle, generally either turning too quickly or allowing one side of the vehicle to drop or rise suddenly.”
The researchers, McKnight and Bahouth, also concluded that driver error is the primary cause of most truck rollover accidents, but sometimes another driver or the semi-truck’s condition might cause the accident. Below you can find seven broad causes that they found most frequently contribute to rollover crashes with specific examples under each broad categorization.
In the 239 rollover crashes examined by researchers, speed was a factor in more than 45 percent of the collisions. Speed-related causes for truck rollover crashes include:
- Driving too fast around curves
- Misjudging the speed at which to enter a curve
- Ignoring a speed warning
- Not slowing down to account for weight, height, and stability
- Not slowing down to account for known bad brakes
- Not slowing down for poor road conditions
- Not slowing down for a sharp turn at an intersection
- Not slowing down for traffic
Inattentive truck drivers are the second most common cause of truck rollover accidents. The most common type of inattention occurs when truck drivers aren’t focused on what is going on in front of the truck. They suddenly realize they need to make a turn, and the quick change of direction leads to a rollover. Drowsy truck drivers who aren’t paying attention also cause rollovers, as well as truck drivers who are distracted by cell phones, passengers, or their CB radios.
Drivers who have difficulty controlling their trucks also sometimes cause rollover collisions. McKnight and Bahouth’s analysis reveals several maneuvers that can lead to rollovers. They include:
- Oversteering and under-steering
- Over-correcting for an error
- Following other vehicles too closely
- Responding to other vehicles or road hazards incorrectly
- Failing to downshift to control speed
- Braking too quickly or improperly
Searching for Road Hazards
Although inadequate visual searching for road hazards or even normal road conditions has caused large truck rollover accidents, these types of accidents are not that frequent. McKnight and Bahouth attribute this to the fact that most rollovers occur on interstates and major highways where conflict with other vehicles is low. Regardless, city traffic requires drivers to regularly scan far ahead on the road and look carefully at all intersections and when making lane changes to avoid collisions of any kind.
Pre-operation causes of truck rollovers refer to conditions that existed before the truck driver got on the road. Two specific causes fall into this category: the failure to properly secure cargo before taking the truck out on the road; and the driver’s physical or mental state. Some truck rollover crashes occur because the driver has an illness. Their condition or the medication they take to treat the condition might lead to a mistake that results in a rollover. Examples include strokes, heart attacks, and falling asleep at the wheel.
The vast majority of rollover truck accidents are a result of some type of mistake by the truck driver, but other drivers who share the road with trucks can also cause rollover accidents that the truck driver could not have prevented. In some cases, the rollover happens after the truck driver maneuvers to try to avoid a collision with another vehicle, or another driver strikes the truck with their vehicle.
Vehicle Truck Components
Another cause of truck rollovers that truck drivers cannot control is truck maintenance and loading problems. Old tires with worn treads sometimes cause blowouts that lead to rollover collisions. Sudden brake failure and other parts failures can also lead to rollovers. Finally, when drivers are assigned a truck that is already loaded, they may not be familiar with how the load and cargo weight is distributed. Certain configurations might change the normal center of gravity for the loaded truck, causing instability that can lead to a truck rollover accident.
Truck Rollover Accidents Cause Severe Injuries
Not all truck rollover accidents involve other vehicles, but when they do, injuries are often severe or fatal. A truck’s extra mass and weight cause major destruction when it strikes a passenger vehicle. Conversely, drivers who find themselves in a situation where a truck rolls over in front of them and they cannot stop fast enough to avoid running into the truck also risk devastating injuries. Some injuries that might occur if you are involved in a truck rollover accident include:
Head and Neck Injuries
You or your passengers might experience head and neck trauma from the impact of the crash, you might also experience direct trauma from objects that strike your body during the crash. Whiplash remains the most common neck injury, which often heals quickly. Yet, in truck crashes whiplash can be severe and result in a lifetime of chronic pain. In addition to cuts, scrapes and broken facial bones, car occupants risk sustaining a traumatic brain injury when they are involved in a truck rollover accident. Concussions, which are mild traumatic brain injuries, also heal quickly. Yet, in a truck accident, victims can suffer severe brain injuries that cause permanent brain damage, resulting in difficulties with cognition, memory, sensations, emotions, and more. Victims might also suffer migraines for life.
The impact of a truck rollover accident can cause the vehicle occupants’ bodies to contort in a wide variety of unnatural positions, resulting in severe back injuries. In addition to cracked vertebrae, victims might suffer bulged or slipped discs. Surgery can help correct injuries and alleviate pain in some cases. Yet, many who suffer back injuries need more than one surgery and might suffer from chronic pain, forcing them to depend on medication to cope. Those with severe back injuries face the risk of becoming addicted to painkillers, making back injuries among some of the worst possible accident injuries.
Spinal Cord Injuries
Severe spinal cord injuries are also among the worst injuries truck accident victims can suffer. A spinal cord injury typically means losing control over physical bodily functions. For those who are lucky, they will experience temporary paralysis and loss of function, which will return when the spinal cord injury heals. For others, the injury never heals. Depending on the location of a spinal cord injury, the victim might lose function from the neck or waist down. In the most severe cases, those with spinal cord injuries are confined to a wheelchair for life.
Limb Crushing and Amputations
If a truck strikes your vehicle during a rollover accident, it will likely crush it. Depending on where you are seated in the vehicle your legs and/or arms can get pinned or crushed, causing severe injury. When limbs get crushed, they might heal, but often amputation is necessary because the crushing action stops blood flow to the limb. Losing one or more limbs is not only painful, but requires extensive physical therapy and recovery time. Those who undergo an amputation often also deal with phantom pain where their limb used to be and the frustration of learning how to use a prosthetic limb.
When a truck has a rollover accident, fires and explosions might occur, especially if the truck is carrying flammable hazardous materials like gasoline or oil. Burn victims might face several reconstructive surgeries, multiple skin grafts, and months or years of recovery. Burns are among the most painful injuries; in severe cases, doctors might induce a medical coma to let burn victims heal without experiencing pain. Additionally, all the corrective surgeries in the world might not repair a burn victim’s skin to its pre-accident condition. Burn injuries often leave permanent scars that can cause psychological distress over and above the physical pain of injury and recovery.
What Should You Do if You Experience a Truck Rollover Accident?
If you are involved in a rollover truck accident, you will likely need to take an ambulance ride to the nearest emergency room and may spend some time in the hospital. If you are a friend or family member of someone who was injured or you are lucky enough to remain conscious and get out of your car after a truck strikes you, do as many of the following things as you are physically able as soon after the accident as possible:
- Call 911 to ensure an emergency response team comes to the sight of the accident. Make sure to get checked out by a physician, even if you feel fine. Some injuries don’t immediately show symptoms.
- Get information from all drivers involved, including the truck driver. You should record vehicle information, insurance information, names, and contact information.
- Take video or photos of property damage, visible injuries, and anything else you think might be relevant for an insurance company or your lawyer. Cleaning crews will show up to the scene of the accident and get rid of valuable evidence.
- File a claim under your mandatory Florida personal injury protection (PIP) insurance policy to begin to recover some of your losses.
- Obtain a copy of the police report and make sure it matches the information you recorded at the scene of the truck rollover accident.
- Keep all bills and receipts associated with the accident. This includes medical bills, receipts for vehicle repair, pay stubs from your job showing time missed from work, and gas receipts for travel to and from the doctor for any followup visits.
- Consult a truck accident lawyer to discuss the best course of action to recover losses related to your injuries.
If you or a loved one has experienced an auto accident involving a truck don’t hesitate to contact Sibley Dolman Gipe Accident Injury Lawyers, PA at (727)-451-6900 or online to schedule a free consultation.
Sibley Dolman Gipe Accident Injury Lawyers, PA Clearwater Office
800 N Belcher Rd
Clearwater, FL 33765
Phone: (727) 451-6900