Safely Sharing the Road with Semis
Safety When Driving Around Semi-Trucks
According to Florida's Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles (FLHSMV), about 32,000 traffic crashes involving heavy trucks occurred on Florida roads during 2017. About 500 of those crashes resulted in serious injuries and 27 crashes led to one or more fatalities. In a recent year in Pinellas County, where Clearwater is located, 1,420 commercial vehicle crashes caused 364 injuries—one short of one a day—and six deaths.
One of the most recent Florida semi crashes resulted in seven fatalities, five of which were children after a car and truck collided and went over the guardrail into oncoming traffic while traveling the same direction on I-75. The two adults who died in the crash were the drivers of the semi and another truck driver, so authorities have struggled to pin down the exact cause of the crash.
Accidents involving semis occur for a wide variety of reasons. In some cases, the truck driver might cause an accident; in other cases, another motorist might cause the accident. Regardless of fault, the vast majority of truck accidents are preventable. You don't have control over the actions of semi drivers when they are behind the wheel, but you can help prevent truck accidents by taking certain measures while you are driving. Here are 10 tips for safely sharing the road with semis followed by steps you can take if you are involved in a semi accident:
1. Don't Drive in a Semi-Truck's Blind Spots
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) estimates that about one-third of all traffic accidents between cars and heavy trucks occur because of passenger vehicles riding in the blind spots of a truck, referred to as no zones by the FMCSA. Keep in mind that all vehicles have blind spots, but the blind spots on a semi truck are much larger because of the size of the cab and trailer and truckers don't have rearview mirrors or rear windows to easily check their blind spots before turning or changing lanes. When sharing the highway with semis, it's impossible to avoid their blind spots. Yet, you can make sure that you drive past them without lingering. A semi's blind spots are located immediately in front of their cab extending about 20 feet forward, below the driver's window extending backward, almost the entire passenger side of the semi, and directly behind the trailer extending back about 30 feet.
2. Take Care When Passing a Semi-Truck
Sharing the road safely with a semi requires passing them so you don't linger in any of their blind spots. When you need to pass a semi, make sure you can see the driver in his side mirror; this means he can see you. Use your turn signal before you change lanes and drive past the truck safely and quickly. Don't pull back in front of the truck until you see it in your rearview mirror, so you allow extra space. When you are traveling on a highway or interstate with more than two lanes, never use the right lane to pass a semi because the driver will likely not be able to see you. You should also avoid passing trucks when traveling on downgrades. Trucks pick up speed while traveling downhill and it's highly likely you will exceed the speed limit excessively if you pass.
It's also good practice to stay to the left when you pass a truck pulled over on the side of the road. In a recent semi crash in Jacksonville, a semi driver who was hauling almond milk pulled to the side of the road for a medical emergency. Another semi hit the truck causing almond milk to spill, followed by a third collision with another semi. This case involved other truck drivers, but passenger vehicle drivers might have collided with the pulled over truck just as easily. In these situations, pass as far to the left as possible and alert law enforcement to help the driver.
3. Avoid Cutting Off a Semi-Truck
Cutting off any motor vehicle might lead to an accident, but cutting off a big rig is especially dangerous. With their massive size and weight, semi-trucks need extra time and distance to react to other vehicles. Cutting off a semi puts you in the blind spot in front of their cab; even if the driver does see you, he may not be able to slow down fast enough to avoid an accident that could result in severe and catastrophic injuries and/or death.
4. Keep a Safe Distance between Your Vehicle and Semi-Trucks
As previously mentioned, semi trucks need greater time and distance to stop or react to abrupt movements. Sharing the road safely requires that you keep a safe distance when you are following a semi. The FMSCA recommends leaving at least a four-second gap between your vehicle and the trailer. You should also take care to keep your distance on other sides of the truck to avoid an accident caused by a tire blowout, or some other mechanical failure. If a truck driver loses control, you may be able to avoid the accident if you aren't too close.
5. Keep Your Headlights Dimmed Near Semi-Trucks
When bright lights reflect off the large mirrors of a semi-truck, they cause two or more seconds of temporary blindness for truck drivers. This may cause a driver to lose control of his vehicle or swerve and hit something, resulting in a dangerous collision. When you are following a semi, make sure that you keep your headlights dimmed if you are within a quarter mile of the back of the trailer.
6. Use Your Turn Signals
It's easy to get lazy and not use turn signals when maneuvering your vehicle. Not only is this against the law, but when you don't use your turn signals around a semi, you risk causing an accident. Semis require extra time to respond to drivers who stop, turn, and merge. You can safely share the road with semis when you use your signals at least three seconds before changing lanes or turning.
7. Watch for Wide Turns Around Semi-Trucks
When semis make right-hand turns, they often need to swing wide to the left to safely turn without going off of the road. When you are at an intersection with a semi, remember where its blind spots are located. Give the driver enough room to safely turn. If you are too close behind the semi or on its left, not only will the driver not see you, but it's likely that a collision will occur.
8. Don't Drive Under the Influence
Driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol puts all motorists with whom you share the road at risk, but driving under the influence when trucks are around can be especially deadly. Those who drive under the influence often make erratic movements and leave their lanes. Truck drivers don't always have the stopping distance to avoid collisions with vehicles that drive erratically. Additionally, when using drugs or alcohol, you reduce your reaction time to hazards. If a truck has a mechanical breakdown, has a tire blow out, parks on the side of the road with safety reflector signs, or takes any other unexpected action, you might crash into the truck. Depending on the circumstances, you put yourself at risk for a rear-end, broadside, or sideswipe collision, all of which might result in an underride crash. In these often fatal crashes, a passenger vehicle goes under the trailer and may be dragged down the road.
9. Avoid Driver Distractions
Driving while distracted poses the same danger to others on the road as driving while impaired. Federal mandates prohibit truck drivers from using cell phones while driving unless they use their mobile device's hands-free feature. Texting while driving is illegal in Florida, but it is a secondary offense, meaning that law enforcement cannot pull you over for texting. Cell phones are only one distraction that might lead to an accident between a car and a truck. Adjusting the radio, talking to passengers, reaching for something on the floor or in the backseat, using a GPS, eating, drinking, and a wide variety of other things might take a driver's attention away from the road. Safely share the road with semis by avoiding distractions while driving; it might save your life.
10. Don't Drive When You're Fatigued
Truck drivers struggle with drowsy and fatigued driving because of their demanding schedules that often include driving overnight, but other motorists also drive while drowsy. Common myths for staying awake while driving include rolling down the window, drinking coffee, rocking out to loud music on the radio, or calling a friend and chatting. These things only work in the very short term and actually might create a more dangerous situation later on. The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates that 18 hours without sleep is akin to a 0.08 blood alcohol concentration. Remain safe on the roads and avoid collisions with semis by pulling over to sleep when you are tired.
Immediate Steps After an Accident Involving a Semi-Truck
Even by driving defensively, following all traffic laws, and taking special care around semis, you still might be in a crash involving a semi-truck. The average semi weighs 20 to 30 times more than the average passenger vehicle depending on their cargo load. This extra weight leads to traffic crashes that often result in severe, catastrophic, or deadly injuries. If you are lucky enough to walk away from an accident with a big rig, you should take the following steps until you have a chance to consult with an attorney:
- Seek medical treatment. You might feel fine after a truck crash, but get yourself checked out by a doctor to make sure. Some injuries, especially head injuries, don't immediately present with symptoms. This also serves as documentation of injuries which you might need for your insurance company and possible lawsuit.
- File a police report. It's highly likely that law enforcement came to the scene of your accident, especially if it occurred on the interstate. Make sure to give the police all the details of the accident and get a copy of the report.
- Gather evidence. Law enforcement will get all of the truck driver's information, but you should also write down his or her name, address, employer, insurance info, license plate, etc. Use your cell phone to take pictures of the damage, truck plates, and any visible injuries.
- File an insurance claim. Florida is a no-fault insurance state, so your first step to recovering losses from a semi accident is to file a claim under your state-required personal injury protection (PIP) policy.
- Contact a reputable personal injury attorney. Florida's PIP insurance only covers 80 percent of your medical expenses and 60 percent of your lost wages. You need a skilled personal injury attorney on your side if you want to recover additional compensation. Additionally, insurance companies can be tricky. It's in your best interest to hire a lawyer at the beginning of the claims process. Your attorney can handle communications with all insurance companies and make sure their settlement offers are fair. Additionally, your attorney can advise you on the best time to escalate your claim to a personal injury lawsuit.
Get the Legal Help You Need After Florida Semi Accident
Being involved in a traffic accident with a semi might be a life-changing event. While you are coping with the pain of physical injury and recovery, you and your family might also face financial difficulties. Medical bills pile up, your injury prevents you from working, and PIP coverage doesn't fully compensate you for your losses.
Reduce your stress by letting an experienced personal injury attorney handle your case. Some ways that our firm might be able to help you after a truck accident include guiding you through the insurance claims process, investigating your accident, contacting potential witnesses, enlisting the opinions of experts about injuries, future medical costs, liability, and more.
Florida law gives you four years to bring a lawsuit from the date of injury. Don't delay because this window closes quickly and the sooner you take legal action, the better your chances of a positive outcome for your case. Contact the experienced lawyers at Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA in Clearwater at (727) 451-6900 to schedule a free consultation and determine your eligibility to recover damages in a Florida court.
Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA
800 North Belcher Road
Clearwater, FL 33765