Every year, more than 4,000 persons die in accidents with large trucks. Another 170,000 suffered injuries in 2017 alone, often serious injuries. Because of their larger size, big trucks can cause considerable damage to other vehicles on the road, and smaller vehicles may offer their occupants little protection. While you cannot prevent the possibility of truck accidents entirely, understanding the most common causes of truck accidents can help keep you and your passengers safer.
Dangerous Behaviors (From Truckers)
Many truckers spend hundreds of hours on the road each month, including multiple hours each day they work. While they typically try to drive as safely as possible to get their cargo to its destination safely, even the most experienced truck drivers can make errors in judgment that lead to serious accidents.
Distracted driving. Because of the number of hours they spend on the road, many truck drivers become extremely comfortable behind the wheel, even to the point of complacency. They may become distracted by things going on in the cab of the vehicle or by taking care of their own activities, even if that means taking attention off of the road. Distracted behaviors may include:
- Eating and drinking behind the wheel, especially messy foods that are more likely to pull driver attention from the road
- Talking on a cell phone or radio
- Checking the GPS
Drivers may also become distracted by their own thoughts, “zoning out” and no longer paying attention to the road. Often, cognitive distractions cause accidents due to errors from other drivers.
Driving while tired. Truck drivers work in 14 hour “duty periods,” during which they can drive for 11 hours. After a solid 8 hours on the road, drivers must take at least a 30 minute break before getting back behind the wheel. Unfortunately, this legal requirement does not account for drivers who stayed up too late the night before, grow tired while on the road, or did not get a good night’s sleep. Growing tired on the road can cause as much danger as drinking and driving, especially while operating a large truck.
Driving while intoxicated. Many truckers regularly use a wide range of substances, from uppers to help them stay awake to downers to help them come down at the end of a shift. Others use alcohol to dull the pain of missing family members or long, lonely hours on the road. Unrealistic expectations from trucking companies and companies awaiting their shipments can lead drivers to struggle with substance abuse—abuse that often continues even when behind the wheel. BAC over 0.08 percent or impairment due to drug use can cause:
- Impaired judgment
- Poor response time
- Blurred vision
- Decreased coordination
- Memory problems
The maximum BAC for on-duty truckers, however, is 0.04 percent.
Ignoring the rules of the road. Truck drivers, like other drivers, may break the rules of the road due to a need for convenience or other challenges. Speeding, for example, may help truck drivers meet tight deadlines, while running red lights can help conserve gas or improve the driver’s ability to meet tight deadlines. Unfortunately, breaking the rules of the road can make truck drivers’ behavior difficult to predict, which can in turn increase the risk of an accident.
Driving on unfamiliar roads. Truck drivers do not get to pick their own routes. As a result, they can go anywhere, including roads they have never seen before. On unfamiliar roads, accident risk increases substantially. Driving an unfamiliar route may also increase the odds that a truck driver will end up in a tight spot: trying to pass under a bridge with inadequate clearance, for example, or driving down a road too small to allow adequate room for the truck.
Aggressive driving. Failing to take proper precautions on the road can substantially increase accident risk for any driver. Aggressive driving creates the potential for even more problems for truck drivers, with their larger vehicles. Truck drivers may choose to drive aggressively to make up or save time.
Dangerous Behaviors (From Other Drivers)
While truckers can cause accidents in the blink of an eye, other drivers on the road must also take into account the needs of the truckers who share the road with them and take steps to ensure their safety. Engaging in some of these dangerous behaviors can cause serious challenges for truck drivers and, in many cases, lead to an accident.
- Pulling over in front of a big truck. Big trucks need more room to stop than other vehicles. If another driver pulls over in front of a truck driver, he may struggle to prevent a crash. In some cases, a big truck driver may not have enough room to prevent an accident.
- Sitting in a truck’s blind spot. Truck drivers rely on their mirrors to see what other drivers do around them and where those vehicles are positioned. A driver who sits in a truck’s blind spot may increase accident risk because the truck driver has no idea they have moved to that spot. Drivers must also avoid following too close to a truck.
- Failing to dim the brights. In many cases, bright lights reflecting off of truck mirrors can cause two or more seconds of blindness. This can leave truck drivers completely unable to see what happens around them, which can substantially increase the risk of accidents.
- Not leaving enough room for big trucks to maneuver. Big trucks need much more room to maneuver than smaller passenger vehicles, especially when they need to make a turn. Other drivers, however, may pull up too close to the trucks, leaving them inadequate room to make the turn and increasing the odds of an accident.
In poor weather conditions, every driver on the road often has more trouble navigating. Wet roads alone may substantially increase accident risk. Ice, especially black eyes, may make roads even more slippery. In poor weather conditions, trucks need even more room to recover than regular vehicles. Other weather hazards might include:
- Fog. Fog makes it difficult for drivers to see. Truck drivers may struggle to determine where smaller vehicles move around them, especially if those smaller vehicles have a pale color. Vehicles that remain at a reasonable following distance from trucks may also become more difficult to see in foggy conditions.
- Heavy winds. Heavy winds can send trailers swaying, making them more difficult to control. In heavy winds, truck drivers may need to slow down significantly to travel safely.
- Snow and slush. Snow and slush often significantly decrease visibility, making it difficult for truck drivers to see the road around them. Worse, a protective coating of snow may cover ice on the road, obscuring its presence until the wheels of the truck hit it. These problems are rare in Florida, but that makes them even more dangerous when they’re present, because Florida drivers lack the experience of driving in them.
Trucks should regularly undergo substantial maintenance to keep them road-safe. That maintenance, however, does not always prevent the possibility of mechanical problems.
- Brake failure. Even with brakes that work perfectly, big trucks need plenty of room to stop. Unfortunately, when brakes fail, truck drivers may have few options. Stopping a semi truck without brakes, especially on any sort of incline, may require careful maneuvering. Often, brake failure results in serious accidents.
- Transmission problems. Big trucks receive attention to their transmissions regularly. In some cases, however, overloading or improper loading can cause more wear and tear on a transmission than expected. When the transmission fails, the truck driver may struggle to control the vehicle and prevent accidents.
- Steering issues. Without a properly-maintained steering system, the truck driver cannot safely maneuver the vehicle. Unfortunately, if the steering fails unexpectedly, it can leave the driver struggling to prevent an accident. Getting a big truck safely off the road after a steering failure requires a great deal of skill.
- Headlight or taillight failures. Like the lights on other vehicles, truck headlights and taillights can wear out. While big trucks, with their larger profile, can remain more visible even if the lights go out, a lack of headlights or taillights can still cause serious accidents.
- Tire issues. Big trucks have more wheels to rely on, but blowouts can still cause serious problems, especially in the middle of a long stretch of highway or at high speeds. Regularly replacing tires and avoiding potential hazards in the road can help tires last longer and decrease the odds of blowouts. Tires may also fall off at high speeds, leaving the truck listing to one side or extremely difficult to control.
- Trailer detachment. When a trailer comes loose at the wrong moment, it can cause serious consequences for both the truck driver and others on the road. Hooking the trailer up properly remains one of the most critical parts of the driver’s training.
During loading, the loaders must properly secure a truck driver’s cargo to make it as safe as possible. Improper loading can cause problems, including increasing accident risk.
- Unbalanced cargo. Unbalanced cargo substantially increases accident risk, including the risk of jackknife accidents. Cargo balanced improperly can also shift during the trip, leaving the trailer listing unpredictably.
- Too much weight in the trailer. Carrying too much weight in the trailer poses a substantial hazard for many trucks, since it can increase the odds of transmission damage and make them wear out faster. Worse, too much weight in the trailer can put stress on the brakes, leading to failure. Too much weight in the truck can also make it harder to stop.
- Hazardous cargo. When hazardous cargo receives proper labeling, truck drivers treat it with the appropriate care and caution. Improper labeling, however, can substantially increase accident risk. Worse, improper labeling may cause other drivers to ignore proper precautions around the truck. Hazardous cargo can also increase the damage done to victims of the accident.
What Should You Do After a Truck Accident?
In crash reconstruction scenarios, often, many factors work together to cause an accident. In fact, most of the time, reconstructors cannot isolate a single factor that caused the accident. You may struggle to identify the cause of the accident at the scene. After a truck accident, make sure you follow these steps to help protect yourself.
- Seek medical attention immediately. After a truck accident, you may face serious injuries. Some people discover more serious injuries than initially thought several hours or even days after the accident. By seeking immediate medical attention, you not only get the help you need to start your recovery, you also receive vital evidence about your injuries that can help support your claims.
- Collect evidence at the scene if possible. At the scene of the accident, if you can move around without causing further injury, take the time to collect evidence concerning the accident. Take pictures of the truck and your vehicle, if possible. Make sure you collect insurance information from the driver as well as his contact information. Snapping a picture with your phone is a great way to keep that information easily accessible.
- Contact the authorities. When you call 911 to summon an ambulance, you will also bring the police to the scene. The police will create a report about the accident, which can help indicate fault and allow you to pursue the compensation you deserve following your accident.
- Get in touch with an attorney. Start with a free consultation with an experienced personal injury lawyer. The attorney will tell you whether you have grounds for a personal injury claim and what you should expect from the claims process. If necessary, an attorney can also go to court to help fight for the compensation you deserve after an accident. By contacting an attorney as soon as possible after a truck accident, you increase the attorney’s ability to collect evidence and, in many cases, streamline the claims process.
The Dolman Law Group and Sibley Dolman Accident Injury Lawyers: Your Truck Accident Lawyers
Did you suffer serious injuries in a truck accident? You may need a lawyer to help you negotiate damages or help you secure the settlement you deserve. Contact us at Dolman Law online to learn more about how we can help you seek the compensation you need for your injuries.
With offices across both Florida coasts, you can easily reach Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA, and Sibley Dolman Accident Injury Lawyers, LLP, at 833-552-7274 (833-55-CRASH), or you can email us.
Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers
800 North Belcher Road
Clearwater, FL 33765