The Dangers of Semi-Trucks to Other Motorists

A drive, whether on a highway or city street, can turn into a harrowing experience when you must travel alongside large trucks such as semi-trucks, tractor-trailers, and flatbeds. Many people have witnessed a semi-truck accident or seen its aftermath along the side of a road, and can understand the dangers and risks these massive modes of transportation can pose to everyday drivers and passengers.

Those who are injured in such accidents naturally question how the accident could have been so destructive. And, in bringing a lawsuit for compensation after such an accident, victims need to understand why large trucks pose such significant danger for catastrophic injury.

How Dangerous Are Truck Accidents in the U.S.?

In a given year in the U.S., over 4,000 deaths can be attributed to large truck accidents. Of this staggering number, the majority of the deaths are attributed to occupants of passenger vehicles impacted by large trucks. Trucks pose a serious danger and threat to the health and safety of all drivers and passengers that they commute alongside.

It may be easy to assume that these accidents take place in high-speed settings on busy highways and expressways. But large truck accidents happen on all kinds of roads. Indeed, while 32 percent of large truck accidents happen on interstates and highways, 52 percent occur on other types of major roads.

The danger to passenger vehicle occupants is also affected by the time of day most large truck accidents occur. The vast majority of these accidents do not happen at night or early-morning hours but rather during the busiest times throughout the day along commuter routes between the hours of 6 a.m. and 6 p.m.

Types of Semi-Truck Accidents

There are several types of large truck accidents, each of which presents its own hazards and injury risks.

Examples of semi-truck accidents include:

The multiple different categories of accidents can be attributed to the design of large trucks, which makes them more dangerous than normal passenger vehicles in many ways.

The Semi-Truck Design

By design, a semi-truck is not just large in height and length but also heavy in weight. These trucks are also raised much higher off the ground than most other vehicles. These design elements contribute to catastrophic damage when a semi is involved in an accident with a smaller vehicle.

The weight of a semi-truck can range from the low end of 10,000 pounds when pulling no cargo to up to 80,000 pounds with a fully loaded trailer attached. Even on the lighter end of the scale, the weight of these vehicles more than doubles or triples other passenger vehicles on the roadways. For example, on average, mid-size passenger vehicles weigh in the range of 3,000-4,000 pounds. Larger SUVs and trucks can weigh 6,000 pounds. It is easy to see how a collision between a semi-truck and a passenger vehicle leaves the occupants of the lighter passenger vehicle at high risk of injuries.

The danger of commercial trucks due to their disproportionate size is compounded by the fact that these larger vehicles are also more difficult to control and are thus more prone to losing control in ways that result in accidents. For one, these vehicles are often difficult to maneuver and can be a challenge to bring to a stop under normal conditions, and only more in adverse weather conditions or on difficult terrain, such as highways through mountainous areas. These conditions often lead truck drivers to lose control of their vehicles and collide with other vehicles traveling alongside the truck or parked along the road.

Semi-trucks are also higher off the ground than most other vehicles. These vehicles are not only taller overall but have a larger distance between the ground and their trailers. This contributes to semi-trucks having a higher center of gravity than other vehicles. This makes these vehicles more prone to rollover accidents, which can put everyone on the roadways at risk when they occur.

Inadequate Safety Protections Against Underride and Override Accidents

Some of the most horrific and terrifying semi-truck collisions occur in underride or override accidents. In an underride accident, a vehicle will crash into a semi either from behind the truck or the side of the truck and become lodged under the semi-truck’s trailer. These accidents can take place at high rates of speed and angles which can result in fatal injuries.

In an override accident, a truck can’t brake in time runs over the vehicles ahead on the road, entrapping the vehicles underneath the front end of the semi-truck. More often than not these accidents result in fatalities or catastrophic injuries to the drivers and passengers of other vehicles involved. The severity of many of these accidents could be greatly reduced with the incorporation of safety features and protections. Sadly, many of these measures are not yet mandatory across the U.S.

This inherent danger of the large truck design has been recognized since the early days of the trucking industry when the first-ever patents for underride protections were sought. While much time has passed since the original concepts for underride protections were introduced, the law in many jurisdictions has failed to address the issue.

Throughout countries in Europe, underride protections have been mandated for quite some time, and have proven to reduce fatal injuries. However, the federal and state governments in the U.S. have been slow to enact such mandates due to pressures within the trucking industry, and thus have failed to provide adequate underride protection standards to protect against one of the most sinister dangers posed by commercial trucks.

Commercial Truck Cargo

The primary purpose of commercial trucks is the transport of cargo of all sorts to cities, towns, and rural communities in America. The cargo in a given semi-truck can present its own dangers to individuals along the roadways.

Improperly loaded cargo can cause big problems for a truck driver. There is a science to loading materials and goods to semi-trucks and tractor-trailers so that weight is properly distributed and balanced. Individuals responsible for the loading of these trucks must take care to ensure weight limits are followed, the cargo is balanced, and the cargo is properly secured.

Any failure in proper weight distribution, as well as limits, may cause a truck driver to lose control and end up in an accident. Cargo that is not properly secured on flatbed open trailers can become flying debris and projectiles threatening surrounding vehicles. In improperly loaded enclosed shipping containers, weight shifts can lead to rollovers.

While most cargo shipped on U.S. roadways consists of building materials and consumer goods which do not in and of themselves pose a significant danger, some cargo is inherently dangerous and can be an additional risk to the public. Whether a spillage or exposure during or after an accident, such hazardous cargo can exacerbate the harm to accident victims. Take, for instance, a semi-truck carrying petroleum that ends up rolling over; in addition to impacting other vehicles in a collision, the petroleum could ignite into a fire and cause additional harm and injuries to other drivers and passengers.

The Work Demands

The truck industry is notorious for being demanding of its drivers. Trucking companies have strict deadlines and place immense pressure on drivers to meet them. Drivers are often on the road for long hours with little rest and are consistently pushed to their limits. The employer’s demands to get a shipment in by a deadline that requires a truck driver to test their physical limits creates a high risk of accidents caused by things like driver fatigue.

Although trucking is a government-regulated industry with work hour limitations and requirements companies and drivers must satisfy, the rules are often overlooked, and profits are prioritized over public safety. Even with the threat of heavy fines, many truck drivers and companies continue to ignore safety regulations. From failing to properly train drivers, to exceeding work hour limits, there are many instances in which companies and drivers act negligently and increase the chances of accidents.

Failure to Perform Maintenance and Truck Defects

A trucking company and its drivers have the responsibility to maintain the safety of their vehicles at all times through routine inspections, maintenance, and necessary repairs. Shortcuts during inspections, missed maintenance, or delayed repairs can render a commercial truck an imminent danger to all on the road around it.

Even if a trucking company ensures proper maintenance, the truck itself may have defects that could lead to an accident. These flaws may be invisible or unrecognized and thus go unaddressed in routine maintenance checks. In such cases, the manufacturer or those actors responsible for the design flaw may be responsible to compensate victims of accidents caused by the flaw.

The Most Common Causes of Truck Accidents

Clearly, semi-truck accidents have many different causes. However, driver negligence is at the top of the list of reasons that these accidents take place. From work demands, to attempts to cut corners and irresponsible driving, there are several causes of truck accidents that can be attributed to a truck driver’s negligence.

Common causes of semi-truck accidents due to driver negligence include:

  • Driving under the influence
  • Truck driver improperly trained or lacking experience
  • Reckless driving
  • Driver fatigue
  • Improperly loaded or overweight cargo
  • Excessive speed

Injuries Associated with Truck Accidents

Because of the heightened dangers of commercial trucks, many passenger vehicle occupants involved in a truck accident lose their lives or face catastrophic injuries that will impact every aspect of their lives going forward. To walk away from a semi-truck accident with only minor injuries is a fortunate outcome, but less likely than in other kinds of vehicle accident incidents, due to all of the additional dangers posed by large trucks.

Truck accident survivors face a long road to recovery from their injuries and the losses they have suffered. Astronomical pain, suffering, and expenses can accompany injuries that require emergency treatment, surgeries, continued care, and rehabilitation.

Semi-truck accident victims can suffer severe injuries such as:

  • Traumatic brain injuries
  • Amputation
  • Spinal injuries
  • Trauma to the head and spine
  • Nerve damage
  • Burn injuries
  • Disfigurement
  • Crush injuries
  • Fractured bones
  • Severe lacerations
  • Fatal injuries

Who Could Be Liable in a Semi-Truck Accident?

Accidents involving semi-trucks and tractor-trailers can be some of the most complex vehicle accident cases to deal with. One reason why is because these accidents usually occur while the driver is engaged in work, which complicates liability. While some drivers work for companies, others may work for themselves. Often there is also a focus on the truck’s ownership which can also be complicated.

While trucks may be owned by a company and drivers are employed by that company, other times the drivers themselves might be the owners or hold a stake in the ownership of a truck. This can cause difficulties in the determination or designation of liability when an accident occurs.

Large truck accident cases may also involve manufacturer liability. If evidence shows that a truck is flawed in its design or defective in its manufacturing, you may hold the manufacturer of the truck liable in full or part for any possible accident caused by those errors.

The same holds for vital equipment or parts of the truck which were added separately—that is, were not designed and installed by the truck manufacturer. Designation of liability in semi-truck accident cases requires tedious evaluation of the facts, research of the parties and relationships involved, and analysis of all potential causes or contributing factors to the accident. Because of this, it is an especially wise move for large truck accident victims to seek the assistance of an experienced truck accident attorney to assist in their cases.

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