When cruising down a highway, there is often nothing more intimidating than driving side-by-side with a semi-truck. Semi-trucks are large and unwieldy, and any passenger vehicle will feel small in comparison. As it turns out, a healthy fear of semi-trucks is warranted: In 2017, there were 148,000 people injured in crashes involving large trucks, including 4,761 fatalities.
One risk posed by semi-trucks is the risk of a rollover. Given the size and weight distribution of these big rigs, they are more susceptible to rollovers than other types of vehicles. Unfortunately, rollovers can be particularly dangerous for the occupants of the semi-trucks and of any other vehicle involved in the crash.
Read on to understand why rollovers occur, the unique rollover risks presented by semi-trucks, and what to do if you are involved in a rollover accident.
The name “rollover accident” seems self-explanatory, but there are actually two types of rollover accidents:
No matter the cause of the rollover, if a rollover occurs with a semi-truck, someone is likely to get injured—whether it is an occupant of the semi-truck or another vehicle on the road. In fact, 48 percent of large truck occupant deaths in 2017 occurred in crashes where the truck rolled over. This percentage is significantly higher than the rate of deaths in cars involved in a rollover, which was only 22 percent.
Many general factors contribute to rollovers in all vehicles, including traveling at faster speeds, consuming alcohol, and driving on uneven or slick roads. These factors will certainly contribute to rollovers in semi-trucks. There are several factors, however, which have proven particularly relevant to semi-truck rollover accidents. An analysis of large truck rollover crashes, based on the Large Truck Crash Causation Study undertaken by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, found that the following factors were most relevant to large truck rollovers:
Each of these factors is discussed in more detail below.
Speed was a factor in 45 percent of the rollover accidents analyzed in the report. While simply traveling at excessive speeds may seem to be the obvious issue, the real issue is anytime a truck is traveling at a speed faster than the conditions warrant, regardless of the speed limit. Circumstances that might warrant a more cautious speed include:
Speed is a critical factor for semi-trucks given the likelihood that these trucks are carrying significant loads. Rollovers are likely to occur when the front wheels of the truck turn more quickly than the cargo being carried, and the faster the speed of the vehicle, the greater the difference will be. Therefore, the faster the speed, the more likely a rollover will occur.
Truck drivers are particularly prone to suffering from attentiveness while driving due to the long hours and mindless stretches of road they regularly navigate. Truck drivers can drive up to 3,000 miles per week and as many as 11 hours a day. These long days can cause driver fatigue and can encourage distracted driving. Anything causing a driver to give less than full attention to driving is considered distracted driving, including conversations with passengers, eating, changing the radio station, or talking on a cell phone.
One leading cause of rollovers was found to be inattention that then required the driver to make a sudden change in direction or speed, resulting in a rollover. Another cause was falling asleep at the wheel or being so drowsy that the driver was unaware of what was happening. This caused drivers to drift off the road and rolling over, either due to contact with soil or an object such as a guardrail. In less frequent instances, the driver attempted to quickly steer back onto the road, with the quick change in motion causing the rollover.
The most common control issue resulting in rollovers are those related to steering. This is because improper or sudden changes in steering can affect the balance of the vehicle. These steering issues can include over-steering, under-steering, and overcorrecting. Additional control issues contributing to semi-truck rollover accidents include:
The size, weight, and handling requirements of semi-trucks make them particularly prone to rollovers.
If a semi-truck rollover occurs, the chances of injury, death, and property damage are high. A rollover will cause significant motion as the vehicle flips onto its side and roof. Even if using a seat belt restraint appropriately, occupants are likely to come into contact with objects flying around inside the truck. If a seat belt is not used, the chances of injury increase exponentially. When a seat belt is not worn, rollovers present a high risk of ejection. The turning of the vehicle accompanied by the shattering or deformation of windows increase the chances that an occupant will be thrown from the car.
The likelihood of injuries or fatalities increases whenever a rollover occurs. National statistics show that close to 30 percent of traffic fatalities were the result of a rollover. Kentucky saw 724 traffic fatalities in 2018, and 169 involved a rollover. Even when there are no fatalities, the injuries occurring as the result of a rollover can be quite severe, including:
The above injuries are commonly seen for occupants of vehicles involved in rollovers. It is important to also acknowledge that individuals who are not an occupant of the rollover vehicle are also likely to be injured. Unless a semi-truck is traveling on a completely empty road at the time of the roll-over, it may come into contact with other vehicles. Additionally, its cargo is likely to spill across the roadway, creating obstacles for other drivers. The size and weight of a semi-truck and the likelihood that its cargo will block the roadway mean that occupants of other vehicles affected by the rollover are likely to suffer serious and long term injuries as well.
In addition to injuries, there is likely to be significant damage to the semi-truck, its cargo, and any other vehicle involved in the accident.
Not all accidents are preventable, but many are. Semi-truck drivers and their employers can reduce the risk that a rollover will occur. The two most important steps to preventing large truck rollovers include:
While special attention should be paid to the above, common sense factors will also go a long way in reducing rollovers and the severity of injuries:
If you have been involved in a semi-truck accident, whether as an occupant or another vehicle, you may be confused about what your options are for addressing any personal injuries and property damage. First, be sure to take care of yourself. Seek out the necessary medical attention. Even if you do not believe you have any major injuries, it is still important to see a doctor. The adrenaline from the event may mask injuries, and failure to immediately document an injury could limit your ability to recover from an insurance company.
After making sure your injuries are taken care of, it will be important to determine whether another party may have been at fault for the crash. Be sure to secure a police report, document witness contact information, and take photos of the accident scene. All this information will be helpful if you need to develop a case against another party.
If you were the driver of the semi-truck involved in the rollover, you should consider whether:
If you were in another vehicle involved in the semi-truck rollover, you should investigate:
All drivers involved in the accident should explore whether their vehicle responded appropriately, including whether airbags appropriately deployed. Any failures in safety mechanisms will contribute to the seriousness of injuries. The manufacturer should be responsible for injuries resulting from these failures.
Given the number of federal laws surrounding truck drivers, the complexity of truck maintenance, and the many possible causes of a truck rollover, it may be helpful to consult an attorney. An attorney can help you determine whether you should seek compensation from any of the involved parties. Such actions could include a lawsuit against the city or state for poor road conditions. It could include an investigation into the compliance practices of the truck driver and their employer. Additionally, an attorney can help you navigate the complicated insurance processes surrounding commercial trucks.
If you need additional assistance, an experienced personal injury attorney can provide support through every step of the post-accident process.