Today, the majority of goods are shipped across the country by semi-trucks. From docks to distribution sites to your local stores and businesses, trucks stitch the American economy together.
Trucking equipment largely serves a singular purpose: moving freight. High-powered diesel motors with immense amounts of torque pull one or more trailers behind them, loaded with cargo, with one driver potentially crossing the entire continent in just a few days.
Trucks are designed to pull and maneuver in the most efficient way they can to get this job done. That does not necessarily make them effective at performing evasive maneuvers or stopping quickly.
With massive amounts of weight in tow, trucks are wonders of engineering when it comes to pulling loads down the highway, over mountains, and in all kinds of weather conditions. But with their sheer size, and the massive weight of the loads they haul, it is physically impossible for trucks to respond to road hazards the same way other vehicles would.
Reduced side visibility, increased braking distances, and the dangers of tipping over and wind-over accidents, all contribute to causing disastrous accidents involving semi-trucks. Not to mention that truck drivers work demanding jobs in which one error can cause a catastrophe.
If a semi-truck accident has caused devastation in your life, you may have the right to recover significant compensation. An experienced semi-truck accident injury attorney can tell you how.
Eleven Types of Semi-Truck Accidents
Semi-trucks can cause catastrophic damage on the roads in a wide variety of ways. Here are some of the most common types of truck accidents:
- Shifting freight: This causes poor handling of trailers and can lead to losing control on the road
- Falling freight: Items such as logs, pipe, or other loose and heavy materials can turn into missiles if they fall off a truck at speed.
- Tire blowouts: Retreaded tires or other blowouts can leave debris on the road, or cause a truck to lose control and swerve.
- Collisions: Head-on collisions, rear-ending, or impacts from following too closely are just some of the ways passenger vehicles can collide with semi-trucks, with deadly consequences.
- Jackknifing: This occurs when the axis between the truck and the trailer becomes an acute angle. The truck can no longer drive forward, but may slide down the road sideways and/or rollover. In most instances, the jackknifed truck will also obstruct passage on the road in just about any direction.
- Rollovers: Due to wind, slides, running off the road, or sudden braking, trucks often wreck by rolling over and sliding great distances, or continuing to tumble until something stops them.
- Debris falling from vehicle: Truckers should cover or secure rocks, coal, and other loose, hard substances before driving. Notification on the back of the truck should also indicate the possibility of broken windshields if other motorists follow too closely.
- Sideswiping: A truck changing lanes can pose an extreme hazard to vehicles a trucker does not see in his blind spot. Trucks must signal when changing lanes, and truckers should use their mirrors, but accidents still happen. Remember, if you cannot see the trucker in his rearview mirror, the trucker cannot see you.
- Fires: Overheating motors, brakes, or seized wheels can cause fires. A truck hauling material that catches fire can result in a catastrophic explosion.
- Spills: Oil, fuel, chemicals, or just about anything else a truck hauls pose risks to motorists and to public health when they spill onto a roadway.
- Erratic driving: Many trucking companies post “How Am I Driving?” phone numbers on the backs of their trucks for a reason. Erratic driving by a trucker can put the public at risk.
Causes of Semi-Truck Accidents
Crashes involving semis have a variety of causes. Here are some of the most common:
As an industry, trucking lives and dies by meeting deadlines. Trucks can move many goods to and from precise points. Their capacity to go “the last mile” is what makes them preferable in many cases to hauling cargo long distance by train or ship.
Unfortunately, meeting deadlines for getting goods to a particular place at a particular time buts extreme strain on truck drivers. Federal and state regulations dictate a maximum number of hours trucks can spend behind the wheel, but even truckers who comply with those rules (which is not always the case) struggle to get adequate and restful sleep in between erratic shifts. Studies suggest a significant number of truckers take to the road every day without enough sleep.
Extreme fatigue has the same negative impact on a trucker’s driving abilities as would the trucker having a 0.08 blood alcohol content. That’s right: fatigued driving impairs you the same as drunk driving. This also means that fatigue causes catastrophic accidents in much the same way as drunk driving.
The stress and strain of driving long hours on erratic schedules and under tight deadlines take a toll on truckers. Some of them turn to alcohol and illegal drugs to cope. Others use stimulants to stay awake and alert behind the wheel. Still others have significant health conditions that they manage with prescription medications that have potentially dangerous side effects
Driving while under the influence of alcohol or drugs is nationally prohibited by law, and violators face stiff penalties. In fact, in most states, the threshold for illegal intoxication for commercial truckers is half of that of passenger drivers (0.04 percent BAC versus 0.08 percent BAC). While these laws have kept drunk driving by truckers relatively low, they have not necessarily reduced the use of drugs, legal or illegal, by truckers.
Lack of Training
In the wrong hands, a truck poses a serious threat to everyone. Truck drivers must receive significant training to get a commercial driver’s license (CDL). Still, a trucker’s lack of experience with a particular truck, trailer, or piece of equipment can spell disaster if it leads to the trucker making a mistake behind the wheel.
- Blocked visibility: Trucks are enormous vehicles, and as a result, they have the problem of having more blind spots than a small passenger car. Oftentimes, a truck will be covered in mud or snow from somewhere miles away, and obscured mirrors or windscreens could cause bigger blind spots. If your car goes up against a truck that is changing lanes and if the driver doesn’t see you, your car will lose.
- Mechanical failures: Shredding tires, tow hitch accidents, brake failures on mountain roads are all culprits of semi-truck accidents. Unfortunately, most of these are factors that could have been avoided, either through proper inspection of equipment, regularly scheduled maintenance, or better trained drivers.
- Animal impacts: Large animals such as deer, cattle, or horses can sometimes be unpredictable. Often they get confused near traffic and might wander onto the pavement. Hitting a large animal such as this can cause significant damage to a semi-truck, but it can also cause the driver to make a hasty decision and try to avoid an animal impact. Crossing the dividing line or median on a highway puts the truck in a dangerous situation where they could impact other vehicles or rollover.
- Speeding: Speed is one of the biggest contributors to highway fatalities across the country. Kentucky is rife with winding mountain roads and traveling at high speeds increases your chance of an accident exponentially.
- Physics: A large truck traveling at speed requires a lot of distance to come to a complete stop. The forward momentum of the truck with a full load in its trailer often means that a car pulling out in front of a truck with short notice will result in either an impact, the truck attempting to evade a collision by changing lanes, or driving off the road to avoid hitting another vehicle.
- Overloaded trucks: Another reason the Port of Entry exists is to make sure trucks do not exceed their allocated loads. This reduces wear and tear on the highways, as well as preventing freight from exceeding the capability for the trailer or semi to handle. Some employers will overload vehicles to cut costs, but this can lead to accidents and no profits gained on overloading a truck are worth injuring other people.
- Distracted driver: A common cause of auto accidents is a driver who can’t manage to stay off their cell phone. Being distracted is potentially as dangerous as being intoxicated while driving, and is entirely avoidable. If you are injured by a driver who was distracted by their electronic device, you need to contact an attorney.
Six Steps You Need to Take After an Accident
In Kentucky, the process of working through a collision might differ from other states. Take note of what the law says in regards to what to do in the event of an accident.
- Make sure everyone is safe. In Kentucky, getting medical treatment is your first priority. Contact first responders if available or get any injured parties to adequate facilities to treat their injuries as soon as possible.
- Get the vehicles clear from the road. Doing this reduces the chances for other people to be injured. If you can pull off the road, do so. If your vehicle is pinned or incapacitated by a semi-truck, you need to make sure that you are safe from traffic. If your injuries are severe, stay put until help arrives. If they are lesser, get out of your vehicle and remain a safe distance from the road.
- Gather information. If there are no injuries, start by getting information about the vehicle and driver of the other car. They will need to provide registration information to you (or vice versa), as well as names of the owner, driver, occupants, and insurance information of the vehicles. Take note especially if you suspect the driver of a truck was under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Get as much information as you can. After an accident, your adrenaline might cause your heart to race and hurt your ability to make good decisions.
- Take pictures: One way to navigate this is by using your smartphone (if you have one) to take pictures of things, rather than write them down. You can go back to the pictures later. Here are a few things you can take a picture of: Insurance card, Registration information, Damage to the vehicle, Scene of the accident, Driver’s licenses (for address info) and if the other person permits you to do this.
- Write information down: For things you cannot take pictures of, simply write them down or type them into your notes on your phone if you have one.
- Consult an attorney: If you were in a semi-truck accident, you need an attorney. Period. Oftentimes, truck accidents are caused by negligence, lack of training, or poor judgment. In short, many semi-truck accidents are preventable and the driver of the truck, as well as the company they work for, should answer for your injuries.
Contact a truck accident lawyer if you were one of the approximately 116,000 people injured every year in an accident involving a semi-truck, or if your loved one was one of the more than 4,000 who died in one. Insurance companies will always try to give you the lowest possible amount for compensation, even in the event of a severe injury. Take control of the situation. Your livelihood and even your quality of life may be forever changed. A truck accident lawyer can fight for you to make things right.