10 Types of Truck Accidents and How They Change Your Life
Sharing the road with large semi-trucks requires trusting that the truck is mechanically safe and the driver is properly trained. No matter how defensively you drive, it only takes a second for a truck driver to lose control, placing you and your passengers at risk for serious harm.
The types of injuries that can result from a semi-truck versus passenger vehicle crash are often life-changing. The need for continuous medical and personal care, along with your inability to return to your career, creates physical, financial, and emotional stress. If a semi-truck crashed into your passenger vehicle and you were seriously injured, contact a Kentucky truck accident attorney.
Meanwhile, here are 10 common types of truck accidents.
Types of Semi-Truck Accidents
There’s no doubt that a large semi-truck is no match in size and weight for a passenger vehicle. An out-of-control truck can come at you from any angle, at any moment, leaving you no chance of escaping the impact. Let’s take a closer look at some of the more common types of semi-truck accidents:
- Underride crashes – Large trucks have much higher ground clearance than passenger vehicles. When an underride crash occurs, a vehicle slides under the side of a tractor-trailer or a straight truck from behind or from the side and jams underneath, flattening the passenger compartment and injuring or killing the vehicle’s occupants. The term also describes what happens when bicyclists, pedestrians, and motorcyclists slide under the body of a truck, usually from the side, and are in danger of being run over.
Often referred to as side-impact crashes, the topic is one of hot discussion among advocates for guards on the sides and front of semi-trucks.
Underride crashes are usually fatal for anyone in a passenger vehicle. For those who survive the impact, their injuries are often catastrophic. The true statistics regarding these types of crashes aren’t known due to underreporting by law enforcement. Officers receive little or no training on how to identify and record underride crashes. While the DOT acknowledges this and pledges to do better in educating first responders, there is no timeline in place for doing so. Until laws require side and front guards, everyone is at risk of an underride crash.
- Rear-end collisions – By law, a fully loaded semi-truck can weigh as much as 80,000 pounds. That is no match for a passenger vehicle with an average weight of 4,000 pounds. Once a distracted or speeding semi-truck driver realizes the need to stop, brake lag becomes a factor. Brake lag refers to how long it takes for all the brakes on a semi-truck to fully engage.
The force of a rear-end collision caused by a semi-truck driver can push your vehicle forward. You and your passengers may experience a double impact, both from the starting rear-end collision, followed by striking the vehicle in front of you. The results are devastating and typically leave victims with serious injuries.
- Rollover accidents – Any type of truck can roll over, but the danger to other drivers increases when a semi-truck has a cargo tanker. These trucks carry usually carry hazardous materials, such as gasoline, crude oil, and flammable gases. Cargo tanks are prone to what is called, “slosh and surge,” an effect of unstable movement by liquid materials in the tank. Rollover accidents involving cargo tank trucks can cause your vehicle to erupt in fire, subjecting you and your passengers to burns and harmful gasses.
A study by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) found that 66 percent of rollover accidents involved drivers with 10 or more years of experience. The study also found that 54 percent of cargo tank rollovers involved trucks with defective brakes. Truck drivers have a major responsibility in transporting products and materials to their destination. They provide a valuable service for the nation’s economy. However, no one should pay out-of-pocket for expenses that occur due to a negligent truck driver and/or trucking company. If this has recently happened to you or to someone you love, reviewing your case with a personal injury attorney is a smart idea.
- Backing. “Backing is always dangerous,” as indicated in the Commercial Driver’s License manual. A driver is required to “Get out and Look” (GOAL) before performing a backing maneuver. Drivers often require spotters to help perform a backing maneuver. A driver should signal when he or she is backing by honking the horn and putting on the four-way flashers.
If a driver focuses on only one mirror, they aren’t doing their job correctly. This will create blindspots to the other side and rear of the semi-truck. The direct rear of a semi-truck is always hard to see for a driver, but watching both mirrors gives the driver a better view.
Many reasons make backing a semi-truck difficult:
- Location: A driver backing in an area that typically has pedestrians or other cars might be easily distracted. Even in remote, industrial areas, a trucker may miss a pedestrian or another driver while going about their workday.
- Hard to see: Semi-trucks do have backup alarms. Most people would recognize the distinctive beep of a reversing truck. This feature is great for pedestrians or other drivers, but some semi-truck drivers may rely on the alarm and fail to properly evaluate the area.
- Low-light or harsh weather: Darkness makes pedestrians hard to see, especially if they’re wearing dark clothing. The same goes for other drivers in hard rain and strong winds.
- U-Turns. Truck drivers are trained to not make a U-turn on any street, road, highway, or interstate unless directed to do so by law enforcement. If a truck driver turns or gets lost, the driver should keep going until he or she finds a large parking lot and turn around there. Otherwise, the driver should go around the block. A poorly planned route can ruin an on-schedule trip. A driver must plan ahead to choose the correct and safest directions to the load pickup and delivery locations.
U-turns are dangerous for semi-trucks for many reasons:
- The driver can’t see. The driver already has limited visibility when a truck is traveling under normal conditions. The driver loses even more visibility if they take the widest turn possible for a semi-truck.
- The truck may not be visible to other drivers. If the semi-truck is in a dangerous area, or in poor weather conditions, drivers may have trouble seeing the semi-truck as it makes a wide turn.
- The truck will block several lanes of the road. If a semi-truck needs to make a U-turn, it will likely have to cross many lanes of traffic as the driver attempts that turn. This of course makes it more likely another driver will fail to see the truck and an accident may be caused.
- Lane changes/blindspots. Trucks have a lot of mirrors. That does not mean that the driver uses them correctly. Truck drivers should know the blind spots, or no zones. A truck driver is trained from the beginning about managing space 360 degrees around the truck.
To be a safe driver, a trucker has to know what is going around all around his vehicle. Not looking properly is a major cause of accidents involving trucks. Because stopping or changing lanes can take a lot of distance, knowing what the traffic is doing on all sides of the truck is very important. A trucker must look well ahead to make sure that there is enough room to make these moves safely.
A good truck operator will look at least 12 to 15 seconds ahead. That means looking ahead a distance that the truck will travel in 12 to 15 seconds. Allow for lots of room when driving around a truck. The hood of a semi hides part of the road from the truck driver.
Lane changes that result in a big truck striking a smaller vehicle can occur due to blind spots that bad weather causes. At night, a driver can only see as far as the illumination cast by the truck’s headlights.
Consequently, a trucker driving at night must drive slowly enough to stop within the distance of the headlights. Driving any faster is referred to as over-driving the headlights. This is a potentially dangerous practice as, by the time the truck operator sees a hazard, the object will be closer than the distance the driver will need to come to a complete stop.
- Perception distance: This is the distance the vehicle travels from the time the driver’s eyes sees the hazard until the brain recognizes it. The perception time for an alert driver is about 3/4 of a second. At 55 miles per hour a truck will travel 60 feet in 3/4 of a second.
- Reaction distance: The distance the truck will travel from the time the driver’s brain tells the driver to take his foot off the accelerator until the foot id actually pushing the brake pedal. The average driver has a reaction time of 3/4 of a second. At 55 miles per hour the truck, therefore will travel an additional 60 feet for a total of 120 feet.
- Braking distance: The distance it takes to stop once the brakes are put on. At 55 miles per hour on dry pavement with good brakes, it can take a heavy vehicle about 390 feet to stop. It takes about four seconds.
- Total stopping distance: At 55 miles per hour it will take about six seconds to stop a truck and the truck will have traveled about 512 feet.
As a general rule at low beam, a tractor-trailer’s headlights will illuminate about 250 feet in front of the vehicle. High beams will illuminate for approximately 350 to 500 feet—subject, of course, to whether the lights were properly working, adjusted properly, and free of road debris, mud, and dirt.
A semi-truck has multiple blind spots that every driver on the road should know about, including:
- Behind the trailer. If you are following a large truck, you should allow a large gap between yourself and the back of the trailer. Semis do not have rear-view mirrors like passenger vehicles do, so if you cannot see the mirrors on the sides of the cab, the driver simply cannot see you, sometimes as far back as 200 feet—or even more. Though all trailers are required by law to have rear underride guards in case of rear-end accidents, a collision with a fully loaded tractor-trailer can still be devastating.
- On either side of the trailer. Most trucks have blind spots on the left, but the right blind spot is particularly dangerous. It usually runs the full length of the trailer and the cab as well. The right blind spot can extend out as far as three lanes, making passing on the right a particularly dangerous situation. Trucks also require extra space on the right when making a right-hand turn. It is always best to avoid passing or even driving to the right of a truck.
- In front of the cab. The driver’s cabin of a semi is very high off the ground. Given most engine-forward tractor designs, there is a significant area directly in front of a truck where any hazards, including smaller vehicles, are blocked by the engine compartment—and are completely invisible to the driver.
- Rear and side crashes. A car should never end up under a truck no matter whose fault it was that the car ended up there. Underride accidents frequently result in severe injuries and deaths. The fact that the car is under the truck may mean that the truck owner or truck driver has a responsibility to the occupants of the car.
Large trucks require more space to make turns. All too often the wide turns result in a collision. Heavy trucks require more time to make turns. Frequently truck drivers underestimate the time necessary to cross traffic and/or turn in front of rapidly moving cars. Being rear-ended by a semi truck can cause serious injury. These are some of the most serious cases with catastrophic injury.
- Improperly loaded cargo. Cargo that is not loaded according to regulations and generally accepted safety protocol can cause a serious semi-truck accident in a number of ways. The cargo could add so much weight to an already oversized truck that it causes top-heaviness, thus increasing the risk of a jackknife or rollover. Improperly loaded cargo can also shift while in motion. In such cases, objects on the truck may be more likely to fall off, leaving dangerous debris on the roadway.
People can be seriously injured during loading and unloading errors. Loads come out of position, trucks tip over, people get caught between the truck and the loading facility.
- Heavy boxes or pallets can topple over while being unloaded, causing serious injuries.
- A semi may strike a pedestrian or driver while attempting to back into an unloading zone.
- Pedestrians or drivers may be injured if the trailer is not properly secured.
- Uneven weight distribution inside the trailer may cause the trailer to topple over, causing injury or death to anyone who is around the trailer.
- Loose cargo may shift during transit, making the trailer dangerous for drivers on the road.
Whenever there is a truck cargo loading or unloading accident (or a motor vehicle crash caused by improper loading of the trailer), where the accident occurs is crucial to determining what parties may be responsible for causing or contributing to the crash.
When the accident occurs at the unloading dock due to the carelessness of the company unloading the materials, then identifying the party responsible for the accident may not be challenging. But when there is reason to believe negligence or carelessness during the loading process may have played a role in the crash, the task of identifying responsible parties becomes more challenging.
The location at which the truck was loaded and the company and employees responsible for loading the particular truck involved in the crash will need to be identified. Depositions with workers and supervisors will reveal which employee or employees bear responsibility for improperly loading the truck. Where the memories of individuals are lacking, camera videos and employee timesheets and logs may provide useful information as to who may be responsible for the accident.
- Backing. Most would agree that one of the difficulties of truck driving is the backing up maneuver safely. Usually, a truck driver will need to reverse the truck and trailer to a docking station for delivery or pick up. It could a station for the pick-up of refrigerated goods or heavy packages and boxes. In any case, the driver must be firmly aware of the dimensions of the area in which the backing up truck and trailer must fit. It is important to be able to see by way of the outer mirrors or a back-up truck camera to see the end of the trailer.
The easiest backing up maneuver is the straight-line back up. Even if the backing up to the dock seems obvious, it can still be dangerous if the driver is not aware of the exact location of the dock. Too often truckers miscalculate a distance or size of the dock area and crash into the dock possibly injuring another worker or damaging the trailer and the trucker’s load.
Another backing up maneuver that is difficult is the one where the driver has to do a 90-degree alley docking. The truck and trailer are connected by a kind of hinge, the tandem that allows the trailer to swing to the side or to the necessary degree in order to load or unload the cargo for the trailer. Sometimes a driver will need to swing the trailer to the left or to the right depending on the dock location. Some docks have 45-degree alley docks that make the maneuver even more difficult and often times dangerous.
Semi-tractor and trailer drivers are called upon to back up their vehicles in all kinds of places. The conventional trailer is 53 feet long with the added length of the tractor that would bring the total length of the truck and trailer to about 70 feet. A truck driver may be faced with a delivery or pick up at a place, like retail store where most deliveries are done by short truck or van. That maneuver into a tight space may put at risk pedestrians and other workers as the truck driver tries to swing the tractor and trailer into the tight space allowed for the delivery.
The How and Why of Semi-Truck Accidents
The responsibility that comes with holding a commercial driver’s license (CDL) is one that Kentucky law takes very seriously. A CDL is a truck driver’s professional license that holds the key to his career and paycheck.
Federal law mandates the hours of service a semi-truck driver must adhere to while on the road. The regulations set limits for how long a driver can travel before they must take a rest break. No amount of rules can prevent a driver from taking careless risks behind the wheel. These risks can involve:
- Driving under the influence (DUI) – While the standard blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is 0.08 in Kentucky, the standard is much lower for those with a CDL at 0.04 percent. Drivers who take drugs or alcohol while behind the wheel risk losing their CDL forever.
- Drowsy driving – Drivers who follow the hours of service rules can still become drowsy while behind the wheel. Unusual sleeping conditions, an inability to rest during a designated break, or an undiagnosed sleeping disorder can result in tragedy.
- Speeding – A majority of semi-truck drivers are paid per mile, which can lead to speeding to reach their destination sooner. Aggressive driving is another reckless action that semi-truck drivers initiate, leading to road rage and serious consequences for passenger vehicles.
- Distracted Driving – Semi-truck drivers, like passenger vehicle drivers, become distracted by smartphones, navigational devices, and while eating behind the wheel.
- Truck mechanics and maintenance – As noted with rollover accidents, defective brakes are a common cause of many semi-truck accidents. Brake lag and other factors are crucial in ensuring a semi-truck can stop in an appropriate amount of time.
Another safety issue is that of the rear impact guards on tractor-trailers. While side guards are not required, rear guards are; however, an inspection of these guards is not required. This means that many rear guards are in poor condition and do little to stop vehicles from sliding underneath the semi-truck.
Semi-truck driver behavior and actions while behind the wheel account for many Kentucky accidents. It is important to note that the company that owns the semi-truck and that employs the driver may also be liable for damages.
Common Injuries Associated with Semi-Truck Accidents
No matter how a semi-truck collides with your car, the weight, size, and force of the impact are usually catastrophic. Your quick trip to the store or your commute home from work can go from a daily routine to tragedy, all due to no fault of your own. Some of the more serious injuries commonly associated with semi-truck accidents include:
Traumatic brain injury (TBI) – The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) defines TBI as a bump, blow, jolt, or penetrating head injury that disrupts normal brain function. A severe TBI can affect the following:
- Cognitive function: Thinking and memory
- Motor function: Balance and coordination
- Sensation: Hearing, vision, taste, and touch
- Behavior and emotions: Changes in disposition, bouts of anger and depression
For patients with severe TBI, the associated costs for medical and personal care are typically astronomical. While you might want to care for your loved one at home, they may require 24-hour care. The average cost of a skilled nursing facility in Kentucky is more than $7,500 per month. The costs, along with finding the right facility, create incredible stress for you and your family.
Spinal cord injury – The spinal cord has an important job in communicating with the brain. When the spinal cord is severely injured, a patient has limited to no movement or sensation below the point of injury. Patients are left with paralysis and require power chairs for mobility. Other expensive needs are home modifications and accessible transportation.
The lifetime costs of a spinal cord injury can easily reach into the millions of dollars each year. Equipment needs replacing throughout the years, and the patient may require frequent re-hospitalizations for associated respiratory and other conditions.
Broken bones – With more than 200 bones in the human body, the chance of breaking more than one in a semi-truck accident is high. Breaking a major bone can require multiple surgeries and extensive physical therapy. Depending upon the type of break, the recovery process may prevent you from returning to a career you once enjoyed. It may also limit your mobility and require help with daily tasks such as dressing and bathing.
Internal injuries – You may feel fine immediately following a semi-truck accident when in fact, you have serious internal injuries. These types of injuries are why it is imperative to always seek immediate medical attention. Only a trained medical professional using the right equipment can determine such issues as internal bleeding or organ damage.
Burns – When a fire erupts after a semi-truck accident, you may experience serious burns. Treatment often means admission to a burn center. Depending upon the location of the center, it may require your family to commute or to relocate closer to you.
Burns often require painful skin grafts and cosmetic surgery. Patients with burns are at risk for serious infections. Experiencing severe burns, all because a tanker truck driver was speeding and careless, demands accountability.
Why You Need a Personal Injury Attorney
Insurance companies like to settle cases quickly. They are skillful in how they present settlement offers to the injured. While their initial offer may seem like a lot of money to you, chances are it isn’t enough to cover your future medical needs. It is important to recognize that the insurance company is looking out for their best interests—not yours.
Dealing with serious injuries is no time to stress over the details of your case. By securing the services of an experienced personal injury attorney, familiar with Kentucky law, you can rest better knowing someone is at work for you. Most personal injury attorneys offer free case evaluations, so you might want to consider contacting one soon after your accident. Time is of the essence due to the statute of limitations for filing personal injury claims.
The right personal injury attorney will fight for the financial compensation you deserve. If they are unable to reach an out-of-court settlement, your attorney must be willing to go to trial. An attorney can also keep you up-to-date regarding the process of your case.
Lying in a hospital bed after a serious semi-truck accident is no time to deal with aggressive insurance companies. When you sustain injuries due to no fault of your own, you need someone knowledgeable in Kentucky law on your side. A personal injury attorney can afford you the peace-of-mind you need to concentrate on your health and your family.
Semi-Truck Accidents Happen Every Day
In one year, nearly 10,000 truck accidents took place in Kentucky. Nationwide, an astonishing 1,300 cargo tank rollovers occur, averaging approximately four accidents a day of that type of accident alone. While we all take a risk each time we get behind the wheel, we strive to drive responsibly and to share the road. It is impossible to know what actions a semi-truck driver is taking behind the wheel while traveling beside them on a Kentucky highway. You can only trust that the driver is responsible and the truck is safe.
When a semi-truck driver chooses to take risks behind the wheel, they place everyone around them at risk for serious harm. There is no excuse for careless actions such as speeding, driving while drowsy, distracted, or drunk. Their actions are 100 percent preventable. The injuries you receive are ones you may deal with for the rest of your life. That is unfair, unjust, and expensive.
Discussing your case with a personal injury attorney for free means you have nothing to lose. Gather as much evidence as you can, such as photos or videos of the accident scene and the contact information for witnesses. Don’t speak with insurance company representatives, and instead, try to consult with an attorney as soon as possible.
The sad reality is that semi-truck accidents happen every day. If this happens to you, resulting in serious and possibly life-long injuries, consider reaching out to a personal injury attorney. While each case is different, you may be entitled to compensation for your medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering. Don’t wait and don’t try to handle your case alone. An experienced semi-truck accident lawyer is your best bet for a brighter future.