Why Are Trucking Accidents So Dangerous?

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Truck Accidents Can Be Deadly

It’s 3:30 am and most of Pennsylvania is asleep. But on the highways all over the Commonwealth, truck drivers are hard at work. Some drivers have been on the road since early afternoon the day before, and they are still hours from their destination. Others are just getting underway, and it’ll be dark again before they are off the road. 

Commercial truckers are a special type of person, with skill sets the average American neither has nor needs. They are highly trained and are experts at piloting 40 tons of steel and cargo over thousands of miles of highway and street. But, trucking accidents happen about every 15 minutes in the United States. Trucking accidents are some of the most dangerous of all vehicle crashes because of the size and weight of an 18-wheeler. 

There are more than 13 million registered large trucks on American roads today. Around 4,500 people died in trucking accidents in 2017. Another 344,000 people were injured in crashes with commercial trucks.

How Common Are Tractor-Trailer Crashes?

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) is the primary government agency that establishes rules for commercial trucking companies. The most recent year with complete data on tractor-trailer crashes compiled by FMCSA are for 2017. The data they provide indicates that truck drivers involved in fatal crashes are at-fault in 32% of collisions. Drivers of passenger cars involved in fatalities are responsible in 54% of fatal car crashes. You are less likely to be hit by an 18-wheeler than a passenger car. A 2017 FMCSA estimate finds that 450,000 crashes involving large trucks occur annually.

The big difference between a car crash and an accident with a semi truck is size. A fully loaded 18 wheeler can weigh up to 80,000 lbs. To put that in perspective, the average SUV in the U.S. weighs 4,800 lbs. A Toyota Prius weighs about 3,000 lbs. That difference in weight translates to catastrophic damage when a tractor trailer rig is involved in an accident.

Causes of Trucking Accidents

Most trucking accidents result from negligent drivers of other vehicles. Truck drivers are statistically less likely to be involved in an accident than other drivers, even though they are on the road for longer periods of time. Commercial drivers have special training and experience to help make them safer, but trucking accidents are always dangerous. 

• Speed Kills

The leading cause of at-fault accidents caused by the driver of a commercial vehicle (including buses) was speeding. Excessive speed is always dangerous, even in a modern passenger car with excellent steering and brakes. A large truck does not stop quickly and cannot be maneuvered rapidly without serious danger. 

The average 18 wheeler requires about 450 feet to come to a complete stop from 60 miles per hour. An average SUV on America’s roads today can stop in about 130 feet from the same speed. You can see the problem; a truck driving too fast for the conditions simply cannot stop quickly enough to avoid crashing into cars that stop faster. It may surprise you to know that an empty tractor trailer rig is more difficult to stop quickly than a loaded trailer. 

The majority of fatal collisions involving large trucks in the U.S. happen when a truck can’t stop and crashes into other vehicles. Large trucks are more likely to be involved in multiple vehicle crashes with multiple fatalities than passenger vehicles for this reason. 

FMCSA found speeding -along with other poor decision making skills- to be a dangerous factor in 38% of at-fault causes of trucking accidents. The study was done using data collected between 2001 and 2003. Today, fatalities involving tractor trailer rigs account for fewer deaths than in 2001, despite nearly five million more trucks on the road, proving that enforcement of laws and educating truck drivers is reducing fatal crashes.

• Distractions and Driving Don’t Mix

Truck drivers are just as prone to distractions as the rest of us. Whether it’s calls from dispatch on the radio about changes to schedules, or trying to drive and eat, there are plenty of things to cause commercial truck drivers to get distracted. Even a moment’s inattention can be fatal to drivers around a big rig. 

The data compiled between 2001 and 2003 by FMCSA on the causes of crashes found distracted driving to be a factor in 28% of all crashes involving large trucks and buses. Consider that the average amount of time it takes to check a text message while driving is 5 seconds. At 60 miles per hour, your car has traveled the length of a football field without you even looking. 

In an emergency braking situation, a trucker needs at least 450 feet to stop. If that driver is distracted for five seconds before the accident, the truck is going to be moving dangerously fast when it strikes stopped cars. 

• Less Common Driver-Related Causes

The vast majority of the car crashes caused by truckers happen as a result of speeding or distraction. Less common reasons truckers cause crashes are non-performance errors -such as falling asleep behind the wheel, and performance errors -like panicking and over-correcting. These two causes account for around 16% of truck driver-caused accidents. 

In the 2003 study compiled by FMCSA, 87% of at-fault accidents involving truck drivers were due to driver errors. 

• Other Causes of Accidents

Mistakes by commercial drivers cause the vast majority of at-fault accidents. Sometimes, the truck may fail, and this can cause some of the most dangerous accidents. A flat tire or a brake failure can cause an accident for any car or truck on the road. When a tractor trailer truck has a flat tire or it’s brakes go out, the chances of a dangerous accident are high.

• Dangerous Shifting Loads Cause Accidents

Mechanical problems are rare in trucking accidents. Trucks are required by law to be serviced properly and are regularly inspected. Trucks that don’t meet equipment standards are not allowed to work. Still, some problems can happen. The most dangerous mechanical problem is when the cargo carried by the truck unexpectedly shifts. This can cause the big rig to swerve, tip, lose control, and even flip over. 

An astounding 57% of non-driver causes for trucking accidents involve shifting cargo. Accidents and injuries that result from shifting loads can happen to drivers being struck by cargo falling off the truck, the truck failing to remain in it’s lane, and even roll over accidents can be caused by shifting cargo. 

• Mechanical Failures

Commercial trucks suffer from many of the same mechanical failures as passenger vehicles. Tire blow-outs, for example, are relatively common. When an 18 wheeler is on the highway and has a tire blow out, the driver can lose control and cause an accident. Truck tires are very large and heavy, and when a blowout happens, the rubber of the tire that comes off can strike other vehicles, causing injuries, damage, and crashes. 

Commercial drivers and the companies they work for can be held liable in Pennsylvania for injuries, death and damage they cause while engaged in transporting cargo. The nuanced laws in Pennsylvania can provide numerous opportunities for skilled insurance negotiators and lawyers protecting the trucking company to reduce responsibility and avoid paying for damages they cause.

Dangerous Situations That Are Your Fault -But Not Always

One of the most delicate operations of driving a large truck is turning right. For a truck and trailer to execute a right turn, the driver must be to the left of the lane before starting to turn right. Truck drivers refer to the area on the right side of the truck as “The Suicide Zone,” because they can’t see cars easily. Once the truck begins to make its turn, the driver cannot see the right side of the trailer. Drivers frequently accelerate quickly into this zone in the hope of making the corner before the truck that has swung wide. Unfortunately for many drivers, there is rarely time. As the front of the truck takes the lane the driver turned into, the trailer will follow, narrowing the gap that the bold driver thought would speed up the drive. Even if you are sitting still, if you drive into the area to the right of a turning truck and are struck, you can be held liable for the damages and won’t be able to seek recovery for your own losses. 

Hiring a Lawyer Helps You Win

Trucking accidents are incredibly dangerous. The sheer amount of damage a truck is capable of inflicting can easily kill and maim victims. Fighting against powerful insurance companies backed by large corporate trucking companies is intimidating and an exercise you should not have to go through alone. 

Our highly trained attorneys have been winning cases against negligent trucking companies for decades. Even if you are not sure your accident wasn’t your fault, you should contact us. Our risk-free consultation gives you a chance to share the details of your case. We can figure out the best way to win, and make sure you get the medical coverage and financial compensation owed to you.