Semi-truck drivers are required to have a commercial driver’s license (CDL) for very good reasons. They are basically piloting an 80,000-pound metal machine on the highways. This task requires a great deal of skill and a lot of training in courses like carrying liquid freight and controlling massive loads.
A load can dangerously shift while a truck is moving. Generally, if a load shifts like this, it is due to driver error. Unfortunately, passengers in other vehicles can have their lives forever altered or even ended by such an incident.
What Causes Truck Rollovers?
The center of gravity is high on commercial trucks hauling trailers and cargo tanks with liquids. If the load inside the tank or trailer shifts, the whole vehicle becomes unbalanced. The results can be severe due to the weight, size, and material being hauled.
Tanker trucks carrying liquids are susceptible to rollover accidents due to the “slosh and surge” action that a quick turn produces in the liquid. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) reports that 90 percent of cargo tank rollovers happen when the tank is not full. The reason is:
- Liquid suddenly moves up the sides within the tank and instantly changes the center of gravity.
- A surge then follows when the liquid swiftly shifts from side to side, or front to back, then reverses direction because of braking action or sudden maneuvers.
The FMCSA analyzed semi-truck rollover accidents and found three contributing factors. They are:
- Inattentive, distracted or drowsy driving
- Failing to adjust speed to accommodate curves
- Over-steering or under-steering
Over 78 percent of rollovers are caused by driver error. Consider the case where a trucker veers slightly off the shoulder, then has a knee-jerk reaction of overcorrecting and steers too far left. Another example is the semi-truck driver who takes his eyes off the road while reaching for something, then suddenly brakes when he sees traffic stopping in front of him. Warnings from FMCSA tell drivers not to become complacent while driving. Seasoned truck drivers may become so comfortable with their routine and skills that they allow their alertness to wane.
The FMCSA report revealed that speed was the culprit in 28 percent of truck rollover accidents studied. Most of the accidents occurred when truckers were speeding on entrance or exit ramps, but the following factors also contributed to speeding:
- Aggressive driving
- Misjudging the correct speed for an upcoming curve or stretch of roadway
- Oversight: not seeing posted speed limits
- Trying to make up miles while ignoring speed limits
Other issues causing rollover crashes include poor brakes, damaged suspensions, and low tire pressure. When semi-trucks don’t receive proper maintenance at regular intervals, they are at greater risk for rollover accidents from sudden movements or from wet or icy road surfaces. Additionally, if truck drivers fail to do pre-trip inspections, they can miss dangerous conditions like worn tire treads.
Truck rollovers often occur with no advance warning and may easily involve multiple vehicles. If several vehicles are sitting in a traffic jam, for example, there is no place for them to go if a truck careens into them.
Rollover Crashes Involving Hazardous Materials
A semi-truck can legally weigh 80,000 pounds and be as long as 73 feet to travel on the nation’s highways. Consider a massive vehicle this size rolling over while moving. Even more concerning, though, is a rollover involving a tanker truck loaded with hazardous material. The potential danger is intensified because of the risk of fire.
Over three billion tons of materials labeled as hazardous are transported yearly in the U.S., and semi-trucks haul the majority of this amount. Gasoline is one of the most dangerous flammable liquids regularly transported on our highways.
A listing of specific classifications for transported hazardous materials was created by the United States Department of Transportation, and specific warning labels have been developed for each class. Following are the DOT classifications:
- Class 1 – Explosives
- Class 2 – Gasses
- Class 3 – Flammable liquids
- Class 4 – Flammable solids, spontaneously combustible, dangerous when wet
- Class 5 – Oxidizer, organic peroxide
- Class 6 – Poison (toxic), position inhalation hazard, infectious substance
- Class 7 – Radioactive
- Class 8 – Corrosive
- Class 9 – Miscellaneous hazardous material
It is understandable why first responders must undergo hazmat training because their job can easily put them in harm’s way with dangerous substances. The very survival of some victims can be dependent upon the hazardous material training of the rescuers who first reach them. The horrific trauma of flammable liquids surging around an accident victim, compounded by serious accident-related injuries, creates a nightmare situation where every second counts, and the rescuer’s knowledge may be what saves a life.
Devastating Results of Truck Rollovers
No one can predict the extent of injuries in future rollover crashes. However, the following is a list of some common injuries:
- Broken bones
- Spinal cord injury
- Traumatic brain injury (TBI)
- Internal injuries
Victims in a truck rollover accident may easily receive several of the above-listed injuries, not just one. For example, if a tanker catches on fire, a victim who is in excruciating pain from broken bones may also receive severe burns. The complication of both injuries together can mean months or even years of recovery and rehabilitation.
It is unconscionable that the negligent and careless actions of a semi-truck driver should put a victim through such horrific pain and trauma, without the trucker being held responsible. No one should be forced to endure such emotional, physical and financial stress because of a trucker’s reckless behavior. If you or a family member have been the victim of a truck rollover accident you are advised to immediately contact a qualified attorney who can discuss your legal options.
Should Negligent Truck Drivers be Held Accountable?
Truck drivers holding a CDL should obey the rules of the road and the regulations put in place to keep other travelers safe. When truckers fail to follow the training they have received, it is considered negligent. As a victim of such negligence, you may have the right to receive compensation for medical bills accrued, lost wages, plus pain and suffering.
Every day, semi-trucks pass us on the nation’s highways, and it’s impossible to know what type of load each is carrying or if the truck driver is drunk, distracted or drowsy. Often, very real risks are traveling right beside us.
Contact a Truck Accident Attorney Today
Call the Eichholz Law Firm at (855)-551-1019 or fill out an online form for a free consultation.
FMCSA. “Cargo Tank Rollover”, Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, Accessed November 6, 2019.