Somebody is killed or injured in a truck accident every 16 minutes in the United States, equating to about 500,000 trucking accidents and about 5,000 fatalities every year. 1
Getting in a semi-truck accident is a fear that many drivers have, especially when they stop to consider there are over 15.5 million trucks operating on U.S. roads today 2. While commercial trucks, including semi-trucks, are involved less than three percent of all car accidents in the United States, they still happen all too frequently—nearly 100 times every single day in every state. 3
Most of these accidents are concentrated in California, Texas, Florida, Georgia, and Pennsylvania. Each year Georgia has more than 200 fatal truck accidents and over 5,200 non-fatal trucking accidents 4. When such a big vehicle is involved, injuries can be quite severe. This is why it’s crucial for drivers to understand what semi-trucks are, the causes of semi-truck accidents, and what to do if they are involved with a semi-truck accident.
The difference between a semi-truck and a commercial vehicle
Distinguishing between a semi-truck and a commercial vehicle can be confusing for many people. However, it’s quite simple:
A commercial vehicle merely refers to any vehicle that is being used for business purposes to transport goods or people. This can include, but is not limited to, a hearse, an ice cream truck, a limousine, or a catering van.
A semi-truck is short for semi-trailer truck and is the combination of a tractor unit and one or more semitrailers carrying freight supplies. Also, the trailer lacks a front axle and wheels.
While there are several different types and sizes of semi-trailers, they are usually dry freight vans, refrigerated vans, flatbeds and tank trailers, ranging from about 50-80 feet long. The average car is about 15 feet long. Semi-trucks can legally weigh up to 80,000 pounds; a normal car weighs about 3,000 pounds. This discrepancy in size and length often leads to severe injuries.
The major causes of semi-truck accidents
Semi-truck drivers are well trained and take great care to ensure their own safety and the safety of other drivers. However, accidents still happen—and as previously mentioned, they happen often.
Most semi-truck accidents happen in broad daylight on rural highways, and while these accidents occur for a variety of reasons there are some prevalent causes.
The main reasons semi-truck accidents occur are because semi-truck drivers:
- Fail to remain in their own lane
- Are inattentive
- Drive too fast or fail to yield
- Drive drowsy
- Drive while using their cell phone
Semi-truck crashes can also be caused by:
- Faulty maintenance practices or technical malfunction of the semi-trucks. For example, brake failure or runaway trailers.
- Overloading semi-trucks, which can be quite dangerous and can cause jack-knifing, which is when uncontrolled skidding contorts the semi into a V-shape
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How to avoid semi-truck accidents
- Faulty maintenance practices and technical malfunction: This can be avoided by regularly performing maintenance checks on your vehicle and ensuring that your vehicle is properly maintained at all times.
- Runaway Trailers/ Overloaded semi-trucks: This problem can be avoided by checking that your trailer is attached correctly and that you haven’t overloaded your semi. Proper safety checks help ensure safety.
- Driver Fatigue/Distraction: The Department of Transportation Guidelines limit how long drivers can drive and how long their rest periods need to be 5. Following these guidelines and pulling over when feeling drowsy go a long way to stopping this common problem.However, often times it is necessary to look for blatant fraud. Drivers will often have two logs. One in case the authorities ever ask to review it. These logs are often in perfect order. However, the second often demonstrates when they actually drove and slept. It’s important to make sure there is no fraud taking place.Furthermore, when drivers begin to notice they are feeling distracted, that’s a good signal it’s time to pull over.It’s important to note that there are important federal regulations regarding medical conditions, which affect driving, and fatigue including night vision issues, uncontrolled diabetes, excessive BMI, and many more, which also play an important role. Additionally, right now there are several legal discussions about hand-free devices. Having a lawyer who is current on all of these regulations is critical.
- Jack-knifing: Traveling cautiously, ensuring vehicle maintenance, and driving attentively can help prevent these problems from occurring.
Tip: Drivers should avoid traveling by the left rear or right rear of the semi-truck or following behind it too closely. Ensuring the semi-truck driver can see you can help prevent accidents.
What are the rules for commercial drivers?
Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations, known as Regs, are crucial for understanding which violations have been made when it comes to truck accidents and adding exposure to punitive damages 6. The Gross Vehicle Weight Ratio of 10,000-25,000 pounds have increased limits on them. As do those exceeding, 26,000 pounds or more.
For example, in some cases an F-150 with a fully loaded trailer being towed can exceed 10,000 pounds. These added regulations and restrictions can often catch employers off guard.
Commercial vehicle drivers have responsibility to ensure that they drive safer than the rest of the public because they spend more time traveling on the roads. This means they are more likely to make a mistake that would result in a dead motorist.
This is why several rules make it clear that they must undertake the highest safety maneuvers in every situation. For example, they cannot make a left turn in front of an oncoming motorist unless they have time to complete the turn without causing the oncoming driver to have to hit their brakes 7. They are also required to travel below the speed limit or even stop in low visibility conditions, such as snow or dense rain.
Currently, there are several new initiatives to improve truck safety by requiring them to have automatic braking systems, which could slow or stop their vehicles even if the driver doesn’t see the car ahead of them. These changing regulations and hard to understand regulations means that it’s important to have a good lawyer to help you wade through this difficult field.
What to do if you’re involved with a semi-truck collision
Out of the 500,000 truck crashes, about 130,000 individuals are injured each year, and about 22 percent of all semi-truck crashes result in injuries.
Some of the common injuries caused by truck wrecks are broken bones, abdominal injuries, amputated limbs, burns, cuts and lacerations, spinal injuries, head trauma, and whiplash to name a few. The passenger in the smaller car is almost always likely to be more severely injured than the driver of the semi-truck. This is because of the discrepancy in weight and size of a normal car and a semi-truck.
- Don’t admit fault.
- Immediately seek medical attention. Even if the person feels fine, it is always wise to consult medically trained doctors to perform a thorough scan.
- Seek legal counsel. In Georgia, truck drivers are legally bound to operate their semi-trucks wisely. If they are negligent and cause a truck crash, the other driver is obligated to compensation. Insurance companies will attempt to offer a quick settlement. However, this may not be in your best interest. Before signing any documents or making any admission of guilt or recorded statements, you should consult an attorney, who is qualified to review your case.
It’s important to remember that insurance companies protecting semi-truck drivers do not represent you. They don’t want to pay money or claim responsibility for the accident. They do not have your best interest in mind.