Nobody wants to be in an accident. Damage, injury, and even death can result when two heavy objects crash into each other at high speed.
Now take “heavy” to the next level: a loaded semi-truck can weigh up to 80,000 pounds, and there are over 15.5 million of these behemoths on the road in the U.S. If you’ve ever driven on I-65, you may think that number is low!
Accident statistics are unsettling, to say the least: according to the US Department of Transportation, a total of 4,136 people died in large truck crashes in 2018, a number 31% higher than in 2009. In many of these cases, the crash is caused by mechanical defects, such as tire and brake issues, but in many other cases, the accident is caused by human error.
Technically, the semi part of a semi-truck is the front part with the engine — the back part (what it is pulling) is the trailer. On average, semi-trucks are about 72 feet long and 13.5 feet tall. Just for clarification, it may help you to know some of the other terms semi-trucks are known by:
- Big rigs
- Semi-tractor trailers
- Semi-trailer trucks
Interesting fact: the trucking industry accounts for more than 5% of all full-time jobs in America and moves 71% of all freight. Big trucks are here to stay, and we must all share the road.
Long-haul truckers are up against many obstacles when driving, such as unrealistic deadlines and lack of sleep. It takes a great deal of effort and expertise to operate such a huge piece of machinery, and truckers are required to earn their CDC (commercial driver’s license) before they are permitted on the road.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) limits the number of hours that drivers are allowed to drive in an attempt to curb fatigued driving; however, a study by the NIH (National Institutes of Health) concluded that long-haul truck drivers get less sleep than is required for alertness on the job.
Drivers are restricted from driving for more than 11 hours a day and must have a 30-minute break in their schedule. But some drivers and companies know how to get around these rules, and that makes it dangerous for all of us.
Here are some common maneuvers in semi-trucks that can cause accidents:
- Passing vehicles on two-lane roads.
It’s tempting to believe that all long-haul truck journeys occur solely on interstate highways, but most of the fatal crashes involved with large trucks occur in rural areas. Truck drivers on tight schedules sometimes try to pass as soon as a passing zone opens up.
The problem is that they have so much forward momentum and lack maneuverability due to their size and weight that they are unable to quickly merge back into traffic if another vehicle appears on the horizon. Trucks obviously cannot accelerate as quickly as cars, so the danger is obvious. Trucks should never pass on a two-lane road.
- Failing to stop for yellow lights.
Most drivers are able to make the split-second decision necessary to either accelerate safely through a yellow light or to apply the brakes judiciously. But it takes longer for a truck to accelerate and/or stop, so the risk is much greater.
Truck drivers often don’t leave enough distance between themselves and the vehicle in front of them. This is a dangerous tactic for any driver but especially treacherous for big rigs.
Their stopping distance is double that of cars. This stopping distance increases with heavy loads or in adverse weather conditions. According to the FMCSA, a fully loaded truck traveling in good road conditions at highway speeds needs a distance of nearly two football fields to stop.
In 2018, the number of speeding violations issued to truck drivers in the U.S. increased 7.8% to 146,945. Obviously, not all drivers ignore the speed limit, but some simply drive too fast for the road conditions. Now imagine a fatigued driver with poorly maintained brakes trying to stop in icy conditions.
The federal government requires commercial truck drivers to abide by Hours of Service Regulations, so they are only supposed to drive for 11 consecutive hours after 10 consecutive hours spent somewhere other than behind the wheel of their truck, but drivers can still be tired after irregular work schedules. Not everyone can simply tell their body to fall asleep at will. Additionally, truck drivers often fear missing shifts due to illness, so they take over-the-counter medications that allow them to keep driving but which may cause them to feel sleepy. Fatigue can slow driver reflexes, so drivers who are tired may be less able to quickly react to other drivers’ mistakes or to their trucks’ mechanical issues.
- Blind spots.
You have probably noticed stickers on the back of some big-rigs reading “You’re in my blind spot, “ or “If you can’t see my mirrors, I can’t see you.” You would do well to heed these warnings because semi-trucks have huge blind spots around all four sides. Their dangerous zones are…
- Left side, under the cab mirror;
- Right side,under the cab mirror and extending out;
- In frontof the truck cab, at least 20 feet; and
- Behind the trailer, at least 30 feet.
Unfortunately, when a truck driver makes a lane change, he or she runs the risk of colliding with another vehicle that they didn’t see or of running a car off the road.
- Wide turns.
Big rigs need a tremendous amount of space in which to turn, and because of the way that their trailer works, they need to block a lane of traffic in their maneuvers. Sometimes car drivers aren’t paying attention and end up trapped in the inside right turn lane. Sometimes, car drivers are paying attention, but the truck driver makes a wide turn without signaling or exercising due caution, or without considering blind spots.
In Kentucky, there were 9,821 truck collisions in 2019, 20% on county or city streets, 30% on interstates, and 46% on U.S. and state-numbered routes. If you have been involved in a collision with a truck, call 911 immediately. This will summon police and medical professionals. If you can safely do so, take photos and videos of the area and vehicles involved.
Do not move your car. Allow the EMTs to check you out at the scene. Even if you feel fine, it is generally a good idea to see a doctor as soon as possible and keep all the paperwork. You may not notice an injury until the next day or even in the coming days and weeks because adrenaline at the time of the accident may have masked your pain.
Consult the experienced truck accident attorneys at McCoy & Sparks. Tragically, many truck crashes lead to fatalities or permanent disability. We’ve handled numerous wrongful death and significant injury trucking cases, all throughout Kentucky. We understand what needs to be done and will work to thoroughly investigate the cause or causes of the accident. We have extensive experience evaluating how to maximize the recoverable damages that you and your loved ones deserve.