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A big rig truck is defined as any truck that has a gross vehicle weight of 10,000 pounds or more. These trucks are incredibly dangerous to smaller vehicles because, when fully loaded, they are roughly 40 times heavier than most passenger cars. Three percent of all traffic accidents in the United States involve big rigs. 18 wheelers are responsible for 5,000 fatalities and 130,000 injuries on the road each year.
Types of Accidents Involving Big Rigs
Trucking accidents occur with startling frequency on the roads of America each year. Accidents can be caused by negligence, equipment failure, manufacturing design defects, and more.
Each year, thousands of people are injured or killed in the United States as a result of big rig trucking accidents. The collisions that cause these injuries and deaths occur through the negligence of truck drivers, trucking companies, driver error, equipment failure, and/or a manufacturing design defect in the truck itself.
What are some of the common causes of big rig accidents?
According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, the most frequent causes of tractor trailer accidents occur when:
- The truck driver moves outside his lane
- The driver loses control of his vehicle because his cargo shifts
- The big rig operator is traveling at an unsafe speed
- There is a vehicle systems failure
- There are poor road conditions
- The truck driver collides with the rear end of the vehicle directly in front of him because he is following too closely.
There are a variety of other variables that can lead to accidents with a big rig truck. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration lists common factors as: brake problems; fatigue; prescription or OTC drug use; traffic flow interruption caused by congestion or roadway accidents; the truck driver’s lack of familiarity with the road itself, and failure to stop at a traffic signal or crosswalk before a crash occurs.
Trucking Accident Injuries
Victims of trucking accidents can suffer a variety of mild to serious injuries including:
- Broken bones
- Severed limbs
- Emotional stress
Trucking accidents can be caused by any number of factors, and determining fault can be one of the most critical aspects of a big rig accident claim. Hiring a qualified trucking accident lawyer can ensure that you have the best chance at receiving the compensation you deserve.
Tractor Trailer Accident Investigation
Big rig accidents always demand a thorough investigation. Trucking companies have their own investigation teams to minimize liability, so you need an investigator who will look out for your rights.
Accidents involving 18 wheelers occur for a variety of reasons. Whether the cause of the accident seems obvious or is difficult to determine, a thorough investigation is almost always necessary.
Most trucking companies and their insurance companies have accident investigation teams that go to the scene immediately after an accident. Their job is to find evidence that supports the truck driver’s version of how the accident happened. Of course, the driver’s story may differ from your recollection of how the accident happened. To protect your rights, you need an investigator who will look for and document evidence that supports your version of the events.
Truck Driver Drug Usage
Studies have shown that a large number of truck drivers are under the influence of drugs and alcohol on our nation’s roads. Intoxicated and exhausted truckers can lead to catastrophic consequences.
Many truck drivers use controlled substances to help them stay awake during their long trips along our nation’s highways. They have rushed time frames, and after an extended number of hours and countless miles on the roads, driver fatigue takes over, leaving the trucker defenseless against their exhaustion. Exhaustion leads truckers to drug use, and intoxication of any degree can cause serious consequences.
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) & the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) investigated fatal truck driving accidents and performed comprehensive drug screening on the bodies of deceased truck drivers. The study found that out of 168 cases:
- Sixty-seven percent of the drivers had detectable traces of one or more drugs
- Thirty-three percent of the drivers had detectable blood concentrations of psychoactive drugs or alcohol
- Thirteen percent of the drivers had traces of cannabinoids or tetrahydrocannabinol (THC)
- Thirteen percent of the drivers had traces of ethanol or alcohol
- Eight percent of the drivers had traces of Cocaine or benzoylecgonine
- Seven percent of the drivers had traces of amphetamine or methamphetamine
- Seven percent of the drivers had traces of phenylpropanolamine, ephedrine, or pseudoephedrine
The safety board called the study the most complete investigation ever conducted on drug and alcohol use in the interstate trucking industry. NTSB officials also claim the study offers the most comprehensive substantiation of the dangers of drug and alcohol use by truck drivers.
Semi Truck Accidents Caused By No Reflectors & Bad Visibility
Lack of visibility and proper reflectors are two of the leading causes of accidents involving big rigs in the United States. Liability in these accidents can fall on both the driver and the trucking company.
Two of the leading causes of commercial truck accidents on U.S. roads are lack of visibility and lack of reflectors on the truck that help other vehicles see it from a distance. If tractor trailers do not have the proper reflectors installed, other vehicles will not be able to properly see the truck ahead of them, next to them, or behind them. When smaller passenger vehicles are unable to see the side of a big rig truck, especially at night, and try to change lanes, this can be a recipe for disaster.
In 1999, the federal government created a law requiring that all tractor-trailers carry reflectors that outline the bottom edge of the trailer. The Federal Highway Administration (FHA) claimed the change would prevent drivers from plowing into the side of trucks or driving under trucks. According to the FHA, this change would save 100 lives and prevent 1,700 injuries over the next decade. As of 2009, commercial trucks cause 5,000 deaths and 130,000 injuries annually on the roads and highways of the United States.
Liability in these types of accidents falls on the truck driver and the trucking company. All trucks purchased and operated by a trucking company should come equipped with reflectors. If they do not, the company is responsible for equipping the truck with the necessary reflectors. Additionally, if the truck driver notices his or her truck does not have the necessary reflectors and fails to take the proper steps to remedy the situation, the driver and the company can be held accountable.
Faulty Inspection, Maintenance, & Repair
Failure to inspect and maintain big rig tractor trailers can result in any number of catastrophic trucking accidents. When not performed in accordance with accepted practice, serious injury and even death can occur.
Big rig tractor trailers travel tens of thousands of miles each year in this country. As a result, these 18 wheelers require frequent inspection, maintenance, and repair. Without adequate maintenance and repair, a big rig may not be able to avoid slamming into the vehicle in front of it, a wheel end may disengage from an axle, or an approaching car may not see the truck’s tail or side lights until it’s too late.
Trucking companies maintain maintenance and repair records on their big rigs, and a review of these records may reveal that required inspection or maintenance work was not done in accordance with accepted practice within the trucking industry.
Failure on the part of a trucking company and/or its driver to perform required and necessary maintenance of its trucking equipment can cause serious injury and even death to other motorists on highways and roads.
Accidents Caused by Shifting & Falling Cargo
Improperly tied down and unsecured loads on big rigs can break away, fall, and injure motorists. Failure to comply with Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations constitutes negligence and may be the basis for personal injury liability.
Due to the fact that many times the cargo inside tractor trailers is not secured properly before a truck leaves the terminal, truck drivers lose control of their rigs when cargo shifts or falls. Improperly tied down logs and stacked building products can fall off big rig trailers, striking nearby vehicles and injuring their occupants. Improperly tied down front end loaders, bulldozers, and other heavy equipment under transport can break away, fall, and injure innocent motorists nearby.
The trucking accident lawyers at Schmidt & Clark, LLP are familiar with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations which prescribe how a large truck’s load must be contained, immobilized, and secured in order to maintain the truck’s stability and maneuverability. Our lawyers understand these regulations prohibit a trucking company and its drivers from operating a large truck unless the vehicle’s cargo is properly distributed and secured. A tractor trailer’s failure to comply with these regulations may constitute negligence and serve as the legal basis for a personal injury or product liability.
Tractor Trailer Accidents Caused by Aggressive Driving & Unsafe Lane Changes
Many truck drivers are unnecessarily aggressive on the roads, making unsafe lane changes, wide turns, & failing to yield to other traffic. Careless and Aggressive truck driving can lead to severe injuries and even death for other motorists.
Since many truck drivers feel that they own the road because their vehicles are so large, semi trucks are some of the most aggressive drivers in the country. Many truckers feel they do not have to follow the rules of the road, which causes accidents from aggressive driving, unsafe lane changes, not yielding to the right of way, or making a wide right turn. Only 14 states have created legislation addressing aggressive driving by commercial vehicles, and only 11 of those states have passed aggressive truck driving laws.
Related Article: Common Causes of Sideswipe Accident
Causes of Aggressive Driving Accidents
Aggressive truck driving accidents can be caused by:
- Driver inattentiveness
- Not signaling before changing lanes
- Not yielding the right of way to other vehicles when required
- Not coming to a full and complete stop at a stop sign
Aggressive Truck Driving Injuries
Injuries suffered from these types of injuries include (but are not limited to):
- Broken bones
- Severed limbs
Trucking Accidents Caused by Poor Maintenance
Poor maintenance is one of the most common causes of commercial truck accidents, resulting in numerous injuries and fatalities on U.S. roads each year. When truck drivers and trucking companies fail to properly maintain their big rigs, severe consequences can occur.
One of the most common causes of accidents involving big rig trucks is poor maintenance. All commercial trucks must meet certain safety standard regulations established by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration prior to operating on the roads. Wear and tear is a common problem for big rig tractor trailers, which are on the roads for long hours and many miles. When truck drivers do not check their equipment routinely or repair worn parts, this can be a recipe for disaster.
Accidents caused by poor truck maintenance hold the owner and / or operator of the truck liable for any damages or injuries caused by the accident. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration requires all trucks must go through both a pre and post-trip inspection. The pre-trip inspection is to make sure that the cab and the trailer are properly attached to one another, and the post-trip inspection is to make sure that none of the parts on the truck have become worn on the trip.
DUI / DWI Trucking Accidents
Commercial truck DUI’s / DWI's are all too common occurrences, and can have catastrophic consequences for much smaller passenger vehicles. Despite severe penalties, truck drivers continue to abuse alcohol and drugs on the job.
When a truck driver consumes alcohol before getting behind the wheel, that person turns an 18 wheeler into a deadly weapon. Sadly, tractor trailer DUI’s are one of the most common offenses in the court systems today. The Commercial Motor Vehicle Act of 1986 has established a 0.04% blood alcohol content (BAC) as the maximum percentage of alcohol a commercial vehicle driver can have in his or her system.
According to a recent study conducted by the Insurance Institute for Traffic Safety:
- 15% of truck drivers had marijuana in their systems
- 12% of truck drivers had non-prescription stimulants in their systems
- 5% of truck drivers had prescription stimulants in their systems
- 2% of truck drivers had cocaine in their systems
- 1% of truck drivers had alcohol is their systems
When a big rig truck driver is convicted of driving under the influence, he or she may be disqualified from driving a commercial vehicle for one year. If the driver was carrying hazardous materials at the time, the minimum disqualification period increases to three years. After a second DUI conviction, the driver will be disqualified from operating a commercial motor vehicle for life.
Even with these stiff penalties, tractor trailer drivers are still abusing drugs and alcohol on the job.
Truck Driver Fatigue
Long hours on the road for a trucker can have a devastating impact on public safety, as driver fatigue is one of the most common factors named in accidents involving big rig semi trucks.
Sleep deprived truck drivers are a common cause of accidents involving 18 wheeler big rigs. Drivers spend long hours on the road, and some trucking companies encourage their operators to drive as many hours as possible before taking a break. Federal regulations do restrict hours of service, but these restrictions are minimal.
Studies have shown that a truck driver’s alertness and performance decrease substantially after eight hours of driving, yet federal regulations permit truckers to drive their rigs for 11 consecutive hours before taking a rest break. As well, trucking companies can schedule their truck drivers to work nearly 80 hours in an eight day period. These long hours on our nation’s highways can have a devastating effect on the safety of other motorists.
Hazardous Roads & Freeways
Major factors in many big rig accidents include dangerous roads and hazardous driving conditions. Liability in such cases is difficult to determine, and may fall with the driver, trucking company, or the state in which the accident occurred.
Three percent of auto accidents in the United States involve commercial tractor trailer semi trucks. Big rigs are responsible for approximately 5,000 deaths and 130,000 injuries every year on U.S. roads. Semi trucks are the largest vehicles on the road, weighing nearly 40 times more than the average passenger vehicle. A major reason commercial trucks get involved in accidents is because of defective, hazardous, or dangerous roads and highways.
Jack-knife truck accidents are extremely dangerous events, occurring when a big rig’s trailer swings outward. Jack-knifed trucks can lead to major injuries and even death for other motorists.
Big rig accidents can happen at any time, but the jack-knife accident is especially dangerous. Jack-knife accidents happen when a big rig’s trailer swings outward. There are two main types of jack-knife trucking accidents:
“Classic” Jack-Knife Accidents - This is when the truck’s cab spins into the trailer. This usually happens when a truck slams on the brakes and cannot recover in time to stop the trailer from swinging out.
Tandem Trailer Jack-Knife Trucking Accidents - These occur when there are two trailers behind a cab. The rear tandem trailer locks up prior to the drive axle tandems or the front axle.
Jack-knife tractor trailer accidents can lead to catastrophic injuries and even wrongful death, so it is extremely important to make sure that you drive carefully around semi-trucks so as to avoid a jack-knife trucking accident.
Trucking Accident Liability
Liability in trucking accidents caused by hazardous roads and conditions is often times difficult to determine, as fault may lie not with the driver but with the state’s department of transportation. It should also be taken into consideration that drivers of all vehicles have to control their vehicle to some extent during a problem on the roadway, which means that the driver of a commercial truck could also be held liable for this type of accident.
Related Article: Do You Need a CDL to Drive a Box Truck?
What should I do if I’m involved in an accident with a big rig?
First and foremost, never give an oral or written statement about your accident to a trucking company representative, its insurance company, or its lawyer until after you get advice from a tractor trailer accident lawyer yourself. Do not discuss how your accident happened with anyone representing the interests of a trucking company or its driver. This is because you may be asked leading questions that are designed to confuse you and elicit answers that can be twisted around unfairly to make it look like the accident was your fault.
If a trucking company representative, lawyer, or insurance company requests a statement from you, contact Schmidt & Clark, LLP before you answer any questions.
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