Mechanical failure: even the words create a sinking sense of dread in your gut. Mechanical failures often mean costly repair bills, not to mention time without your vehicle.
When it comes to big trucks, however, mechanical failures can have even more serious repercussions. Big trucks take up more room on the road and have more mass than smaller passenger vehicles. When they suffer mechanical failures, the results can cause damage to other vehicles and catastrophic injuries to passengers. If you have recently been involved in a truck accident speak with the truck accident attorneys at Boohoff Law to discuss your options for compensation.
Common Mechanical Failures That Lead to Accidents
Mechanical failures can occur at any moment. It takes a lot of parts to keep a big truck running smoothly on the roads, and any problems with those parts can cause the truck to stop running as efficiently or contribute to any type of truck accident. Some mechanical problems, however, crop up more often than others in accident reports.
Tires have a hefty job to do, especially those attached to big trucks. Tires carry the full weight of the vehicle and help keep the truck running smoothly down the road. When a tire blows out, it can cause the truck to pull heavily to one side, making it very difficult for the driver to control the vehicle.
Tire blowouts can occur for a variety of reasons, including:
- Worn out tires. In a passenger vehicle, worn down tread may indicate that the tire is beyond its useful lifespan. Many people use the penny test to check the tread level of their tires and ensure that the tire can still safely carry them to their destination. Unfortunately, on a big truck, the penny test does not adequately measure wear and tear on a tire. Failing to change a truck’s tires regularly and keep an eye out for signs of wear can quickly lead to a blowout when the driver least expects it.
- Road hazards. Most drivers will do their best to avoid potential hazards in the road, including potholes and debris. Unfortunately, big truck drivers do not always have adequate time to react to these hazards, which can increase the risk of running over objects in the road that can cause a blowout.
- Overloading the truck. Even big trucks can only carry so much weight, and their tires can only take so much pressure. When a big truck gets loaded too heavily for its tires, this can put undue pressure on those tires, increasing the risk of a blowout accident.
- Inadequate inflation. In addition to other mechanical checks after each run, truck drivers should make sure that they inflate their tires to the proper level. Inadequate inflation—or, conversely, over-inflation—can substantially increase the risk of a tire blowout.
Any time the truck’s engine has a problem, the truck may stop functioning properly. Abrupt engine failure may leave the truck driver struggling to safely maneuver the truck over to the side of the road and out of the way of other vehicles. In some cases, engine failure can set the vehicle on fire, which may cause even more damage to the truck, the driver, and others with whom that truck is sharing the road.
In a big truck, more than just the truck itself can cause serious problems. The trailer, including its connection to the truck, can also pose a serious hazard if mechanical issues crop up. When the team connects a trailer improperly, it can detach from the truck or swing out of control, often leading to a serious accident.
The team that loads the trailer must also exercise care. Big trucks often carry heavy loads across the country, frequently at high rates of speed. When those loads are secured improperly, they can shift and move as the truck drives. In some cases, shifting loads can cause enough trouble to make the trailer jackknife or to make the trailer lean over, sometimes sending it rolling off the road.
Big trucks, more than any vehicle, need to provide a high level of visibility to their drivers at night or in other low-visibility situations. Because they need more room to maneuver their large vehicles than the drivers of small passenger vehicles require, truck drivers need their lights to be in perfect working order when they hit the road at night. Lighting issues, including broken headlights, tail lights, and signal lights, can cause serious problems for truck drivers, including:
- Difficulty seeing at night. When a truck’s lights go out, the driver may struggle to see everything around them, especially on long stretches of poorly-lit road. A lack of visibility can cause a driver to run off the road or into smaller vehicles, especially if those smaller vehicles also lack adequate lights.
- Difficulty signaling their intentions. While truck drivers can communicate with one another via the radios in their cabs, they cannot communicate with other drivers on the road. Most of the time, signal lights, including brake lights and flashing signal lights, provide the only form of communication a trucker has with other drivers on the road. When those lights malfunction, truck drivers may struggle to let other drivers know they need to turn or change lanes. Missing brake lights can also confuse other drivers who do not know that the truck intends to stop or slow down, sometimes leading to a collision.
Big trucks need more stopping room than other vehicles even in ideal conditions. On a clear day, traveling at 60 miles per hour, a big truck may need to slow down over the distance of a football field to come to a complete stop. When a big truck’s brakes fail, the driver may have no ability to stop the truck at all until it runs out of steam or crashes into something—usually the latter.
Unfortunately, a big truck’s brakes often see more wear and tear than breaks in other types of vehicles, which means the brakes need more regular maintenance to prevent problems. When a truck’s brakes fail, the truck driver can crash into another vehicle or off the side of the road with nothing the driver can do to prevent the accident.
A truck’s steering system allows the driver to safely control the vehicle, navigating around turns and maneuvering the vehicle safely through traffic. When a truck’s steering fails, it often goes abruptly, leaving the driver unexpectedly unable to control the vehicle. Sometimes the power steering fails, which means the truck driver may have to wrestle an unresponsive vehicle to the side of the road. Other times, a truck’s steering may go out entirely. When steering problems arise, truck drivers may have no way to prevent an accident.
Windshield Wiper Malfunctions
The windshield wipers seem, on the surface, like a relatively small part of the system that keeps big trucks running smoothly. Those windshield wipers, however, serve a vital function: they keep the truck’s windshield free of dirt, water, and snow. In bad weather, the windshield wipers provide the primary line of defense in keeping the truck’s windshield clean so that a driver can see out and around the truck.
As windshield wipers wear down, visibility may decrease substantially for the truck driver. Worse, the truck driver may have no means to clear the windshield until they have the chance to put replacement blades in place, which can mean a long ride with decreased visibility. That lack of visibility can cause truck drivers to miss the presence of other vehicles around them, especially when the drivers of those vehicles fail to adequately signal or have their lights turned off.
Rear Guard Problems
Many big trucks have rear guards designed to prevent smaller cars from running under the truck, causing serious injuries to the occupants of the smaller vehicle. These accidents, called underride accidents, occur when the smaller vehicle slips under the tailgate of the truck, often because that vehicle’s driver was too close behind the truck and could not stop in time. Rear guards catch the grill of the smaller vehicle, preventing the entire car from sliding under the big truck’s tailgate.
Unfortunately, mechanics sometimes fail to install these rear guards properly. This can cause the rear guard to smash the smaller vehicle’s windshield, rather than catching the bumper or grill as intended. Other times, improperly-installed rear guards can detach from the truck, causing serious damage to the vehicle behind the truck when it falls.
Like the engine, a big truck’s transmission carries a heavy load. Big truck transmissions have the power to haul heavy loads with less strain. Excess or improperly loaded cargo, however, can still put excessive strain on a truck’s transmission. While most fleets receive regular transmission maintenance, an improperly loaded truck can experience transmission failure without warning. In the case of transmission failure, the truck driver may struggle to get the truck safely off the road.
Who Bears Responsibility When Mechanical Failures Cause Truck Accidents?
Most trucking companies have a system in place designed to help prevent mechanical failures throughout the fleet. Not only do trucks receive regular maintenance, but both driver and mechanic must conduct regular checks of the vehicle and sign off on those checks. Unfortunately, mechanical failures still occur. When they do, what caused the truck accident and who bears responsibility?
The Truck Driver
Ultimately, a truck driver bears responsibility for any decision they make while on the road. Most truck drivers carry insurance that covers any accidents, including mechanical failures. In many cases, the trucking company also provides the insurance that covers the entire fleet of vehicles. The driver may bear specific personal liability if they ignored signs of a pending mechanical failure or signed off on a vehicle as safe despite knowing about potential mechanical problems.
The Trucking Company
Most trucking companies have policies specifically designed to decrease the likelihood of mechanical failures. But, unfortunately, not all companies have the right procedures in place to keep their vehicles safe out on the road. If the trucking company authorizes unethical repairs or sends out trucks known to have mechanical problems, the trucking company may bear liability for any accidents that occur as a result of that negligence.
The trucking company may also be liable if it has policies that require drivers and mechanics to overlook potential mechanical issues or require a truck driver to drive a truck even if it needs repairs.
Each component of a truck, from the windshield wipers to the tires, matters. In some cases, a manufacturer may allow parts that have an increased risk of mechanical failure to leave the factory: tires, for example, that blow out more often than they should. When manufacturer error increases the risk of mechanical failure, the manufacturer may share liability for accidents caused by those failures.
If a high percentage of a particular part leads to mechanical failure, which in turn leads to accidents, the manufacturer must notify users of those parts and, in some cases, issue a recall. Failure to follow these procedures can mean that the manufacturer is liable for any accidents.
Many trucking companies employ mechanics who take care of the entire fleet, conducting the regular maintenance required to keep trucks rolling smoothly down the road. Mechanics bear a special duty of care when it comes to those vehicles. First and foremost, mechanics must carefully inspect each truck to identify any potential problems. When a mechanic identifies a problem, they must repair the problem fully before sending the truck back out on the road.
Mechanics who do not properly fix a vehicle, or who fail to identify problems with a vehicle that they should note during an inspection, may bear responsibility for the accident. Mechanics may also bear responsibility for accidents caused by mechanical failure if they caused damage to the vehicle during their inspections or repairs.
Contacting a Truck Accident Attorney
Any time you suffer injuries in a truck accident, including when mechanical failure causes an accident, you may need an attorney to help you file your claim and seek the full compensation you deserve. A truck accident attorney can make it easier to identify and collect evidence concerning the accident, including how mechanical failure may have contributed to your injuries.
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