Sharing the road with tractor-trailers makes many drivers nervous, especially down long, winding mountain roads. You might find yourself falling back to avoid sharing the road with a tractor-trailer or passing very carefully, since you do not want to risk getting caught between a tractor-trailer and a guard rail or a steep drop.
Unfortunately, many drivers are nervous about the potential for tractor-trailer accidents with good reason. Tractor-trailers can substantially increase not only accident risk on the road, but also the risk of severe injuries in an accident. If you or a loved one has already been a victim of a truck accident and is struggling with recovery schedule a free consultation with Boohoff Law.
1. Tractor-Trailers Have Considerably More Mass Than Passenger Vehicles
A tractor-trailer is a common truck on the road that can can weigh as much as 80,000 pounds. Typically, the cab/trailer combination weighs in at around 35,000 pounds, while most loads weigh in at around 40,000 pounds, leaving trucks with an average weight of 75,000 pounds.
By comparison, the average passenger vehicle weighs only 4,009 pounds. The lightest passenger vehicle on the road could come in at just 1,808 pounds. While modern cars contain safety features designed to protect passengers in an accident, including frames designed to withstand a great deal of pressure before crumpling, a semi-truck’s larger mass can cause a passenger vehicle’s frame to collapse, often leaving the vehicle’s occupants with substantial injuries—multiple broken bones, traumatic brain injuries, spinal cord injuries, and amputations, for example.
2. Tractor-Trailers May Hit at Higher Speeds
As a driver, if you see an accident coming, you may slam on your brakes to reduce your speed and, ultimately, reduce the force behind the impact. Truck drivers often make the same decision, slamming on their brakes to help reduce collision impact. Unfortunately, trucks take much longer to stop than passenger vehicles. At 55 miles per hour, you may need 121 feet to bring a passenger vehicle to a complete stop. A semi-truck, on the other hand, needs approximately 370 feet—more than the length of a football field—to come to a full stop.
Several factors can increase the time needed to slow or stop a semi-truck: the speed the vehicle is going, the load the vehicle carries, and weather conditions. In wet or icy conditions, for example, it may take much longer to bring any vehicle to a full stop, and semi-truck drivers struggle even more with these types of conditions. A heavy load or one that loaders failed to secure properly, causing cargo shifting, can also make a semi-truck harder to stop or otherwise control.
3. Tractor-Trailer Drivers Spend Many More Hours on the Road
Each day, a commercial truck driver is legally permitted to put in 11 hours on the road during a 14-hour shift. After a 10-hour break, most commercial drivers head right back out on the road again, especially during busy, high-volume times of the year. While this means they often have a substantial amount of experience behind the wheel of their truck, it can also cause difficulties for truck drivers, which can increase the risk of accidents as well as the severity of an accident if it occurs. These issues can include:
Inattention. Savvy truck drivers know not to allow themselves to become distracted behind the wheel. Unfortunately, after hours in the cab of a truck, road haze often sets in. Truck drivers may lose track of what is happening on the road around them, including failing to pay attention to vehicles driving in their blind spots. In some cases, truck driver inattention can prove fatal to others on the road around them.
Distraction. With so many hours spent in the cab of a truck each week, many truck drivers become increasingly comfortable with distractions. Even talking on the phone can be a potent distraction, while texting or checking GPS directions can take a truck drivers’ eyes off the road for dangerously long periods of time. Cell phone use, however, is not the only distraction many drivers face on the road. Truck drivers may also:
- Eat and drink in the cab of the truck, especially when trying to make up for lost time.
- Shift position to get more comfortable, taking their hands and eyes off the road.
- Reach for items in the vehicle.
- Fiddle with the radio, including books on tape or an app that plays music.
Inebriation. Truck drivers spend many long, lonely hours on the road. Many drivers are separated from their friends and family members throughout most of an average week, going home only on the weekends. In one study, 12.5 percent of American truck drivers tested positive for alcohol use. Unfortunately, some of those truck drivers hit the road with alcohol still in their bloodstream. Alcohol can:
- Slow a driver’s reaction time, making it more difficult for the truck driver to react to potential problems on the road or to avoid accidents.
- Decrease decision-making capacity, which can make it more difficult for a truck driver to decide what to do when a hazard presents itself.
- Compromise a driver’s motor skills.
- Cause visual difficulties such as tunnel vision and blurred vision, which can make it difficult for a truck driver from seeing what is happening around them.
In addition to alcohol use, some medications can cause truck drivers to drive while under the influence, often unintentionally. Many prescription pain medications, for example, cause effects similar to those caused by alcohol. Even over-the-counter cold medications may cause drowsiness and dizziness as well as interfering with the user’s problem-solving capacity.
Drowsiness. Drowsy drivers can pose just as much of a danger as inebriated ones. Drowsy truck drivers may fail to pay full attention to everything going on around them. As a result, they may struggle to keep the truck in its lane or even drift off to sleep, losing control of the vehicle and causing an accident.
Truck drivers are prone to higher rates of distraction, inattention, inebriation, and drowsiness than other drivers due primarily to the long hours they spend on the road each week. Unfortunately, all of these challenges can lead to decreased attention and reaction times and, therefore, increase the severity of accidents when they occur.
4. Inadequate Training Can Make Big Trucks Very Difficult to Handle
To obtain a commercial driver’s license necessary to drive a big truck, a truck driver must undergo special training. Unfortunately, that training generally involves a fairly limited number of hours actually on the road, often in a tractor-trailer with a minimal load behind it. As a result, when a newly licensed truck driver heads out on a job for the first time, they may not have the preparation and skills they need to handle the truck they are driving. leading to an unqualified driver potentially causing serious damage.
Most courses also do not expose drivers directly to accident risks: for example, truck drivers may never have the opportunity to learn how to pull a truck out of a jackknife during training. While some advanced courses do use simulators, many truck drivers gain their experience the hard way: out on the road, one load at a time. As a result, new truck drivers may struggle to manage their vehicles in poor weather conditions or when something does go wrong out on the road.
5. Tractor-Trailers Have Large Blind Spots
Most passenger vehicles have at least some blind spots: areas where the driver cannot see another vehicle when it pulls up next to them, or cannot see people or objects directly in front of or behind the vehicle. Larger passenger vehicles, including SUVs and vans, may even have large enough blind spots to make it possible to lose track of smaller cars. Motorcycles and pedestrians face even greater risks when driving or walking next to a large passenger vehicle.
Tractor-trailers, on the other hand, have massive blind spots: areas the driver cannot see that are large enough that the driver can lose track of a smaller truck or a passenger vehicle of any size that is in one of those blind spots.
Most truck drivers carefully keep track of other vehicles around them before attempting to change lanes or make a turn. Even the best driver, however, cannot perfectly track the behavior of every other driver on the road. As a result, when a smaller passenger vehicle sits in a truck’s blind spot, that smaller vehicle may be in substantial danger. In some cases, tractor-trailer drivers may not even notice the presence of that vehicle until they have already caused a great deal of damage to both the vehicle and its occupants.
6. Trucks Put in a Lot of Miles on the Road
Just as truck drivers spend a lot of hours on the road each day, their trucks travel long distances each day. Some trucks, in fact, see more use than their drivers spend in them: privately-owned trucks or those on long hauls, for example, may have multiple drivers who swap out after each one completes their assigned shift, keeping the truck rolling and the load moving toward its destination.
Most trucking companies have careful policies and procedures in place designed to help reduce maintenance issues that could cause accidents on the road. Many drivers, for example, must go over their vehicles when they bring them in after each trip, identifying any problems they noticed during the drive and ensuring that the truck receives the proper maintenance. Other companies require maintenance professionals to inspect the truck after each trip.
That does not mean, however, that mechanical failures never occur.
Big trucks have more moving parts than passenger vehicles, and failure of any one part can cause catastrophic damage. In spite of regular inspections and maintenance, big trucks may be subject to increased risk of mechanical failure, especially during busy seasons when even the most careful mechanic may not note every problem with a vehicle. Mechanical failure of any truck component can cause a dangerous accident, including:
- Blown out headlights;
- Blown out signal lights;
- Improperly hooked up trailers;
- Tire problems;
- Engine problems;
- Windshield wiper failures; and
- Transmission problems.
A truck driver who notices a mechanical problem will usually pull their truck off the road as soon as possible. Unfortunately, not every problem makes itself known ahead of time—and when a mechanical failure sends a truck spinning out of control, the driver may be unable to do anything to avoid a collision.
7. Many Truck Drivers Drive Faster Than They Should
Big trucks require more room to stop and more room to maneuver than passenger vehicles. Unfortunately, that does not always stop truck drivers from speeding. Many truck drivers get paid by the mile, which means that they must travel a certain number of miles each day to get the paycheck they expect. Others may have their pay docked if they fail to make a delivery on time, even if that late delivery occurs due to factors beyond the driver’s control, including traffic jams or accidents. As a result, truck drivers may attempt to rush to make up the time difference.
Over a long day, the miles slipping by all look the same, and truck drivers may also simply fail to realize that they have picked up speed. Truck drivers may also fail to safely decrease their speed when moving through dangerous or congested areas.
Unfortunately, with increased speed comes increased accident risk—and increased injury risk for both the truck driver and others who may become involved in the accident. The faster a vehicle collides with something else, the more force goes into the collision, and therefore the greater the likelihood of catastrophic injuries for those involved.
Big trucks benefit America, including through the transportation of vitally necessary goods and materials across the country. Unfortunately, they bring along with them substantially increased accident risks—and increased risks of injury when accidents do occur.
If you or someone you love suffered serious injuries in a truck accident, calling a truck accident attorney as soon after your accident as possible can begin the process of filing your personal injury claim to seek compensation for your expenses, including medical bills, lost time at work, and compensation for your pain and suffering.
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