Truckers refer to a tractor truck with no trailer attached as a “bobtail.” You might think that a bobtail truck, shorter and lighter compared to a fully-loaded tractor-trailer, poses few risks to motorists with whom it shares the road. But, in fact, bobtails present unique dangers that put all of us at risk for serious, life-altering injuries.
In this blog post, we explore how bobtailing puts motorists at risk, what to do if you suffer injuries in an accident caused by a bobtail truck, and how an experienced truck accident lawyer can help. To learn more about your rights after a bobtail truck accident, contact a skilled truck accident attorney for a free case consultation.
The Unique Dangers of Bobtail Trucks
Tractor trucks form the front, motorized part of a tractor-trailer combination. The trailer, which has no engine, attaches to the tractor truck via a hitch behind the truck’s cab. A powerful engine in front of the cab pulls the rig down the road. Tractor trucks are specifically designed to bear the weight of a fully loaded trailer at the hitch point, and to allow the tractor-trailer combination to accelerate, brake, and maneuver safely in a straight line and during turns.
In the hands of a qualified truck driver, a tractor truck operates with the greatest stability and maneuverability when pulling a full load, which can weigh more than 60,000 pounds. It may seem counterintuitive, but in fact, the weight of a trailer essentially balances the weight and torque of the tractor truck’s engine and exerts a downward force on the wheels behind the tractor truck’s cab, which do the most work in the truck’s hydraulic braking system.
Take away the trailer, and with it the weight and stability it adds to the rig, and a bobtail truck becomes overpowered, front-heavy, and difficult to maneuver. With no weight pressing down on its rear axle, the bobtail truck’s brakes become less effective. As an illustration, imagine leaning way out over your handlebars while riding a bike, so that the front tire takes almost all of your weight, and then squeezing on the rear brakes to try to make the bike stop. That is, in effect, what it’s like to operate a bobtail truck.
With their limited braking function, bobtail trucks often need longer-than-normal distances to come to a stop. They also tend to fishtail if they take curves or attempt turns at unsafe speeds. Even an experienced truck driver can easily lose control of a bobtail truck if they need to make an emergency maneuver, if the truck encounters poor weather conditions, or if the truck’s tires momentarily run onto the road shoulder.
In other words, a bobtail truck runs a higher-than-average risk of getting into an accident and causing harm to others on the road.
Bobtailing Represents a Costly Trade-off
You might wonder why, if bobtail trucks are so dangerous, do we allow them on the road?
The answer is one of practicality: you simply cannot have a trucking industry, and all the essential benefits tractor-trailer trucks bring to the economy, without allowing bobtailing from time to time. The risks associated with bobtailing represent the price we pay as a community for the convenience of having shelves stocked at stores and goods delivered to our homes.
Sometimes trucks must leave a trailer at its point of delivery and drive somewhere else to pick up their next trailer load. Trucking companies often need to reposition their fleet of tractor trucks. Many truckers own and operate their tractor trucks as independent contractors, and drive them home after off-loading their trailer.
Unfortunately, the costs do not fall on everyone equally. Victims of accidents caused by bobtail trucks bear the brunt of the harm, which all too often comes in the form of severe physical, emotional, and financial pain.
The Heavy Toll of Bobtail Truck Accidents
According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, which regulates the trucking industry, bobtail trucks accounted for between 4 percent and 5 percent of the more than 175,000 truck crashes reported on U.S. roads in a recent year, which included 248 fatal crashes and 2,534 accidents known to have resulted in injuries.
Even those high numbers, however, fail to capture the devastation that an accident caused by a bobtail truck can inflict on individual victims and their families. Bobtail trucks may weigh less on their own than they do in combination with a fully loaded trailer, but they still weigh many times more than an ordinary passenger vehicle. They also have a far taller profile than most other vehicles on the road.
As a result, in a collision with a passenger vehicle, a bobtail truck will typically cause far greater damage to the other vehicle. A bobtail truck can easily crush or roll over onto a smaller car or truck or can push a small vehicle into an oncoming traffic lane. For these reasons, occupants of passenger vehicles account for a disproportionate number of the fatalities and serious injuries in truck accidents of all types, including those involving bobtail trucks.
Common injuries in these collisions can include:
- Spinal cord injuries resulting in paralysis;
- Traumatic brain injuries that leave victims in comas or with severe physical or cognitive deficits;
- Crushed limbs from passenger cabins crumpling around vehicle occupants;
- Internal injuries that cause lifelong health complications; and
- Severe orthopedic injuries that leave victims battling chronic pain and disability.
These or other injuries inflicted by bobtail truck accidents can, and do, lead to financial ruin, emotional trauma, and debilitating pain. That is the true, unfortunate cost of allowing bobtail trucks to operate on the nation’s highways and byways. Victims of these devastating injuries deserve compensation for the harm they suffer. An experienced bobtail truck accident lawyer can help.
Accountability for Bobtail Truck Accidents
Bobtail truck accidents may be a cost of our modern economy, but that does not mean that victims of bobtail truck accidents should suffer the consequences all alone.
By law, anyone who sustains injuries and losses because of someone else’s careless, reckless, or intentionally harmful actions has a right to seek compensation. That general rule applies to bobtail truck accidents, and it means that victims of those accidents can seek payment from individuals, companies, or others whose decisions or actions caused the crash, by taking legal action with the help of a skilled truck accident injury attorney.
Who might face legal and financial accountability for the devastation caused by a bobtail truck accident?
It depends on the particular circumstances of a crash, but experienced truck accident injury lawyers will often identify one or more of the following parties as potential sources of payment for a victim’s damages:
- Truck drivers who fail to exercise a reasonable degree of care while bobtailing their truck, knowing that it is an inherently dangerous activity that requires extreme caution;
- Trucking companies who neglect to take steps to minimize the risks associated with operating the trucks in their fleets as bobtails, such as when they hire inexperienced or poorly-trained drivers to relocate bobtails, when they over-schedule their drivers, or when they fail to maintain tractor trucks in a safe condition to drive them as bobtails;
- Independent mechanics and other contractors who do not perform adequate maintenance or service on tractor trucks to keep them roadworthy as bobtails; and
- Other motorists who fail take care in sharing the road with bobtail trucks, and instead engage in unsafe driving behaviors that trigger a bobtail truck crash.
These are just a few examples of parties whose unreasonably dangerous decisions or actions may lead directly to a bobtail truck accident that injures or kills an innocent motorist or bystander. Experienced truck accident lawyers who represent victims of bobtailing crashes have the know-how and skill to evaluate the facts of a crash to pinpoint its causes and the parties who should bear legal and financial accountability.
After a Bobtail Truck Accident…
No one leaves their home, whether to run an errand or for a long-distance drive, expecting an accident with a bobtail truck. You cannot plan for that kind of disaster. However, if it happens, following two simple guidelines can help to preserve and protect your legal and financial rights.
Always Get Medical Care
This may seem obvious, but the most important thing you can do after any truck accident, bobtail crashes included, is to get medical care as soon as possible and to follow your doctor’s orders. Never delay seeking medical attention after an accident, and never try to tough it out through the pain of an injury you think might heal on its own.
Seeking and following medical care protects you by:
- Safeguarding your physical and emotional health, which is the most important consideration;
- Creating medical records that prove the connection between your injuries and the bobtail truck crash; and
- Disproving allegations by defense lawyers and insurance companies that you failed to take care of yourself and made your own injuries worse.
We cannot stress enough how important it is for you to take bobtail truck accident injuries seriously, which starts with consulting with a doctor about them. Sometimes, what seems like a minor ache or pain from a crash can turn out to be the sign of a major, even life-threatening injury that may require expensive, long-term care.
Do not take chances with your physical, emotional, and financial health. Always seek care right away after getting into a bobtail truck accident.
Consult an Experienced Truck Accident Injury Lawyer
After addressing your immediate medical needs, make your next call to a lawyer who has years of experience representing victims of bobtail truck accidents. Just as you need a qualified doctor to safeguard your physical and emotional health right away, you need a skilled lawyer to act quickly to protect and enforce your legal and financial rights.
Why seek an experienced truck accident lawyer’s help as soon as you can? Here are just a few reasons:
- Legal complexity. Bobtail truck accidents tend to cause not just severe physical destruction, but also significant legal complexity. Trucks have varied ownerships and operate under complicated commercial agreements that an inexperienced lawyer may struggle to unravel. The chain of events involved in a bobtail truck accident may require detailed forensic analysis by someone familiar with how trucks handle. The sooner you have a skilled truck accident lawyer on your side, the better your chances of untying the legal and factual knots a bobtail truck accident can create, and of getting the money you deserve as compensation for your injuries and losses.
- Multiple victims. In the same vein, bobtail truck accidents frequently cause destruction that harms multiple victims. Each of those victims may have a claim for damages similar to yours. The potential of legal and financial liability to multiple victims may prompt a trucking company to run to a bankruptcy court for protection or to take other (potentially illegal) actions aimed at minimizing its exposure. Quick action by a skilled truck accident lawyer, however, can head off some of these tactics, and put you in the best possible position to recover the compensation you deserve.
- Vanishing evidence. Road crews tend to work quickly to clean up the scene of bobtail truck accidents so that the road can reopen and traffic can flow. Unfortunately, the wreckage they clear can constitute essential evidence for proving how a bobtailing accident happened and who should face legal and financial accountability for it. As noted above, trucking companies may also engage in underhanded actions to hide their own liability for a crash. Hiring an experienced, knowledgeable truck accident injury lawyer who knows where to look for key evidence and how to preserve it minimizes the danger of that evidence going missing.
Has a bobtail truck accident caused pain and loss in your life? If so, do not wait to protect your legal and financial rights. Contact a skilled truck accident lawyer today for a free case evaluation.