Causes of Truck Accidents

Causes of Truck Accidents Jacoby and Meyers LLP

Trucks on the LIE. Trucks on the Garden State Parkway. Trucks on the GWB. Trucks on the West Side Highway. Trucks on the BQE. No matter where you drive, you can count on encountering trucks (even where they have no business sharing the road with you).

Wherever you find trucks in the Tri-State area, you will also, too-frequently, hear about truck accidents. Which, in turn, will also mean learning about catastrophic injuries, tragic fatalities, and widespread property damage caused by trucks rolling over, colliding with smaller vehicles, jackknifing, and running off the road.

In this blog post, we discuss the causes behind truck accidents, how you can keep yourself as safe as possible from falling victim to them, and how an experienced truck accident lawyer can help you if you have the misfortune of sustaining injuries or losses in one.

Factors That Make Truck Accidents Dangerous

Motor vehicle accidents represent one of the leading causes of accidental injury and death in the United States, year-in, year-out. Most of those accidents consist of collisions involving passenger vehicles. In raw numbers, far more accidents involving passenger vehicles happen than any other kind of accident.

Accidents involving trucks, in comparison, happen less often, for the simple reason that fewer trucks than passenger vehicles operate on U.S. roads. From crash-to-crash, however, truck accidents have a greater potential to cause catastrophic injuries and losses than crashes involving only passenger vehicles.

Why? Because of the following factors:

  • Size and weight differences between cars and trucks. A large truck outweighs a passenger vehicle by at least three to one, and up to 20 to one when fully loaded. The size of trucks also, obviously, exceeds that of passenger vehicles. In a collision between a truck and a passenger vehicle, these size and weight differences typically translate into massive damage to the smaller, lighter vehicle. It is no exaggeration to say that an ordinary car risks getting flattened, crushed, or split in half from the force of a collision with a truck. Trucks can roll over on top of cars. Cars can ride under a truck-trailer. In almost no scenario does a car and its passengers escape unscathed in an accident with a truck.
  • Cargo creates potential risks. Trucks, by design, haul cargo of one form or another. Some of that cargo literally weighs a ton—many tons, in fact. Other cargo has the potential to cause widespread damage if it spills, leaks, or otherwise escapes from a cargo hold. Cargo can cause explosions, release toxic fumes, make roads impassable, or destroy other vehicles. Unless a truck gets into an accident while empty, odds are, in an accident, the truck’s cargo will play a complicating factor in a collision and the damage it inflicts on others.
  • Trucks’ capabilities differ widely from cars’. Though they share the same stretches of road throughout the Tri-State area, cars and trucks differ dramatically in their ability to accelerate, stop, and turn. Motorists in passenger vehicles, most of whom have never climbed behind the wheel of a tractor trailer or other large truck, often fail to anticipate or appreciate the wide divergence in capabilities between a big rig and a car. That gap between expectations and reality can lead passenger vehicle drivers to maneuver unsafely in the company of trucks without realizing the accident risks they run by incorrectly assuming trucks have the same ability to speed up, slow down, and avoid road hazards as any other vehicle.

Common Causes of Truck Accidents

After a truck accident, first responders, insurance companies, trucking companies, journalists, and lawyers tend to focus first and foremost on a single question: what was the cause? By drilling down on the cause of a truck accident, the hope is to identify what went wrong so that all of us can take steps to prevent future accidents, and to hold the correct parties accountable for any injuries the accident caused. Here are some of the most common answers to that question.

Truck Driver Fatigue

The trucking industry has a fatigue obsession, and for good reason. A lack of adequate sleep impairs driving abilities to the same degree as getting legally drunk before taking the wheel. For real. An overtired truck driver suffers from slowed reaction times, reduced situational awareness, and impaired decision-making abilities, just as if the driver had been drinking. In other words, trucker fatigue leads to trucking accidents.

Why is this such a huge problem for the trucking industry? Because truck drivers constitute a group of workers especially vulnerable to getting tired. They work long hours in a job that is largely sedentary. Trucking companies for whom they work push drivers—often way too hard—to meet tight deadlines and to work unrealistic, erratic schedules. Truckers’ work times vary considerably, such that one week they may drive mostly during the day, then the next may drive often at night.

Also, as a population, truckers suffer from relatively poor nutrition and overall health. Many haul cargo for trucking companies as independent contractors, which means they frequently do not receive health benefits or get regular preventive medical care. All of these factors combine to make it difficult for truckers to get enough quality sleep to remain alert behind the wheel.

Federal and state regulators have long sought to blunt the impact of driver fatigue by imposing rules about the number of hours a trucker can spend behind the wheel without a break, or can stay on duty before taking an extended break to sleep. However, even when truckers follow these rules (which is not always the case), the factors above can still interfere with the quantity and quality of their sleep. All of this means that over-tired truck drivers will not disappear from Tri-State area roads anytime soon, and they will—sadly—continue to cause devastating accidents.

Equipment Malfunction

Causes of Truck Accidents Equipement Malfunction Jacoby and Meyers LLPCauses of Truck Accidents Equipement Malfunction Jacoby and Meyers LLPLong-haul trucks log tens of thousands of road miles per year. In theory, with regular maintenance truck equipment and systems should stand up to the abuse of heavy workloads.

The problem is, however, that trucking companies want to keep costs down whenever they can. That can translate into trying to squeeze every last mile out of a truck or trailer before servicing it.

Some trucking operators go further and dangerously skip maintenance altogether in pursuit of meeting deadlines or cutting costs. Risky bets that tires, brakes, hydraulics, and other essential truck systems will survive another trip before they need replacement do not always pay off. Hard-worked equipment will eventually fail, and if that happens at 65mph in heavy traffic on I-80, a catastrophic accident could soon follow.

Unsafe Cargo

Truck cargo comes in all shapes, sizes, and physical forms. All of it shares one common denominator, however: to travel safely via truck, the cargo must remain securely contained on or in a truck/trailer. Cargo that shifts in transit will interfere with the trucker’s ability to maintain control.

Cargo that spills in transit will put the truck driver, other motorists, and the public, at serious risk of a wide variety of catastrophes, from collisions between vehicles and cargo obstructing a roadway, to cargo that becomes a deadly projectile when it falls from a truck traveling at high speeds, to the risk of fire, explosion, or toxic exposure from a leaking tanker truck.

Unfortunately, trucking and shipping companies do not always secure cargo on trucks in the manner they should, nor do they always take other necessary safety precautions to ensure the public’s safety from the cargo. This is why, if you ever see a truck spilling or leaking any kind of cargo, you should call 911 immediately. Most likely the trucker does not realize the cargo has become insecure. By calling the authorities, you may well save lives.

Driver Inexperience

The trucking industry currently finds itself in the midst of a labor shortage. Experienced truckers have begun to age out of the workforce, and not enough new drivers have come online to take their place. This puts trucking companies in a bind. Some are willing to raise pay and provide other benefits to attract new drivers, which is how it should be.

Others, however, solve their workforce problems by cutting corners on driver training, or by sending drivers out on the road without the proper certifications or qualifications to transport particular kinds of cargo, or to operate particular configurations of truck equipment.

What happens when inexperienced drivers take control of an up-to-40-ton vehicle? If they (and we) are lucky, nothing bad. However, luck runs out after a while, and inexperienced truckers inevitably make mistakes behind the wheel that lead to accidents and tragic consequences.

Mistakes like:

  • Changing lanes without checking for smaller vehicles in blind spots;
  • Cutting turns too close and putting smaller vehicles, pedestrians, and property at risk of getting run over;
  • Driving too fast for traffic volume, or road conditions, or for the curve of a highway on or off-ramp.

As we commented above, trucks differ widely from passenger vehicles. Inexperienced truck drivers risk learning that lesson the hard way, putting themselves and others at serious risk for injury or death.

Driver Distraction

Truckers, even experienced ones, get distracted behind the wheel just like the rest of us. Like other drivers, they cannot resist the addictive pull of smartphone screens. They make the deadly mistake of thinking they can send texts and drive safely at the same time (they can’t), or that they can get away with watching a short video while driving (also extremely dangerous). That is not all, either.

Truck drivers also get distracted in other ways. In fact, any action that takes a driver’s hands off the wheel, eyes off the road, or attention off of the situation around the truck, constitutes a potentially deadly distraction. That includes programming a GPS, talking on a phone (even hands-free), eating food, or reaching for an item.

Driver distraction constitutes a major danger for all motorists. However, it poses a particular risk for truckers, because they operate a piece of machinery that requires far more hands-on, moment-to-moment focus than does a car, pickup, or SUV. In just a few seconds of inattention, a trucker might lose track of a car in the truck’s blind spot, or fail to spot a slow-down ahead that the truck needs far more room to avoid than smaller vehicles. Whenever this sort of distraction happens, tragic accidents virtually always follow.

Stay Safe From Truck Accidents

No one can avoid danger entirely. However, following the tips below can help keep you safe from some of the dangers of truck accidents:

  • Do not linger next to trucks. Trucks have huge blind spots. The longer you spend in the lane next to a truck, the greater the danger the trucker will not see you or lose track of you. Remember, if you cannot see a trucker in the truck’s rear view mirror, then the trucker cannot see you, and that means you are in a dangerous No Zone that could get you hurt or killed.
  • Report danger signs. Call 911 if you see a truck weaving, driving at erratic speeds, narrowly avoiding accidents, or spilling/leaking cargo. All represent potentially life-threatening danger. Do not worry about getting the trucker in trouble. Better a trucking company gets fined than someone dies in a catastrophic truck accident.
  • Know the danger times for fatigue. Truckers are human, so there are times of day when they, like the rest of us, get tired. Beware sharing the road with trucks late at night and in the early morning hours. These are times when truckers have the highest risk of falling asleep behind the wheel. If possible, schedule your driving for daytime hours.

Seek Legal Help for a Tri-State Area Truck Accident Injury

If a truck accident leaves you or a loved one injured, then you may have the right to compensation. Contact an experienced truck accident injury attorney today for a free case evaluation.

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