Trucks occupy an integral part of our transportation system. Years ago, they replaced trains and boats to move consumable goods from one part of the country to the next. With just one driver, a tractor-trailer hauls incredible weight along our highways and roads, supplying factories, businesses, and even our homes with just about anything we use today.
Trucks also carry with them a lot of dangers. All too often, that solitary driver on the road is a liability to the safety of others. Long, monotonous hours, substances to stay awake, and even poor training can end in tractor-trailer accidents. What you can do to prevent these is limited, but it is possible. When a negligent tractor-trailer driver causes an accident, you should consult with an experienced truck accident lawyer to understand your legal options and seek fair compensation for your losses.
Tractor-Trailer Accidents and What You Can Do to Prevent Them
Let’s look at how trucks can pose a threat to others on the road and what you can do about it.
The Anatomy of a Tractor-Trailer
Tractor trailers haul upwards of hundreds of thousands of pounds of freight. The design is simple yet effective. The tractor or “truck” connects to a trailer. The entire unit is a modular motor on a chassis that connects with trailers that can be used with any other truck. This allows for flexibility and saving time when hauling various loads.
Trucks haul everything from freight vans filled with groceries, hazardous waste, and furniture to flat beds that carry logs, heavy equipment, and power station components; there is not much that trucks are not capable of hauling.
Because of the laws of physics, it takes a lot of energy to control a truck’s speed, making it more difficult to stop suddenly. They also have the disadvantage of being higher profile vehicles, and the trailers they carry also limit visibility near smaller vehicles on the road.
Give Plenty of Room
All that weight means a lot of mass traveling down the road at highway speeds. Trucks are outfitted with brakes, like your car, and engine or jake brakes to help control their speed, but they cannot react as quickly as your car. Quick, sharp turns in a truck might mean a rollover or a collision with other vehicles. Allow plenty of distance between yourself and the trucks around you. If a truck is coming up fast from behind, get out of the way, as there might be a problem preventing them from stopping.
Do Not Pull Out in Front of Trucks
Due to the longer distances needed to slow down and stop, pulling out in front of a truck is not a good idea. They might be traveling faster than you expected and can hit you. The driver has only so long to react to a situation. You cannot trust that they have enough time to react to an object suddenly in their way. Another thing to remember is to never block a runaway truck ramp. These safety features stop trucks whose brakes have burned out in mountainous places.
Be Aware of Blind Spots
The general rule of following a truck is that they cannot see you if you cannot see their mirrors. Driving a truck is like driving a giant blind spot down the road. Most of the time, they are more concerned with what is ahead than what they have already passed. If you overtake a truck, make sure you do it quickly enough in case they change lanes, and you are in their blind spot.
Watch for Signals
Drivers must signal whenever they make lane changes, and many drivers are supposed to stop at railroad crossings. Their brake signals, turn indicators, and other safety lights must be in working order to be safe and legal on the highway. In an investigation, an attorney can help determine if they violated these standards and practices and prove negligence in your settlement or trial.
Do Not Assume the Truck Driver Knows What They Are Doing
A truck driver must meet physical requirements to operate their vehicle and adhere to laws and standards that have been put into place to protect others. Licensure requires that truck drivers be adept at handling their vehicles, including various highway and weather conditions. After all, a truck in the hands of the untrained is dangerous to have on the road. But some companies cut corners and hire inexperienced or unlicensed drivers to save a buck.
The driver might not know the basics, such as checking their tires, securing freight properly, or having the situational awareness to avoid accidents. They might even be distracted, using a mobile device while driving, or taking stimulants to keep up with their schedule. Some drivers might not obey the requirements to take breaks and sleep regularly, further impairing their ability to drive safely.
Watch for Erratic Driving
Trucks should not be driving too fast or constantly changing lanes. Their driver should be aware of the limitations of their vehicle, and driving like a maniac is a good way to cause serious accidents. The driver might be on some substance or impaired in other ways. In any case, if your first reaction to how they are driving is a feeling that something is not right, keep a safe distance and notify the police. Dash cameras, camera phones, and other recording devices can help document this kind of activity, which your attorney might use in court.
Beware of Falling Objects
When traveling at speed on the highway, objects that have fallen off trucks have resulted in accidents and injuries. Maintaining a safe distance is not always enough. These objects can fly into oncoming traffic or be scattered across the highway, hitting like projectiles if you are not careful.
Here are some different falling objects to watch for:
- Blowouts: Tires on trucks wear out and explode, leaving shredded pieces of rubber and steel on the road. Other drivers avoiding these objects might swerve to avoid them.
- Lost tires: Sometimes, entire wheels disengage from a tractor-trailer. These are very dangerous and can result in serious injuries or fatalities. Your attorney will know how to use this information as leverage in your case since drivers are required to perform safety checks to prevent these types of truck accidents.
- Cargo and debris: Truck drivers are often responsible for securing their loads and freight with proper straps and chains. If the load shifts due to their driving or negligence, a skilled attorney can argue that they are at fault for your injuries and responsible for paying damages.
- Chains and winter equipment: Chain laws are in effect for trucks in most mountainous areas during the wintertime, but if a truck driver neglects to chain up for traction and you are injured, they should be liable for your losses. If a tractor-trailer driver injures you in winter driving conditions, be sure to document whether or not they were using chains.
- Watch for sparks: Sparks can indicate loose objects, such as chains or straps dangling from the truck. These items can become dislodged and strike other vehicles or show that the chains or straps are not properly restraining the loads. Stay far away if you see sparks under a truck to avoid an accident.
In driver’s education courses, instructors teach us to keep our eyes open for dangerous situations and respond safely and effectively. We cannot always assume that a truck driver is watching out for other drivers on the road.
This is not much different than passenger vehicles, except for the added dangers of heavy cargo, potentially hazardous materials, and the severity of injuries you will suffer during a collision with a tractor-trailer. Here are some ways to use your senses to stay alert to the dangers of sharing the road with trucks.
Use Your Senses To Avoid an Accident
Being aware of your surroundings involves more than just keeping your eyes open.
Use your other senses to be mindful of potential hazards regarding trucks:
- Burned brakes: Burned brakes are significantly less effective at stopping a truck. This happens when the brake shoes and drums have overheated due to overuse and become slick. You can almost immediately tell by a sweet smell and even white smoke from the truck’s wheels that the truck has burnt brakes. They might also make a distinctive screeching sound. This indicates that the truck cannot stop and might be out of control.
- Black smoke: When the driver shifts gears, their motor will produce black smoke from the smoke stacks. This is due to higher revving and excess power that the transmission must transfer to the drivetrain. It might indicate the truck building speed or attempting to use the motor to slow the truck down.
- Sound of a jake brake: An engine brake makes a distinctive sound. It is a diesel motor’s way of using internal pressure to slow the vehicle down. If you hear this sound, it might be because the truck’s brakes have failed or they are attempting to reduce speed before approaching your vehicle.
- Backup signals: Watch for turn signals, brake lights, and other warning lights. If you notice that a truck’s driving lights are not illuminated, especially on its trailer, you should notify the police. Truck drivers must ensure their rig is working before sharing the road with other drivers.
Common Causes of Tractor-Trailer Accidents
Tractor-trailer accidents can occur for a variety of reasons, many of them similar to the reasons smaller passenger vehicles get into accidents.
These may include:
Driver error. Some driver errors occur because of deliberate decisions. The driver might, for example, decide to speed or drive recklessly to make up lost time. Other types of driver error occur due to:
- Driver distraction, where the driver’s attention drifts off the road and onto other things;
- Driver inebriation;
- Driver illness; and/or
- Driver weariness, either due to too many hours behind the wheel or due to inadequate rest.
Poor weather conditions. In poor weather conditions, drivers may have more trouble keeping their rigs on the road. Slick, icy roads or rainy conditions raise the risk of an accident, as does poor visibility.
Shifting loads. How a truck driver’s load is secured to the truck can make a big difference in the driver’s ability to control the truck. A poorly-secured load can shift during transport, causing the trailer to swing out of control and increasing the risk of an accident. Drivers may not realize their load was incorrectly secured until it’s too late.
Sideswipe collisions. Truck drivers have large blind spots that can make it incredibly difficult for them to see smaller vehicles beside them. While newer tractor-trailers may come equipped with cameras that offer greater visibility around the truck, many of the trucks on the road are older and do not have this feature. Sideswipe collisions can result from a vehicle sitting too long in a truck’s blind spot or a truck driver attempting to merge with inadequate space.
Rear-end collisions. Many other drivers fail to realize how much room a truck driver really needs to stop their rig. These drivers may merge too closely to the truck and slow down abruptly, change lanes in front of a truck while it tries to stop, or stop too abruptly with a big truck behind them. All these actions can result in a severe rear-end collision, which may lead to substantial vehicle damage and devastating injuries.
Types of Injuries
Due to the nature and severity of tractor-trailer accidents, you want to avoid getting into one at all costs. Here are some ways that people are hurt in trucking accidents every year.
Your quality of life will be greatly affected due to just a split second of a truck driver making a bad decision behind the wheel of an 18-wheeler.
- Burns: Trucks carry a lot of combustible fuel, and some even haul flammable material as part of their cargo. A collision can result in fire, which can spread quickly, causing serious burns—especially if you cannot get out of a vehicle.
- Fractures: The force of the impact with a truck can break bones easily.
- Internal organ damage: As with fractures, you might sustain internal damage to organs, resulting in surgery or even organ removal to save your life.
- Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI): The brain is part of the most important system of your body. The impact of a truck accident can cause bruising or bleeding in the brain, ranging from concussion to severe brain hematoma. The lasting cognitive damage resulting from these injuries is profound. You might become permanently disabled or die from your injuries.
- Dismemberment: Severed limbs, body parts, and disfigurement might result from a truck accident. Survivors of these types of injuries might have to undergo surgeries to save their lives and rehabilitation to learn how to function again without using these body parts.
- Paralysis: Like a TBI, damage to the spine and other nervous system components can result in paralysis. It is not uncommon for a truck accident survivor to have limited function due to quadriplegia or paraplegia.
- Severe cuts and scrapes: Either from broken glass, twisted metal, or the intensity of the impact itself, your body can only withstand so much during a crash with a truck.
Damages From Truck Accidents
Survivors of truck accidents can almost always expect an uphill battle when recovering from their injuries.
Here are just a few damages you may pursue from a collision with a tractor-trailer:
- Pain and suffering: It is difficult to put a price tag on the pain and mental anguish you will endure while recovering. An attorney can help you with the compensation you deserve due to someone else’s mistake.
- Hospital bills: Surgeries and treatments required to save your life in a truck accident are expensive but crucial to giving you a chance of survival. You might find yourself in the hospital for extended periods too.
- Rehabilitation: Injuries affecting your quality of life might require retraining your body on how to function, which is why physical therapy and rehabilitation might be necessary for years to come.
- Losses of personal property: Your vehicle, personal effects, and other losses resulting from the accident must be covered by those responsible. Replacing these objects is secondary to your health and well-being but still important to make things right.
- Lost time at work: While you are recovering or struggling with post-traumatic stress, you will likely miss time at work, which compounds the difficult financial situation you are now dealing with. Lost wages and future lost wages are something your attorney can help you calculate when it comes to recovering damages.
- Financial strain: Between the hospital bills, lost time at work, dealing with permanent disabilities, and attempting to regain your standard of living despite these losses, you are likely going to need more than the lowball amount an insurance company is initially offering. With the initial offer from an insurer, always consult a lawyer before agreeing to any settlement amount. There is a chance the company responsible owes a lot more compensation, and insurance companies are only interested in maintaining their bottom line.
- Death: Truck accidents result in thousands of deaths annually, most of which are avoidable. Someone is at fault for the loss of your family member. There must be compensation for funeral expenses, lost wages for the family breadwinner, and other damages. An attorney can help you get the justice you need.
Contact an Attorney
You need to contact a personal injury attorney in The Bronx, NY if you cannot avoid a truck accident. Other than some of the items listed, there is not much you can do to prevent an accident. Sometimes you are at the mercy of luck and whether or not the driver is competent enough to handle a vehicle of this size.
An attorney can give you insight into what you are owed for compensation to cover your recovery and give you a semblance of the quality of life you have lost due to your injuries. An attorney will take the information gathered by witnesses, law enforcement, and your documentation to argue your case.
Most cases do not go to trial, but if yours does, a personal injury lawyer can fight for your rights and get you the compensation you deserve for your suffering.