According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), more than two million rear-end car accidents occur in the United States each year. Rear-end collisions are the most common type of accident, accounting for nearly 30 percent of all crashes.
When a car is hit in the back by another car, the drivers may walk away with minor injuries. However, when a semi-truck weighing up to 80,000 pounds smashes into the back of a vehicle, serious personal injury and extensive damage will most likely occur.
Why are commercial trucks so prone to causing rear-end truck accidents? Following are the most common reasons.
Reasons for Rear-End Truck Accidents
Braking distance. According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), a loaded semi-truck traveling 65 miles per hour needs roughly the length of two football fields, 600 feet, to come to a complete stop. For comparison, some newer models of passenger cars can stop in 70 feet or less.
A truck driver who does not leave enough room between them and vehicles in front of them will not be able to stop in time when a traffic situation arises. For example, if construction or an accident ties up traffic suddenly, a truck driver may not be able to avoid colliding with the back of another vehicle.
Sometimes a truck driver is at the mercy of a car driving recklessly. They may cut the truck off while changing lanes or suddenly slam on the brakes in front of the truck. Accidents are likely to happen in these situations.
Distracted driving. The NHTSA estimates that more than 85 percent of all rear-end collisions happen because of distracted driving, including truck accidents. Distracted driving is often defined as anything that takes a driver’s hands off the wheel, eyes off the road, or mind off driving.
A semi-truck driver may be talking or texting on a cellphone or chatting on an in-cab radio. They might also be eating or drinking, getting lost in thought, or distracted by the scenery.
The federal government regulates cell phone use among truck drivers and requires them to use hands-free devices. Some do not follow these rules or are distracted by something else. Whatever the reason, distracted driving can cause severe injury and even death in a rear-end collision.
Driver inexperience. Inexperienced semi-truck drivers may not realize just how much room they need to stop. By the time they see traffic ahead stopped or slowed, it may be too late for them to compete to a complete stop.
Research shows that as age increases, the likelihood of a rear-end collision decreases. Age and driving experience are correlated, so it makes sense that an inexperienced or ill-trained driver could cause horrific accidents. It takes years for a truck driver to know and be comfortable with how the semi handles.
Drivers are also required to have a commercial driver’s license (CDL). There have been instances in which a driver does not have this license and causes serious injury or death.
Speeding. Truckers who drive over the speed limit are simply not able to control their rigs effectively. Speed is a top contributing factor to rear-end collisions. A trucker already needs 600 feet to stop when driving 65 mph. Higher speeds require more stopping distance, which a truck driver often does not have.
Following too closely. Anytime a car or truck tailgates, accidents can quickly happen. All it takes is for the car in front to slow or stop suddenly. When a truck follows too closely behind, an accident is sure to follow.
Fatigued driving. Truck drivers are often in it for the long haul. They may try to get to their destinations early or make up for lost time by driving more than federal regulations allow. The result is often a fatigued driver who cannot quickly react to a changing traffic situation.
Unfortunately, some employers even reward drivers for early deliveries or do not maintain accurate driver time logs. They should know that a fatigued driver is a dangerous driver.
Impaired driving. Just like with car drivers, some truck drivers may drive under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Even prescription or over-the-counter medications can be dangerous. Impaired drivers cannot make good decisions or react quickly to a traffic situation. This includes slamming on the brakes when traffic stops or slows without enough distance to stop. A rear-end collision is sure to be the result.
Blind spots. Most accidents caused by blind spots happen because a truck driver could not see a car behind or next to them as they tried to change lanes. However, their very attention to trying to see in their blind spots could also cause them to hit the car in front of them as they change lanes.
What Are Common Injuries in Semi-Truck Rear-End Accidents?
The sheer weight and size of a semi-truck raise the risk of severe injury or death of passengers in a car it hits from behind. Common injuries include the following.
Neck and back injuries. There is a powerful impact when a truck hits a car from behind. This force is often absorbed in a person’s neck or back as their bodies violently jerk and contort on impact. Injuries include:
- Herniated disks
- Fractured vertebrae
- Spinal cord injuries causing partial or total paralysis
Traumatic brain injury (TBI). A person’s head may hit the steering column, dashboard, roof, window, or other objects when a truck hits them from behind. The result can be a TBI. Patients sustaining a TBI often deal with permanent or long-term disabilities, including:
- A decline in cognitive abilities such as reasoning and memory
- Difficulty communicating and expressing feelings or ideas
- Impaired ability to read and write
- Changes in personality and behavior, including aggression
- Difficulty with impulse control
Skull and facial injuries. Even with airbag deployment, a person can be violently thrown into the windshield or other stationary object in the car. Skull and jaw fractures are common, as are injuries to the nose, eyes, mouth, and teeth. Gashes, cuts, and bruises can add to the facial disfigurement.
Soft tissue injuries. The force of a rear-end collision will often cause a person’s body to contort in unnatural positions. The result can be strains or tears of muscles, tendons, and ligaments throughout the body. These injuries often take a lot of rehabilitation and physical therapy. They could permanently limit a person’s range of motion and other abilities.
Nerve damage can also result from a rear-end collision, which can also be long-term or permanent, and debilitating.
Who Is at Fault for a Rear-End Collision Involving a Semi-Truck?
Although fault depends on the circumstances of the accident, it often lies with the truck driver. They have the responsibility to operate their big rigs safely, which includes giving themselves enough time and distance to stop or slow the truck safely.
Of course, if the truck was speeding, tailgating, or the driver fell asleep, was impaired, or did not hold the proper license or training, the fault will almost always lie squarely on the truck driver.
However, there are circumstances in which a third party could also be held liable. For example:
- The trucker’s employer who is responsible for the actions of its employees and is required to inspect and maintain its fleet, train and license drivers, and follow government regulations regarding driver hours.
- The owner of the truck if different from the employer.
- Truck and parts manufacturers if the truck could not stop because of a defective part, such as a faulty braking system.
- A government agency or contractor that failed to maintain safe roadways or warn drivers about dangerous road conditions that led to a rear-end collision.
The most reliable way to determine fault and potentially recover compensation for losses is to contact a lawyer. If you or a loved one has been seriously injured in a rear-end truck accident, your first step is to seek medical treatment. From there, a lawyer can help you determine whether you have a legal claim against a trucker or other party and get the process started. Anyone who suffers losses from an accident involving a truck is entitled to seek compensation.
Freehold Truck Accident Lawyers at Ellis Law Help Clients in Rear-End Truck Accidents Get the Help They Need
If you or a loved one is injured in an accident with a semi-truck, contact the Freehold truck accident lawyers at Ellis Law for a free and confidential consultation. No one should suffer the physical and financial devastation an accident can cause without being compensated fairly. For a free consultation, call us at 732-308-0200 or complete our online form. We are located in Freehold, New Jersey, and help clients throughout Freehold, East Brunswick, Toms River, Middletown, Jersey City, Neptune, Hudson County, Union County, Essex County, Monmouth County, Marlboro, and Ocean County, as well as Brooklyn, New York, and New York City.