Tractor-trailer trucks are vital to the economy, and we rely on them to deliver everything from the food we eat to the products we order online. Fully loaded, an 18-wheeler can weigh as much as 80,000 pounds or 20 times the average passenger vehicle. The thought of being hit by something that weighs 40 tons is terrifying for any driver and even if you have not personally witnessed a devastating truck accident on the road, we have all seen evening news reels featuring the chaos and destruction caused by an out of control 18-wheeler. An accident involving an 18-wheeler can cause a catastrophic amount of damage.
Damages and Injuries Caused by 18-Wheeler Accidents
The bigger and heavier the vehicle, the longer it needs to come to a complete stop. According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) a fully loaded 18-wheeler traveling at highway speeds under favorable conditions requires almost 200 yards to stop. Not many highways have an empty stretch that long, even in the middle of the night. Consequently, a truck out of control will hit anything in its path along the way as it tries to stop. Stopping distances are even longer under less favorable conditions like snow and ice. The impact of the accident depends upon several factors including how fast the truck was traveling. Many truck drivers are under enormous pressure to deliver their cargo on time and drive at speeds higher than the posted limit to make deadlines.
An 18-wheeler accident can affect multiple vehicles in its vicinity because this type of tractor-trailer truck can be up to 70 feet long. If it swerves out of control, it can cause a multi-car pileup as the vehicles around it crash into each other while trying to avoid hitting the truck itself. An 18-wheeler can inflict massive property damage to the site of the crash including lamp posts, signs, guardrails, traffic signals, sidewalks, and bridges. A truck that loses its cargo as it crashes can endanger the lives of people living nearby if the cargo is toxic chemicals or if the cargo catches fire.
And if it collides with another smaller vehicle, that vehicle will likely be crushed or severely damaged. Fatalities in truck accidents are common with the occupants of passenger vehicles mostly likely to die. Those that survive may be left with serious and life-altering injuries. Some common injuries resulting from truck accidents include:
- Back injuries
- Broken bones and lacerations
- Head and neck injuries including traumatic brain injury
- Internal organ damage and other crushing injuries
- Spinal cord injuries including paralysis
These types of injuries can require multiple surgeries, lengthy hospital stays, and follow up rehabilitative therapy. Medical bills from truck accident injuries can pile up quickly while at the same time leaving victims unable to work during their recovery. Sadly, some truck accidents inflict permanent injuries and chronic pain that make it impossible for people to return to their occupation. Besides the emotional distress, pain, and suffering they endure, they must also contend with a loss of future earnings and the prospect of the need for lifelong medical treatment.
What are Some Common Causes of Truck Accidents?
Almost all truck accidents are the result of human error. An 18-wheeler is a huge vehicle that requires training and skill to operate. The FMCSA regulates all aspects of the trucking industry in an effort to keep the commercial trucks on America’s roads safe. While many trucking companies and their drivers follow the FMSCA rules and regulations, some cut corners to maximize profits jeopardizing the safety of everyone sharing the road with them. The following are the most common causes of truck accidents on U.S. roads:
- Speeding: as mentioned above, a speeding fully loaded 18-wheeler is hard to stop in the best of conditions. Traveling too fast leaves the driver no time to react to sudden obstacles or emergencies.
- Drowsy driving: truck drivers travel thousands of miles to deliver cargo and must follow rules known as “hours of service” that dictate how long a driver may be on the road before they must stop to rest. Fatigue can lead to loss of concentration or falling asleep at the wheel and studies have shown that drowsy driving is just as dangerous as drunk driving.
- Lack of training: trucking companies are responsible for running background checks on drivers and providing thorough training before letting a new truck driver out on the road.
- Distracted driving: making phone calls, texting, operating a navigation system, answering a dispatcher, and even eating and drinking are all activities that can take a truck driver’s focus away from the road. A distracted driver behind the wheel of a four-ton tractor-trailer truck can have disastrous consequences.
- Driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol: long hours alone in a cab of a truck can make some drivers turn to stimulants that help them stay awake and concentrate. However, the use of drugs and alcohol give drivers a false sense of their abilities and impair judgement and reaction times.
- Improperly loaded cargo: an 18-wheeler must be properly loaded for it to be safe. Cargo can weigh tens of thousands of pounds and so must be secured to prevent shifting which can throw off the balance of the whole truck as it turns. Unsecured loads can also fly off into the traffic behind the truck.
How Can I Stay Safe Driving Around 18-Wheelers?
It is natural to feel apprehensive in traffic near 18-wheelers, especially for new drivers. But learning about these big vehicles can help you stay safe and avoid accidents. Here are some things to remember any time you find yourself driving near a big truck:
- Trucks have more blind spots: a truck driver has to deal with blind spots on all four sides of the truck. The only time you can assume that the truck driver can see you is if you can see them in their side mirrors and even then, it is possible they are paying attention to something else. Whenever you can do not drive in a trucker’s blind spots.
- Trucks need more room to make turns: when you see that a truck is signaling to turn give it wide berth. An inexperienced driver may cut you off and even a skilled driver will need plenty of room compared to a passenger vehicle.
- Trucks need more time to stop: never cut a truck off when you want to change lanes, merge, or when crossing at an intersection. Trucks leave a large following distance to the next vehicle for a reason – they need the space to be able to stop in an emergency or maneuver around unexpected obstacles.
Liability in Truck Accidents
If you have been injured in a truck accident, liability is different and more complicated than in an accident between passenger vehicles. It can potentially involve the trucking company, the owner of the truck, the driver of the truck, and even the manufacturer of parts of the truck if the accident was caused by a defect such as faulty brakes. Trucking companies have teams of lawyers ready to mitigate their losses when one of their trucks is involved in an accident and they will try their best to dodge and deflect liability to another party. Before attempting to seek compensation on your own it is advisable to consult with an experienced attorney who can explain your legal options.
Freehold Truck Lawyers at Ellis Law, P.C. Represent Injured Victims of Truck Accidents
If you or someone you love has been seriously injured in a truck accident, contact the experienced Freehold truck lawyers at Ellis Law, P.C. Our dedicated team will investigate the accident and fight to get you the compensation you need for your recovery. Call 732-308-0200 today to schedule your free consultation or complete our online contact form. From our offices in Freehold, New Jersey we represent clients in Freehold, East Brunswick, Toms River, Middletown, Jersey City, Neptune, Hudson County, Union County, Essex County, and Ocean County, as well as Brooklyn and New York, New York.