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Common Causes of Truck Accidents

Commercial trucks like big rigs and delivery trucks present unique dangers to smaller vehicles and their passengers. Truck drivers need to be aware of the dangers presented by their large and unwieldy vehicles. Other drivers need to use extra caution in their presence. Driving errors can result in catastrophes on the roadways. This is especially true when a tractor-trailer is involved.

The following contains a discussion of some situations that can cause commercial truck accidents. Speak with a truck accident lawyer or review FindLaw's Truck Accident Overview for more information about the common causes of truck accidents.

Commercial Vehicle Accidents Caused by Passenger Vehicle Drivers

Collisions between passenger vehicles and large commercial trucks, such as big rigs, often occur due to misjudgments made by car drivers. Common mistakes stem from a lack of understanding or consideration for a truck's:

  • Speed
  • Size
  • Braking ability

Common unsafe acts committed by car drivers in the vicinity of large trucks, which often result in truck accidents, include:

  • Driving in the "no-zones" — the areas behind and beside a commercial truck where the truck driver has limited or zero visibility
  • Changing lanes right in front of a truck
  • Driving to the right of a truck that is making a right turn
  • Misjudging an approaching truck's speed at an intersection and making a left turn in front of the truck
  • Merging improperly into traffic, causing a truck to maneuver or brake quickly
  • Failure to slow down or speed up when a truck begins to change lanes or merge
  • Unsafe passing, particularly passing with insufficient headway
  • Passing a truck without planning for being blown out of position by air turbulence or cross-wind
  • Pulling into traffic from the roadside in front of a truck without accelerating sufficiently
  • Driving between large trucks
  • Abandoning a vehicle in a travel lane or failing to get a disabled vehicle completely off the highway and onto the shoulder

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has a Safety section with federal regulations for commercial truck drivers and other motorists.

Truck Accidents Caused by Commercial Truck Drivers

Big rig and other commercial truck drivers are skilled and patient drivers, for the most part. However, in addition to the dangers inherent in the size and weight of the trucks used in commercial transportation and shipping, there are industry characteristics that further complicate safety, such as:

  • Inadequate trucker training in driving technique, safety concerns, and defensive driving
  • Systems of compensation in the trucking industry that encourage faster vehicle speeds and more hours of consecutive vehicle operation than would normally be advisable
  • Unrealistic schedules and expectations of trucking companies that encourage drivers to hurry, despite the safety risks

See Resources for Drivers on the FMCSA website to learn more.

Q: What role does distracted driving play in commercial truck accidents?

Distracted driving is a significant problem in many vehicle accidents, but it plays an even bigger role in commercial truck accidents due to the size and weight of these vehicles. Distracted driving can take many forms:

  • Using a cell phone
  • Adjusting the radio or GPS
  • Eating
  • Daydreaming

When a commercial truck driver becomes distracted, they may not have time to react to changes in road conditions. Due to the sheer size and mass of commercial trucks, they need more time and distance to stop or change directions compared to smaller vehicles. Any distraction, even for a few seconds, can lead to severe or fatal accidents.

Q: How does driver fatigue contribute to truck accidents?

Driver fatigue is a widespread issue in the trucking industry. Commercial truck drivers often have demanding schedules requiring them to drive for extended periods. Fatigue can significantly reduce a driver's reaction time, decision-making ability, and overall awareness. This increases the likelihood of accidents.

Q: Are fatalities common in commercial truck accidents?

Yes, unfortunately, fatalities are common in commercial truck accidents. Commercial trucks, due to their significant size and weight, can cause extensive damage in collisions. Occupants of smaller vehicles often suffer severe injuries. The likelihood of fatalities is much higher than in accidents involving only passenger vehicles. It's not uncommon for such accidents to result in multi-car pileups. This further increases the risk of fatal outcomes.

Q: How can Hours of Service rules impact truck accidents?

Hours of Service (HOS) rules are regulations put in place by the FMCSA. They control the working hours of commercial drivers. These rules are designed to prevent driver fatigue. They limit the number of consecutive hours a driver can be on duty. They also specify mandatory rest periods. But enforcing these rules can be challenging. Violations are not uncommon. When drivers exceed these limits, they can become fatigued and less attentive. This increases the risk of accidents.

Q: What should I do if I have high medical bills due to a commercial truck accident?

If you're facing high medical bills as a result of a commercial truck accident, seek legal advice ASAP. A personal injury lawyer with experience in truck accidents can help you understand your rights. They can guide you through the process of making a claim. You may be entitled to compensation for your medical bills. You might also be entitled to other damages such as lost wages, pain and suffering, and more. Each case is unique. Discuss your situation with an attorney to understand the best course of action.

Q: How do road conditions contribute to truck accidents?

The state of roadways can significantly contribute to truck accidents. Issues like potholes, loose gravel, lack of proper signage, and dangerous curves can all pose risks for commercial truck drivers.

Additionally, adverse weather conditions such as rain, snow, or fog can also increase the risk of accidents. These conditions reduce visibility and make the roads slippery. Commercial trucks can be especially difficult to control in such conditions. This can lead to accidents.

Q: What is a rollover accident in the context of commercial trucks?

Rollover accidents are incidents where a truck tips over onto its side or roof. These types of accidents are particularly dangerous. They often result in severe damage and injuries.

Commercial trucks are more susceptible to rollovers. This is due to their high center of gravity and heavy loads. If a driver makes a sudden maneuver or takes a curve too quickly, the truck can easily tip over. Road conditions, weather, and the truck's speed also play a role in the likelihood of rollover accidents. Rollover accidents are among the most dangerous types of commercial truck accidents. This is due to the potential for extensive damage and high fatality rates.

Q: What are blind spots in relation to commercial trucks?

Blind spots, also known as "no-zones," are areas around a commercial truck where the driver has limited or zero visibility, even with the use of side and rearview mirrors. These blind spots are much larger for commercial trucks than for passenger vehicles.

Typically, a truck's blind spots are directly behind the truck's trailer, immediately in front of the cab, and along the sides, especially near the driver and passenger doors. Due to these large blind spots, commercial truck drivers might not see smaller vehicles, bicyclists, or pedestrians in these areas, increasing the risk of accidents. Drivers should avoid lingering in these blind spots whenever possible.

Q: Can the truck driver's employer be held responsible for the accident?

Yes, a trucking company can often be held responsible for accidents involving their vehicles or drivers who are at fault. This is under the legal principle of "vicarious liability," where an employer can be held responsible for the actions of its employees performed within the course of their employment.

Factors that might lead to company liability include:

  • Failing to train drivers adequately
  • Pushing drivers to disregard Hours of Service regulations to meet strict delivery deadlines
  • Not adhering to mandatory maintenance schedules for their trucks

If it can be proven that the company was negligent in its duties, it can be held financially responsible for the injuries and damages resulting from an accident.

Q: What happens if a truck accident is caused by driving under the influence?

Driving under the influence (DUI) of drugs or alcohol is a serious crime. It is even more dangerous when it involves commercial truck drivers.

If a truck accident occurs as a result of DUI, the truck driver can face severe criminal charges and loss of their commercial driver's license. From a civil perspective, victims or their families may also sue the truck driver and potentially the driver's employer for damages. Damages can include:

  • Medical expenses
  • Property damage
  • Lost wages
  • Pain and suffering
  • In the case of fatal accidents, wrongful death claims

Q: What is a jackknife accident?

A jackknife accident refers to a situation where a truck with an attached trailer skids. This causes the trailer to swing out to the side, forming a 90-degree angle or "V" shape with the tractor. This is referred to as "jackknifing" because the angle formed resembles a folding pocketknife.

These types of accidents are particularly dangerous. They can result in the truck blocking multiple lanes of traffic. This can lead to severe multi-vehicle accidents. Factors that can contribute to a jackknife accident include speeding, improper braking, and poor road conditions.

Q: How does improper truck maintenance contribute to accidents?

Trucks, like any mechanical equipment, need regular maintenance to operate safely. When maintenance is neglected, various mechanical failures can occur and lead to accidents. This can include:

  • Brake failure, leading to the inability to stop in time
  • Tire blowouts, causing the driver to lose control
  • Steering issues preventing the driver from maneuvering properly
  • Other failures related to lights, reflectors, or safety equipment

If a trucking company or driver fails to keep their trucks properly maintained and this neglect leads to an accident, they can be held liable for the resulting damages.

Q: What impact do weather conditions have on truck safety?

Severe weather conditions, such as heavy rain, snow, fog, ice, or high winds, can significantly impact the safety of commercial trucks. These conditions can reduce visibility, make the road surfaces slippery, and affect the truck's stability, making it more challenging for the driver to control the vehicle. Trucks require more distance to stop. Slippery roads can increase stopping distances dramatically. In conditions of high winds, trucks are at risk of being blown over.

Q: What is a wrongful death claim in the context of a truck accident?

wrongful death claim can be filed when a person loses their life due to the negligence or misconduct of another party. If a person is killed as a result of the truck driver's or trucking company's negligence, the deceased person's family or estate may have the right to file a wrongful death lawsuit.

This legal action seeks to recover:

  • Lost future earnings
  • Loss of companionship
  • Emotional distress
  • Funeral costs

Wrongful death damages can fall into three categories: economic, non-economic, and punitive. Each state has its laws about who can file a wrongful death claim and what damages can be recovered. Please contact an experienced attorney who can make sure you obtain full recovery.

Q: How can traumatic brain injuries occur in commercial truck accidents?

Traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) are severe injuries that occur as a result of sudden trauma to the head. TBIs can occur due to the force of impact when a passenger vehicle collides with a larger, heavier commercial truck. This impact can cause occupants of the smaller vehicle to violently hit their heads against windows, dashboards, or steering wheels. It can also result in objects penetrating the skull.

TBIs can have serious, lifelong implications. They can affect motor functions, cognitive abilities, emotional well-being, and more. TBIs often result in substantial medical expenses, rehabilitation costs, and, potentially, lifelong care.

Get Legal Advice About Your Truck Accident Claim: Speak to a Truck Accident Attorney

If you've been injured by a commercial truck or big rig vehicle, you may be entitled to compensation. A great first step in learning about your rights after a truck crash is to speak with an experienced car accident attorney. Speaking with a personal injury attorney allows you to know more about the strength of your semi-truck accident case. It also allows you to be better prepared to make crucial decisions going forward.

If you or a loved one has suffered property damage or serious injuries due to a motor vehicle accident with a commercial truck, contact a reputable law office. A personal injury lawyer can help accident victims recover damages for truck accident injuries.

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