Trucks carry 60% of all the freight in the United States, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics. They are a vital part of our economy. Unfortunately, truck accidents lead to catastrophic injuries. The size and weight of a commercial vehicle traveling at highway speeds will effortlessly rip through a family car’s safety systems. Crumple zones are no match for the power of these heavy vehicles, even at slow speeds.
There are several different types of commercial trucks on the road, and they are used for varying types of freight. Trucking companies, along with their drivers and vehicles, must adhere to Federal Safety Regulations in an effort to keep everyone safe. The most common types of commercial trucks seen on the roadways are as follows:
Each type of truck has a specific purpose, and they each come with their own risks. A commercial driver’s license is required to operate all these vehicles because of their associated dangers.
Accidents including roll-overs, rear-end collisions, jackknifes, sideswipes, and flying debris have all been caused by commercial vehicles. Driver error is the most common cause of an accident caused by the truck. However, different types of trucks have increased risks of becoming involved in an accident due to their design and differing types of freight. The different types of truck and their most common associated causes of accidents are as follows:
Also known as a dry van, these truck and trailer combination vehicles are the most common commercial 18-wheeler truck on the road. They can legally weigh up to 80,000 pounds and are between 70 and 80 feet long. These big trucks are what most people think of when imagining semi-trucks. The truck is independent of the trailer, so they are considered combination vehicles. There are still several types of trailers and many truck types to pull them. The standard trailers are 53 feet long and are a solid enclosed space for carrying cargo all across the country. People also use them as moving vans when they relocate and can sometimes carry vehicles. Other trailers are refrigerated and have their own generator to keep the freight at a specific temperature.
A common problem with these trailers is that they are loaded and sealed by a shipping company, and the driver never sees the cargo. The driver cannot know how the trailer was loaded. They drive over scales to determine the weight on each axle, but it’s impossible to tell if these trailers are now top-heavy or have unstable freight that could topple while driving.
The drivers often unhook the truck from the trailer upon delivery and attach it to another trailer to take somewhere else. They do a quick inspection of this new trailer, but problems can still arise while driving. Wiring problems can cause the lights to be on during inspection and go out while on the road. A problem spot on the tires may be missed if it is touching the ground during the examination, and the air brakes may have water in the tanks or be rusted and then stick while driving. These problems increase the risk of cars rear-ending the truck at night if the lights are not working correctly. Trailer brakes not engaging can cause the truck to jackknife. A jackknife happens when the truck skids, but the attached trailer does not slow down, causing it to push into the truck and swing out to the side. The damage caused by a jackknifing trailer is devastating for nearby cars and has caused many injuries and fatalities.
These trailers are also tall and flat, like walls traveling down the road. This flat surface poses a significant problem when driving through flat farmland with a crosswind. The strong winds of the heartland, among other places, have blown over many tractor-trailers, especially when they are empty or have a lighter load. Cars caught under these trucks are crushed, and survivors can be trapped for hours while waiting for rescue.
Dry vans typically deliver to local stores, so they must maneuver through tight streets and sharp corners not designed with large trucks in mind. Driving in these close areas is even more complicated during high traffic. New drivers almost always start out driving this style of commercial truck. Inexperience, combined with the difficulty of manipulating these cumbersome vehicles through traffic, results in this type of truck being the most commonly seen in collisions.
Large volumes of liquid are transported in tanker trucks. Drivers need a special endorsement on top of their commercial driver’s license to drive these. Many tankers contain baffles, special bulkheads with holes in them to allow the liquid to pass through at a smaller volume, as a safety feature to prevent the liquid from sloshing from front to back too much while the vehicle is in motion. Not all tanks can have baffles to aid in stability. For example, milk trucks would be impossible to clean, and the baffles would cause the milk to churn into butter while bouncing down the road. While these do a lot to prevent the motion of the liquid in the tanks, it still moves side to side. Turning sharp corners or driving on a sideways slanting grade is very dangerous for these trucks as they can fall over if their center of gravity shifts too high.
Hazardous materials, such as gasoline and dangerous chemicals, comprise a large portion of the cargo that tanks haul. Hazmat is another endorsement required on the driver’s license and is the most challenging endorsement to achieve and maintain because there are so many rules and restrictions for carrying these dangerous products. Hazardous materials increase the severity of damage in a collision as they are often flammable or explosive. They also cause more damage to the environment when spilled out of the tanks.
Another commonly seen truck is very similar to a dry van. The trailer is different because it is only the floor with no roof, sides, or doors. The cargo is strapped down and sometimes covered with tarps. The driver is typically responsible for securing the freight to the trailer and must frequently check to ensure the secureness of the load. Flatbeds usually carry construction equipment or landscaping materials.
The most dangerous part about flatbed trucks is the load becoming loose and falling from the trailer into traffic. Straps and chains sometimes work free or break, and these also become hazardous as they can fly into other vehicles. The tarps covering products can get whipped around in the wind if not appropriately secured and break off only to land on a car’s windshield.
Flatbed trucks sometimes transport oversized or wide loads. This type of freight requires extraordinary trip planning as well as at least one flag car. The flag car, or pilot car, signals to other vehicles that an oversized load is coming up on the road. They also make sure the roadway is clear for the truck, as they can take up multiple lanes of traffic. Even with these precautions, accidents still happen. Impatient cars try to pass the slower-moving truck and wind up colliding with the load or oncoming traffic. Sometimes the drivers misjudge the height of a bridge and come into contact with it, causing structural damage. The greatest danger is when the oversized load has to round a corner. These trucks need a lot of space and extra time to make sure they turn safely. The driver cannot always see if a car has rushed up beside them, hoping to pass. When the truck turns, and the car goes unseen, the powerful truck and heavily loaded trailer will easily crush it.
Trees are heavy, and that fact does not change after they are cut down. Logs are not uniform in shape or size, so loading them onto these trucks requires special skill. These vehicles are found in forested areas when trees are harvested to be used as products or when they are removed from a site for a multitude of reasons. Accidents with logging trucks are often caused by another vehicle following too closely. Falling debris is common around logging trucks, and sometimes the logs shift from bouncing over bumps in the road, and they break free. It’s even possible for the entire load to break loose. Cars sharing the road with logging trucks need to show extra caution and give these vehicles extra space to avoid accidents.
Most drivers know that they should stay away from dump trucks. These trucks are smaller than the other commercial vehicles but still heavy and solid. They usually go in and out of construction sites and landscaping projects and are often covered in rocks and dirt. These rocks fall off as debris, and many windshields have been damaged this way. Dump trucks are especially hazardous for motorcyclists who do not have the protection of a car around them. They are also more at risk of sliding on the debris these trucks leave on the roads.
These are the most common types of trucks involved in accidents, and as you can see, the leading cause of truck accidents is cars not giving these large vehicles enough space. The best way to avoid a collision with a truck is to stay away from them. Give these formidable vehicles room to do what they need to do.
If you have been involved in a trucking accident, Goldblatt + Singer: The St. Louis Injury Law Firm can help. Our experienced team is dedicated and reliable. Legal representation through our firm gives you peace of mind knowing that we are working for the best possible settlement on your behalf. Our most important priority is your recovery, so let us handle your case while you recuperate. Contact our experienced truck accident lawyers at Goldblatt + Singer at (314) 231-4100 to schedule a free consultation. We will review the details of your accident and discuss how we can support you through the legal process.
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