Imagine this scenario.
You’re traveling with your family on I-80 in Illinois, heading toward Iowa. It’s a beautiful sunny day in September.
Traffic isn’t heavy. You see brake lights ahead and start to slow down. You glance in your rear-view mirror, a common practice, and notice a semi-truck behind you that does not appear to be slowing down.
Instincts have you clutching the steering wheel and rapidly switching your attention between your mirrors and the road ahead – wondering if there’s any way to avoid a rear-end collision.
You’re almost at a complete stop now. The semi-truck behind you is still barreling ahead.
You turn the wheel to the left hoping to get out of the way, but there’s nowhere to go. You brace for impact.
This is a very scary scenario, but it could be a reality.
Semi-Truck Accident Causes
Thousands of people die every year in accidents involving semi-trucks.
More often than not, the victims are those in passenger vehicles, which are not designed to withstand a collision with a vehicle of this magnitude. Given the large weight of these semi-trucks, the relatively small weight of most passenger vehicles, and the speed of most semis at the time of impact, accidents often result in catastrophic injuries, and sometimes in fatalities.
There are a handful of reasons why accidents like this occur, including:
- driver fatigue
- driver inexperience
- distracted & impaired driving
- improper maintenance & vehicle malfunctions
- improper loading, and
- hazardous road conditions
Semi-Truck Driver Fatigue
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, driver fatigue, especially in truck drivers, is a serious problem.
Semi-truck drivers often drive thousands of miles over a few short days.
Many of these drivers are paid by the mile, so there is a huge incentive for the truck driver to crunch many miles as quickly as possible. That is how they make more money.
Federal regulations limit the number of hours a driver can drive within a certain period of time. These regulations also outline how often truck drivers must take breaks, and for how long.
However, driver fatigue continues to be one of the most common reasons for semi-truck accidents.
According to the National Safety Council, “driving after losing just two hours of sleep is similar to driving after drinking three beers.”
Inexperienced drivers are everywhere on the road. This is not unique to semi-truck drivers.
However, the issue becomes much more serious when we’re talking about an inexperienced driver in a 100,000 pound semi-truck.
Everyone has to start somewhere. The reality is, there will be drivers operating these massive machines who are fresh out of driving school – possibly with inadequate training.
This is a disaster waiting to happen.
Often new drivers are anxious to get on the road and start making money, and they may not bring concerns or problems to their new employer.
Younger drivers may also feel confident that they have nothing to worry about. Worse yet, they may not consider how deadly a semi-truck can be.
Distracted & Impaired Driving
Distracted driving and impaired driving are major concerns for everyone on the road.
If the driver of a vehicle takes their eyes off the road or hands off the wheel for even a split second, the consequences can be dire.
Cell phone use is the most common cause of distracted driving, but it is not the only one. Manipulating the radio or navigation system is a distraction. Likewise, eating, drinking, looking for something in the vehicle, or arguing with a passenger are also causes of distracted driving.
Driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol causes people to act recklessly – and directly impacts a driver’s reaction time.
These substances cause impaired judgment, irrational behavior, and can even cause a driver to lose consciousness. When combined with driving, substance use can result in disaster.
It’s not always illegal drugs involved, either. Some prescription medications should not be taken when operating heavy machinery.
While there are safeguards put in place both by individual companies and by the federal government, they are not foolproof. Pre-employment drug testing as well as random screenings minimize impaired driving, but they do not prevent it completely.
If a semi-truck driver is involved in a collision, they are required to be tested for drugs and alcohol within a certain time period following the accident.
While this is good practice, and could be extremely important in proving negligence, it is still performed AFTER an accident has already occurred.
Improper Maintenance & Vehicle Malfunctions
Under federal law, semi-trucks are required to be kept in good condition.
Improperly maintained trucks — and their many parts — can lead to serious accidents.
Some components problems typically involved in semi-truck accidents include faulty brake systems and worn tires. The brake systems on these massive semi-trucks should be checked before each trip, and drivers should regularly check them when they stop mid-trip.
Drivers need to be familiar with their trucks and know the red flags that indicate possible malfunctions, because these can lead to critical safety problems.
Sometimes, the cargo in a semi-truck has not been properly loaded or safely secured.
In an effort to get the driver back on the road, the process of loading the truck might be rushed, leading to mistakes. For example, the person responsible for loading the cargo might distribute the weight unevenly within the trailer.
This could be due to human error, a lack of experience on the loader’s part, or blatant negligence.
Improperly loaded cargo can certainly be the cause of a semi-truck accident.
Hazardous Road Conditions Causing Semi-Truck Accidents
Rain, snow, ice, fog, and high winds all create hazardous road conditions, and these conditions can lead to an increase in semi-truck accidents.
Even the most experienced truck drivers can be involved in an accident, especially with adverse weather conditions.
Less than ideal road conditions can impact visibility and traction, and have deadly outcomes.
Semi-truck drivers are obligated to take extreme caution in the operation of their commercial motor vehicle under all circumstances, but especially when hazardous conditions exist.
Legal Liability – Holding Them Accountable
Liability is not always clear, and the burden of proof falls on the plaintiff.
There are times when driver negligence is obvious – for example, when the driver tests positive for drugs or alcohol following the accident.
However, getting to the root cause of an accident often requires thorough investigation, and an deep understanding of liability laws in your state.
This is why an attorney experienced in semi-truck accidents is your greatest asset in recovering damages for your injuries.
In addition to the semi-truck driver, the trucking company or their insurance company may be liable.
To prove this, you must be able to show evidence the company engaged in certain activities which caused the accident. For example, did the trucking company cut corners to save money or time?
Inspections of the semi-truck’s electronic logging device (ELD), the mechanical and operational components of the truck, the electronic components, driver employment records, and company safety records are just some of the steps necessary to prove liability.
These inspections should be done quickly following an accident, and the semi-truck driver, trucking company, and insurance carriers should be instructed to preserve any and all evidence.
It’s also important to gather any video evidence from traffic cameras or nearby business surveillance cameras, and interview potential witnesses.
How VanDerGinst Law Can Help
The aftermath of any accident can be devastating, and the magnitude of the devastation is often multiplied when the accident involves a large commercial truck.
You will likely feel a range of emotions on top of any physical injuries you or your passengers suffered. Things can be confusing and overwhelming. You may not know what to do, what to say or not say, and who to talk to.
VanDerGinst Law is here to help you navigate this life-altering situation.
Considering the complexity of cases involving semi-trucks, and the often time-sensitive issues involved, it is not uncommon for victims of semi-truck accidents to still be hospitalized for treatment or recovery from their injuries when they choose to reach out to an attorney.
This is why the team at VanDerGinst Law is available 24/7 – and we will come to you!
The law is tough, being injured is tougher. We’ll make it easier for you.