Commercial Truck Accidents

Due to their massive size and weight, large commercial vehicles and eighteen-wheelers pose a significant hazard to most other vehicles on the road.

  • When a semi jackknifes on a highway, it can effectively become an impenetrable wall resulting in a serious multiple vehicle collision.
  • Due to their weight and size, commercial trucks can be slow to come to a full stop
  • A trucker's load may spill following a collision, creating an additional hazard for other drivers and potentially releasing hazardous chemicals.

Although the commercial trucking industry is heavily regulated, many regulations are flouted by truck drivers who try to shorten their time on the road.

The overwhelming majority of truck accidents that result in a fatality also involve a passenger vehicle. That is an unfortunate consequence that may result from a truck that may well weigh 60 to 80 tons, colliding with a 3,000 pound passenger vehicle.

When a commercial truck driver is the employee of a trucking company, the company may be vicariously liable for injuries caused by the driver's negligence either in its capacity as an employer or as the owner of the truck.

Truck Driver Fatigue

Although federal regulations restrict the number of hours a commercial truck driver may drive per day, and even how many hours of sleep a truck driver is expected to get each night, those rules are frequently violated. Although hours and miles on the road, driving start and stop times, and hours of sleep are supposed to be continuously logged by drivers, many drivers routinely fake log entries or complete their log books days after-the-fact, ignoring the regulations while driving their vehicles. A tired driver may also be tempted to use stimulants to stay awake and alert.

Commercial truck drivers subject to federal regulation are not supposed to drive more than ten consecutive hours, or a total of more than eleven hours in a day. After accumulating eleven hours of driving in a day, the driver is supposed to take a break of not less than ten hours, with a weekly rest period of 34 or more consecutive hours. Drivers are not permitted to accumulate more than 60 hours of driving time in a week, or more than 70 hours over eight consecutive days. Additional state regulations may apply.

Employers should audit their drivers' logs to ensure compliance with these regulations.

Improperly Secured Load

If the load in a commercial truck is improperly secured, it can shift during transit creating a risk of rollover. With trucks carrying loose loads under a tarp, an improperly secured tarp can result in a shower of debris on the road or on vehicles behind the truck.

An overloaded truck also is at greater risk of becoming involved in an accident.

Poor Maintenance

Trucks require proper maintenance. A mechanical failure, particularly a failure of the brakes, can create a great danger to other drivers.

Brakes, truck lights and other safety equipment should be properly maintained and regularly checked. Truckers should always perform a complete pre-trip inspection of their vehicles before transporting a load.

Sometimes a manufacturing or design error in a truck or truck part will support a product liability claim against the manufacturer of the truck or part.

Excessive Speed

Speeding by the drivers of commercial trucks significantly increases the likelihood of an accidents. Truck drivers know that it is safer to obey the posted speed limit, but unfortunately may choose to speed in order to deliver their loads more quickly.

Unsafe Driving

Additional unsafe driving factors by truck drivers that frequently contribute to accidents include:

  • Driving outside of the designated truck lanes;
  • Failure to respect weather conditions and to appropriately reduce speed;
  • Aggressive driving;
  • Driving while impaired by drugs or alcohol;
  • Failure to yield right of way to other vehicles or pedestrians; and
  • Failure to observe a safe following distance.

Other drivers can make the probability of a truck accident increase by failing to drive safely:

  • Failure to Respect the Trucker's Blind Spot: Trucks have an enormous blind spots, and some trucks even carry warning signs on the rear demonstrating the zone in which the driver cannot see a passing vehicle. Still, many drivers attempt to pass trucks as they attempt to turn or change lanes.

  • Sudden Braking: Commercial trucks and tractor-trailers may require a considerable distance to stop, particularly when they are towing an empty trailer, and are at risk of rear-ending a vehicle that comes to a sudden, unexpected stop.

  • Unsafe Lane Changes: Sudden lane changes in front of a truck, particularly while passing the truck, can create risk of accident.

  • Cross-Winds: On windy days, a truck may shield other drivers from the effects of the wind. If the driver passes the truck, a sudden gust of wind may catch the driver off-guard and cause the passing vehicle to swerve.

  • Aggressive Driving: In a collision between a truck and a passenger vehicle, the passenger vehicle will lose. Drivers should remember that fact, and should not engage in aggressive driving techniques against a semi driver.

  • Tailgating: Drivers who rear-end commercial trucks may find that the front of their vehicle passes below the truck, depriving them of the benefit of the front-end crumple zone.

When a passenger car rear-ends a semi, the primary point of impact may be the windshield, only a short distance from the driver's face. The metal bars welded to the back of a truck below the chassis are ostensibly meant to prevent underride, but are commonly called "guillotine guards" due to the number of decapitations they cause. Underride accidents with commercial trucks can be deadly.

Due to the serious and catastrophic injuries that may result from an accident that involves a large truck or rig, and for a full analysis of the regulatory issues involved and to ensure that all possible responsible persons are identified and held accountable, people injured in those accidents will benefit from consulting with a personal injury lawyer.

Copyright © 2006 Aaron Larson, All rights reserved. No portion of this article may be reproduced without the express written permission of the copyright holder. If you use a quotation, excerpt or paraphrase of this article, except as otherwise authorized in writing by the author of the article you must cite this article as a source for your work and include a link back to the original article from any online materials that incorporate or are derived from the content of this article.

This article was last reviewed or amended on Apr 11, 2018.