8 Common Types of Deadly Alabama Truck Accidents
Semi-trucks, also called 18 wheelers, are the most dangerous vehicles on the roads. The typical semi-truck can be as heavy as 80,000 pounds, and its trailer can be up to 53 feet long. Most accidents involving semi-trucks are serious and often cause serious injuries or death. Extensive data on truck accidents compiled by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (March 2020) indicates that there were 4,951 deaths caused by large truck crashes in 2018 alone, a more than 50% increase over the last ten years. Truck accidents happen on Interstate 65 in Cullman, Decatur and Huntsville on a daily basis. Commercial trucks, such as semi-trucks, have a tendency to be quite large and heavy, but semi-trucks, or tractor-trailers as they are also called, take things to the next level. When a semi-truck tailgates a car or loses control, things can get ugly and deadly very fast. The following are a few of the most typical ways that big rigs injure and kill other drivers in Alabama.
Tractor-Trailer Rollover Accidents
It is not uncommon for a driver to lose control or an improperly loaded semi-truck to rollover. Excessive speed is one of the most common causes of rollover accidents. Because semi-trucks have a higher center of gravity, they roll over more easily than a car. If a truck turns too quickly, it can become unbalanced and start swaying to one side which can lead to a rollover.The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration explains that truck driver error accounts for 78 percent of rollover crashes across the country. When a fully loaded truck rolls over there is usually major property and personal injury damages. Semi-trucks can rollover if the driver improperly brakes or turns incorrectly, When this happens, cars and other smaller vehicles end up being crushed underneath it and other vehicles can end up crashing into the wreckage of a rolled over truck as well creating a pileup.
Whiplash, slipped discs, herniated discs and nerve damage can all too easily occur in this type of crash. The forces involved in a rollover crash can create serious back injuries including spinal cord injuries that can cause permanent disabilities, such becoming a paraplegic or even a quadriplegic.
Underride Semi-Truck Accidents
An underride accident occurs when a smaller vehicle crashes into the side or back of a tractor-trailer and slides underneath. A semi-trailer has a space underneath it that other vehicles can go under. A car, or at least a portion of one, can frequently fit into this area between the underside of a truck trailer and the road. Sometimes, in what are known as underride incidents, cars can become jammed in this under area. Over 300 individuals are killed in underride accidents in the United States each year, making these truck collisions among the worst on the road.
Most underride accidents occur due to:
- Lack of guards. The required underride guards include two vertical steel bars extending down from the truck’s frame, with a horizontal crossbar bar about two feet from the ground. However, not all trailers have rear guards installed—and federal regulations do not require guards along the sides of trailers.
- Improper guards. Trucking companies may install guards that are not the right size for the vehicle or do not meet strength and impact regulations. Some guards are also inadvertently placed much higher than intended, rendering them useless in a crash.
- Defective tape and lights. Reflective tape, taillights, and running lights can all improve visibility, but only if they are in proper working order. Reflective tape must be evenly spaced along at least 50% of the length of the trailer, and drivers should ensure that the tape is not dirty, peeling, or worn before each journey. Drivers should also check that taillights and running lights are clean and operational.
- Outdated guards. Many lawmakers have proposed legislation to strengthen existing guards and make side guards mandatory on all commercial trailers. Actions in current bills include strengthening rear guards at the corners, ensuring that underride guards are installed properly, and requiring side guards similar to those in European countries. Unfortunately, the trucking industry is in opposition to many of these measures due to increased costs.
- Trucker errors. While trucker may not be to blame for a defective underride guard, they can be liable if their actions directly led to the crash. A trucker who fails to use road flares or reflective triangles when parked on the shoulder, does not use emergency flashers when entering or exiting the roadway, or does not follow the rules of the road may be guilty of negligence.
- Driver errors. Drivers tailgating to close to 18 wheelers.
- Poor visibility. Night blindness, inclement weather, and improper lighting can cause a trailer to be hard to see. If a driver can’t see the trailer, he can’t adjust his speed to avoid a collision. Improper reflective gear on the truck can also contribute to this type of crash.
- Poor truck brake maintenance. Malfunctioning brake lights on the trailer can prevent a car driver who is following the truck from noticing when the truck slows down or stops, increasing his risk of slamming into the trailer.
- Poor driving skills. Reckless driving, driver negligence, and distracted driving can be significant factors for underride collisions as well. Following too closely, becoming distracted, or improper passing techniques can all cause a driver to lose control of his vehicle and dangerously veer into and under a truck.
Jackknifing is a phenomenon unique to vehicles with trailers such as semi-trucks. When a truck jackknifes, its trailer swings out to the side and will form the shape of an “L” or “V” with the truck’s trailer. The point where the trailer is hitched to the truck cab swivels and allows the trailer to follow the turning of the truck. While this allows for more maneuverability, it can also cause a semi-truck trailer to skid out of control and swing out sideways from behind the cab. Cars are easily hit by jackknifing trailers that can take up several lanes of the road. Main ways that negligent truckers cause a jackknife include:
- Speeding.An 80,000 pound truck needs much more time to slow down and stop than a passenger vehicle. When a trucker is speeding, he needs even more time to slow down his truck. If he must stop or slow down suddenly, he can cause his truck to skid and jackknife when he slams on his brakes.
- Curves.To safely drive a truck on a curve, the trucker should slow down before approaching the curve. When a trucker is speeding, driving too fast for the curve, or decelerating, his trailer can swing out into oncoming traffic.
- Weather conditions.Because jackknife wrecks often occur on wet and slippery roads, truckers need to slow down and drive for weather conditions in poor weather. When they fail to do so, they are likely to cause their truck to jackknife and injure innocent victims.
- Maintenance problems.When a truck’s brakes or tires are not maintained and replaced when necessary, the brakes could malfunction or cause a tire blowout. This can cause the trucker to lose control, with a jackknife wreck a likely consequence.
- Improper Braking. A common reason why a truck jackknifes is the driver does not brake properly.
- Heavy or Imbalanced LoadsSometimes the cause of a jackknife accident relates to the truck’s load. An imbalance may result in the trailer swaying while the truck is in motion.
- Inexperienced, fatigued or untrained operator.Driving a tractor-trailer is a demanding job that requires skill and experience. When truck companies try to lower costs by putting inexperienced drivers on the road, disasters can happen.
Blowouts in semi-truck tires
Tire blowouts on conventional automobiles have the potential to be extremely devastating, but they are particularly deadly on semi-trucks. Semi-trucks typically have eight to eighteen tires, but even with that many, one blowout can have fatal results. Because each tire is crucial in supporting the enormous size and weight of the truck, a semi-truck driver can easily lose control of their vehicle and cause an accident if one blows out. Smaller vehicles experience a jerking motion in the direction of a flat tire because the support there gives way. The extra weight the tire is holding on semi-trucks causes this jerking motion to be more pronounced.
Lost Load Semi-Truck Accidents
The results can be disastrous if an 18-wheeler or other heavy truck loses its load on the roadway. Drivers and passengers may be defenseless, and several victims may frequently suffer severe traumatic injuries. The same is true when truckers lose control due to overloaded trailers. Semi-trucks can haul everything from lumber, food, motor vehicles or dangerous chemicals. These can all end up becoming dangerous debris and road hazards should they fall from a truck’s trailer.
Some common examples of unsecured cargo-related issues include:
- Water, gas, or oil, or other liquids that have not been properly contained or pressurized.
- Inadequate use of tiedown straps or other mechanisms to secure cargo.
- Weakening, improper use, and product defects associated with tiedown straps.
- A specific type of cargo is being delivered by an incorrect type of vehicle.
- Top-heavy or unbalanced loads.
- Uneven or unequal weight distribution.
- Excess weight.
Companies can prevent these accidents by:
- Preventing overloading by weighing trucks
- Making sure that a semi’s cargo load never exceeds their gross vehicle weight ratings
- Ensuring that all cargo is properly secured before trucks leave the warehouse or port
- Inspecting and maintaining all mechanical and electronic mechanisms to ensure they are working correctly
In other cases, a trucks load can cause an accident when it shifts around the trailer affecting the balance. Improperly loaded trucks are very dangerous since the shifting of weight can tip a truck over and in other cases cause difficulties maneuvering.
FMCSA Loading Laws
These are some laws that mandate the proper way to secure items within the cargo load. These laws include:
- Cargo must be firmly secured on or within a vehicle by structures equipped to hold it, including dunnage (material used for cargo protection) or dunnage bags (inflatable bags used to fill space and prevent cargo shift); tiedowns; and shoring bars
- Cargo that is likely to roll must be restrained by wedges, chocks, or cradles
- Minimum requirements for tiedown restraints
- Special Purpose Vehicle requirements (vehicles carrying items such as heavy machinery, steel or concrete beans, crane booms, and other objects that require special restraining systems)
- Commodity-specific Securement Requirements (such as logs, metal coils, concrete pipe, heavy vehicles and automobiles.
- If a load extends beyond its width or projects beyond the rear of the vehicle by more than four inches, there must be various colored lights to the load to indicate the overhanging to other drivers.
Head-On Truck Collisions
A head-on collision—also known as a frontal collision—occurs when two vehicles, traveling in opposite directions, collide. The point of impact for both vehicles is the front. Possibly the worst type of truck accident is the head-on collision since it can involve the most direct intense forces of any kind of accident. The force of all the truck’s weight and speed colliding with another object moving at high speed in the opposite direction is especially violent and fatalities are very common. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration reports that there are about 4,000 fatal head-on collisions involving large trucks each year in the United States. Yet, this type of accident only accounts for about 3 percent of all accidents involving large trucks. Here are some of the reasons:
- Distracted driving: Cell phone use for texting or talking became such a concern that the FMCSA prohibits all texting by commercial truck drivers and limits phone usage to hands-free devices that don’t involve pressing more than one button to dial.
- Unfamiliarity with the roadway: Unfamiliarity with the roadway is a leading cause of wrong-way accidents, which are one of the more common types of head-on collisions.
- Inclement weather: Icy road surfaces or low visibility are both potential factors that could cause a driver to lose control and wind up traveling in the wrong lane of traffic.
- Fatigued driving: The dangers of truck drivers falling asleep behind the wheel are so real that the federal government regulates the number of hours that drivers can drive before taking an off-duty break. Additionally, the FMCSA notes that nearly a third of all truck drivers are believed to suffer from sleep apnea, which is a breathing-related disorder that causes multiple interruptions during sleep and leaves an individual feeling drowsy, even if he or she has had a full night’s rest.
- Alcohol impairment: Alcohol impairment increases the chance of having a serious accident, such as a head-on truck collision.
- Medical issues: Many accidents have been the result of truck drivers who lose consciousness due to a heart attack, stroke, or other medical problem and are rendered unable to operate their vehicles safely.
- Passing on a solid yellow: Illegally passing in a no passing zone
Tractor Trailer Rear-End Collisions
Semi-trucks have to take much longer and farther to come to a complete stop. Their momentum carries them farther than smaller vehicles and drivers have to be careful not to break too hard too quickly or they could possibly jackknife. Sometimes a truck can misjudge their stopping distance and hit the car in front of them from behind in what is known as a rear-end accident. Common reasons these accidents occur include:
- Faulty brakes or worn tires. Poorly maintained and faulty brakes are a huge problem that truck drivers and trucking companies do not take seriously enough.
- Inadequate lighting. Rear-end collisions caused by truck drivers are common at night on poorly lit roads.
- Impaired driving. When a trucker is driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, his reaction times, concentration, reasoning, and general driving skills are reduced, increasing the risk that he will rear-end another vehicle.
- Drowsy driving. Truckers are allowed to drive for long hours without a break, making it much more likely that they are fatigued when driving. With the pressure to deliver the load quickly, truckers often drive in violation of federal hours-of-service rules that dictate how long they can drive without a break, leading them to become even drowsier or fall asleep at the wheel. This unsafe practice is often encouraged by trucking companies.
- Distracted driving. Truckers who talk on their cell phones, text, eat and drink, or use their GPS or instrument controls while driving can easily miss when the driver in front of them slows down or brakes suddenly—resulting in the truck colliding with the smaller vehicle.
- Speeding through a light. When truckers speed through a light at an intersection, their minds are not on the vehicle in front of them. In addition, they have no ability to stop or slow down quickly when necessary due to the nature of their vehicle and its braking system.
- Weather. Truckers who are driving in poor weather conditions is a common cause of rear-end collisions.
- Tailgating.Following other vehicles too close.
- Excessive or shifting weight of the load.
- Inexperienced truck driver.
Wide Turn Semi-Truck Accidents
Large commercial vehicles, particularly semis that have a tractor and a trailer, cannot turn in the same small radius as a personal car. Trucks need to take their turns much more carefully than other vehicles. Wide truck turns occur when commercial vehicles must occupy an additional lane of traffic to complete a turn safely. Their trailers need to wrap around the entirety of the turn which means that truckers need to take turns extra wide. Turning a semi-truck also can increase the risk of the trailer tipping since the force of moving to the side can shift a trailer’s weight to make it roll over or jackknife.
Common Causes of Wide Turn Accidents
Wide turn truck accidents are sometimes the fault of a negligent trucker, trucking company, or truck manufacturer.
Truck drivers may cause a wide right turn accident because of poor driving techniques, such as:
- Failing to use turn signals,
- Entering a right turn with the rear of the trailer too far from the curb,
- Swinging the truck out of the far-right lane and leaving an opening for vehicles,
- Failing to use windows and mirrors to keep a lookout and properly manage space,
- Entering a turn lane too quickly, or
- Backing up to complete a turn.
Other common causes of wide turn accidents include:
- Defective turn signals,
- Defective or lack of appropriate mirrors,
- Lack of truck driving experience,
- Lack of qualifications and training,
- Unfamiliarity with a new route,
- Driver distraction,
- Driver fatigue, and
- Driving while impaired due to drugs or alcohol.
Speak With an Experienced Alabama Commercial Truck Accident Attorney Today
Recovering compensation after being injured by a commercial motor vehicle is more complex than recovering for traditional car accidents. Choosing a truck accident attorney in Cullman, Decatur or Huntsville can be a difficult task. An experienced truck accident attorney can answer your questions as to how to pursue compensation to cover your expenses, both current and future. If you or a loved one has been injured or killed in a truck accident, we are here to help. Call Ferguson & Ferguson now. Call 256-534-3435.