How are Truck Accidents Different than Car Accidents?

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Truck Accidents Car Accidents

Nearly a half million truck accidents occur every year on U.S. roadways, which accounts for more 10 percent of all reported vehicular accidents. Their heavy weight and generally large size make commercial trucks especially deadly when involved in an accident with one or more other vehicles. The high cost and potential for significant personal injury and death make experienced truck accident lawyers an important part of building an effective case to hold liable parties accountable.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) says there were more than six million vehicular accidents in 2016 that caused 37,461 deaths and more than two million bodily injuries. Those statistics include truck accidents as well as all other vehicular accidents and demonstrate the level of risk many people take while on roadways. When the other vehicle is a commercial truck, the potential for a catastrophic accident is significant.

Special Dangers Associated with Commercial Trucks

A commercial truck can weigh anywhere from about 10,000 pounds up to about 80,000 pounds. A typical passenger vehicle weighs about 4,000 pounds. Commercial trucks also are taller with higher centers of gravity and ground clearances.

The size differential between cars and commercial trucks virtually nullifies the effectiveness of many car safety features that would protect passengers in accidents with other private passenger vehicles. That is especially true when drivers of private passenger vehicles cut off commercial trucks and create a truly dangerous situation. Unfortunately, people cutting off commercial truck drivers ranks among the most common causes of large truck accidents.

The faster and heavier the truck, the more distance it needs to come to a safe stop. When other motorists pull in front of commercial trucks on highways and freeways and expect the trucks to be able to stop safely in the same space as car would, they create a potentially deadly situation. Even the best truck drivers cannot control the bad decisions made by other motorists. Cutting off large trucks and expecting them to stop safely is one of the worst mistakes other drivers could make.

Fatigue and Other Common Causes of Commercial Truck Accidents

Driver error is the single greatest cause of accidents between cars and commercial trucks. When the error is made by the driver of the car or other private passenger vehicle, cutting off the big rig is the most common cause. Many drivers make the mistake of thinking they have a safe distance but do not, owing to the trucks’ larger mass and longer stopping distances.

When the truck causes the accident, driver fatigue is the most common reason. The United States has a shortage of qualified truckers with a commercial driver’s license (CDL). Many wind up working long hours during the week. Many truck drivers spend several hours behind the wheel and might violate federal law limiting total driving to 11 hours per day, 60 hours per week, or 80 hours per eight-day period for commercial drivers.

The American Trucking Association says the nation lacked about 60,000 truck drivers in 2019, which should grow to a shortage of about 100,000 drivers in 2023. A shortage of truck drivers means more drivers are experiencing greater pressure to work, which adds to fatigue. It also means more commercial trucks are staying on the road longer between maintenance intervals.

Other commonly identified causes of truck accidents include:

  • Exceeding the speed limit or driving too fast for road conditions
  • Cutting off vehicles that are hidden by the trailer’s blind spot
  • Equipment failure
  • Incorrectly loaded cargo
  • Faulty trailer hookup
  • Weather and road conditions

Although many of the factors leading to a truck accident are within the control of the truck driver, others are not. If a load were improperly placed and secured within the trailer, the driver likely is unaware and might be traveling with a potential disaster waiting to happen. Truck drivers also generally do not perform their own maintenance, so they are reliant upon the maintenance records and work provided by others.

While truck drivers usually do not load or maintain their tractor-trailer units, they must perform a safety inspection prior to putting them on the road every time they pick up a new load. The driver is responsible for ensuring the vehicle passes a reasonable safety and equipment inspection. So many accidents could have two or three potentially liable parties. Those are the driver, the distribution center that loaded the trailer, and the owner of the big rig who ultimately is liable for its maintenance and use.

Truck Accidents Trigger High Costs

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) says a truck fatality in 2005 cost almost four million dollars. Also, an approximately 40 percent inflationary rate since 2005 pushes that total to about five million in current dollars. Personal injuries averaged $195,258 in 2005 dollars.

Tractor-trailers and other commercial trucks also caused $15,114 in costs per accident in cases in which property damage occurred but no injuries. Accidents that involved tractor-trailers pulling two or three trailers are rare but very costly at nearly $290,000. Accidents involving straight trucks without trailers averaged $56,296 per accident.

The cost of car accidents that do not involve commercial trucks helps to illustrate the impact of big rigs. The NHTSA says a car accident averaged $15,443 in costs to treat personal injuries. The average claim for property damage was $3,144 in 2013, which reflects the smaller size of private passenger vehicles.

The great disparity in claims costs shows how size and weight affect the amount and types of damage and injuries due to accidents with large trucks. Trucks have much greater mass, high ground clearance and centers of gravity, and take much more distance to stop than private passenger vehicles.

Liability Often Goes Beyond Commercial Truck Drivers

Trucking companies have many ways in which they try to shield themselves from liability for roadgoing accidents. The most common is the hire independent truckers who own and maintain their own rigs. The cargo loaders and distribution networks provide another level of separation between the trucking company and the actual load to be hauled.

An accident might occur within a construction zone after the work crew negligently created a dangerous condition. If so, the company or local government performing the road work could among those who are legally liable for the accident. If the commercial truck has a defect from the manufacturer, the manufacturer could be held liable and possibly the trucking company for not doing more to correct the matter.

Proving liability beyond the truck driver requires examining potential negligence versus duty of care in each instance. A trucking company has a duty of care to properly maintain commercial vehicles and ensure they are safe for travels on public roads. Given the high cost of truck accidents and potential for deadly consequences, an experienced lawyer always is a good asset to build strong cases.

Baltimore Truck Accident Lawyers at LeViness, Tolzman & Hamilton can Help Clients Build Strong Cases

Large trucks are especially dangerous when involved in two-vehicle accidents and create costly damages and injuries. If you or a loved one was in an accident involving a truck, reach out to the experienced Baltimore truck accident lawyers at LeViness, Tolzman & Hamilton. Our experienced lawyers can help to hold liable parties accountable for costly truck accidents. We will continue to fight for you until you are completely satisfied. Call us today at 800-547-4LAW (4529) or contact us online for a free consultation.

Our offices are conveniently located in BaltimoreColumbiaGlen Burnie, and Prince George’s County, where we represent victims throughout Maryland, including those in Anne Arundel CountyCarroll CountyHarford CountyHoward CountyMontgomery CountyPrince George’s CountyQueen Anne’s CountyMaryland’s Western CountiesSouthern Maryland and the Eastern Shore, as well as the communities of CatonsvilleEssexHalethorpeMiddle RiverRosedale, Gwynn OakBrooklandvilleDundalkPikesvilleParkvilleNottinghamWindsor MillLuthervilleTimoniumSparrows PointRidgewood, and Elkridge.