Why are Heavier Semi-Trucks Dangerous?

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dangerous semi trucks

Commercial trucking is part of the backbone of the nation’s economy. An estimated 70 percent of goods that are distributed throughout the United States reach their destination on some type of truck. This discussion focuses on one type of truck: the semi-truck.

Although these enormous trucks are vital for transporting the goods we need and want, they are also incredibly powerful machines. The larger and heavier a truck, the more forceful its impact in a truck accident. The following explains why heavy semi-trucks are so dangerous, some common causes of semi-truck accidents, and tips for drivers to prevent tragic truck accidents in the future.

What is a Semi-Truck?

A so-called semi refers to a type of large truck that combines a tractor unit with one or more trailers which are used to carry freight. That trailer attaches to the tractor unit with a fifth-wheel coupling or hitch. It is the trailer part of the semi that bears a large part of the weight of the entire truck.

The semi in semi-truck refers specifically to the actual tractor or trailer portion of the vehicle. Semi-trucks can operate separately without any cargo, and you have likely seen them on the road at some point. Many trailers come with storage and sleeping compartments where truckers can rest and sleep during long trips.

Once the semi-truck is attached to a semi-trailer, they are referred to as an 18-wheeler or tractor-trailer.

What Makes Heavier Semi-Trucks So Dangerous?

According to data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), there are close to 450,000 truck accidents in the United States every year. And of the estimated 5,000 people killed in fatal truck accidents, nearly three-quarters of them are drivers in the smaller, passenger vehicles, not the truck drivers.

Why are semi-trucks so dangerous, and why are passenger vehicle drivers so vulnerable to serious and fatal injuries in truck accidents? There are a few reasons.

Vehicle weight. Without a trailer full of cargo, the average trailer weighs anywhere from 10,000 to 25,000 pounds.  Currently, the legal weight maximum in the United States for larger commercial trucks is 80,000 pounds.

Comparing those numbers with the weight of the average mid-size sedan at 3,351 pounds, you will quickly realize why big rigs are so dangerous in a collision. Even the most well-built passenger car, van, or SUV is no match for an imposing semi-truck coming toward them.

Also, despite the grim statistics on large semi-truck accidents, the Pennsylvania legislature is currently reviewing several bills that would allow exemptions for certain types of trucks to increase their weight from 80,000 to 95,000 pounds. That is an additional seven and a half tons. And the more weight a truck carries, the more time and distance it requires to stop. That is not good news for smaller vehicles in their path.

Vehicle size. Semi-trucks with or without trailers are longer and taller than passenger vehicles, which also makes them more dangerous. On average, an 18-wheeler is approximately 70 to 80 feet long, whereas a small car is around 10 to 14 feet long. When it comes to height, a semi-truck is around 13.5 feet tall, twice the size of the average SUV.

Those size differences are another factor increasing the change of serious injuries to passengers in smaller vehicles that collide with a large semi-truck. And because of the truck’s height, they have the potential to override a vehicle ahead of them. Cars behind them can slide underneath them, causing serious and often fatal injuries to the occupants within.

Force of impact. Finally, it is the overall force of impact in a collision between a semi-truck and a passenger vehicle that makes these types of vehicle accidents so dangerous. As vehicle travel, they possess kinetic energy. When they suddenly stop, or collide, that energy must go somewhere.

Although the vehicles absorb some of that force, a significant portion of that kinetic energy is absorbed by the human body, more if occupants are not wearing a seat belt. The laws of physics state that a heavier object with more forward momentum has proportionately more force than a smaller object. Passengers in cars are more vulnerable than those in a semi-truck when the two collide.

Why Do Semi-Truck Accident Happen?

It is known why car accidents involving semi-trucks are so dangerous, but why do these accidents occur in the first place? Here are some of the most common factors involved in these deadly collisions:

  • Aggressive driving: Including speeding, tailgating, merging without signaling, and other reckless behaviors
  • Equipment failure: Tire blowouts, defective parts and systems, poorly maintained rigs
  • Distracted driving: Drivers on their phone, eating, picking up dropped objects
  • Driver fatigue: Truck drivers who do not take required rest breaks, drive long shifts without stopping
  • Environment: Potholes, wet and icy roadways, poor lighting, and missing or defective traffic lights and signs
  • Overloading: Carrying more than the legal weight limit on board, making trucks prone to tip-overs or jackknife events
  • Poor driving training: Hiring shortages forcing operators to hire less experienced drivers or rush the training process
  • Substance use: Driving under the influence of alcohol and/or legal and illegal drugs

It needs to be stated it is not only semi-truck drivers who are guilty of reckless driving behaviors. Any careless, impaired, or distracted driver has the potential to cause a catastrophic truck accident.

Truck Accident Injuries

Truck accident injuries range from the very minor such as cuts and scrapes, to the serious and quite painful, including broken bones; head, neck, and back injuries; traumatic brain injury; partial or total paralysis; and even death.

The severity of injuries depends largely on how fast the vehicles were moving, if they had time to slow or stop, and the angle of impact. Seat belts make a significant, positive difference in how much force the body absorbs in the collision, and how badly the body is injured.

How can Semi-Truck Accidents be Prevented?

Amid all this alarming information about semi-truck accidents, there is certainly some good news. Most of these devastating accidents can be prevented.

Training. Everyone driving has a duty to help avoid truck accidents on roads across the United States. Trucking owners, operators, and drivers should ensure every trucker has the proper training and experience before hitting the highway. Driving a heavier semi-truck is not like driving a basic sedan. Commercial driver’s license (CDL) training is intensive, as it should be.

Rest. Making sure drivers comply with federal laws for driving hours and rest breaks is another vital step for preventing truck accidents. Driving a multi-ton big rig is physically and mentally taxing. And fatigue has similar effects as alcohol or drugs on the body. It slows reaction time, impairs decision-making, and interferes with coordination. A rested and recharged driver is a safe driver.

Maintenance. Additionally, regular truck maintenance and inspections are essential to ensure every part and system is functioning safely. Tire blowouts are a leading cause of truck accidents and because there is no warning and they often occur at high speeds, they are very dangerous. Trucks should be inspected for safety before each trip.

Respect. Drivers in smaller vehicles need to be extra cautious when traveling near heavier semi-trucks. Knowing they need more time and space to stop, and they are more challenging to control, passenger car drivers should avoid tailgating large trucks, never cut in front of them, and make sure they remain as visible as possible to the truck driver at all times.

There is a reason so many drivers feel a bit of unease when they see an imposing semi-truck approaching in the rearview mirror. They have the potential to cause severe injuries and property damage in an accident. And with Pennsylvania and other states considering increasing the weight limit on these trucks, those risks will only increase.

Baltimore Truck Accident Lawyers at LeViness, Tolzman & Hamilton Help Clients Recover from Their Injuries

If you or a loved one has been hurt in an accident involving any type of truck, after getting medical attention, the next step should be a consultation with an experienced truck accident lawyer.  The Baltimore truck accident lawyers at LeViness, Tolzman & Hamilton have a proven track record of achieving favorable outcomes for our clients. We know that truck accidents injuries are not just physically painful and emotionally traumatic, but they are costly as well. We will work tirelessly to recover fair compensation for your losses so that you can focus on healing. Call us today at 800-547-4LAW (4529) or contact us online to schedule 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.