Across the country, more than 4,100 people died in truck accidents during one recent year. In Nebraska alone, accidents involving semi’s and other large trucks caused 46 fatalities and nearly 800 injuries in 2018, according to the Nebraska Department of Transportation. Heavy trucks were involved in nearly 13 percent of fatal truck accidents in Nebraska, and light trucks were involved in more than 48 percent. In other words, more than 60 percent of the total fatal collisions involve trucks.
Truck accidents are dangerous to everyone involved, of course. But by far the largest percentage of people killed in collisions with trucks—68 percent—are occupants of the smaller vehicle, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and the Highway Loss Data Institute. And if you’re thinking that pedestrians or bicyclists generally aren’t on the major highways where truck accidents happen, think again. Trucks are just as likely to travel on smaller roads as on interstates. Fourteen percent of truck accident fatalities are pedestrians and bicyclists. Just 17 percent are occupants of the truck.
Truck accidents comprise such a large proportion of fatal accidents, and cause such a large amount of injuries because of the physical nature of trucks. A big rig can weigh as much as four or more times what a car weighs. They are much longer and often wider than other vehicles on the road. A truck collision with a smaller vehicle is highly likely to do significant or catastrophic damage to the smaller vehicle and its occupants. In crashes with bicycles, motorcycles, or pedestrians, the damage is likely to be catastrophic or fatal, because these people have almost no protection.
A truck accident can also cause the truck’s load to come loose or fall from the truck. The cargo can then become an obstacle in the road with the potential of causing other accidents. Cargo can hit other vehicles and passersby. If a truck is carrying flammable cargo, the cargo itself is dangerous, as an accident can start a fire or make roads slick and dangerous.
Trucks are prone, of course, to nearly every kind of crash that other vehicles are, such as collisions. In addition, several types of accidents are unique to trucks. Here is an overview of the most common types of truck accidents.
The Most Common Truck Accidents
An underride refers to the type of accident in which a smaller vehicle is following the truck and cannot stop in time if the truck stops. The smaller vehicle can wedge itself either partially or completely under the truck in these cases, because of the truck’s greater height. The smaller vehicles can be crushed or the roof shorn off. Underrides are frequently fatal.
Trucks should have an underride guard installed. Guards are intended to prevent the possibility of a smaller vehicle going beneath the truck. However, despite being required by U.S. law, guards are sometimes not present. Others may be installed improperly, so they hit high on a car rather than the center. An underride guard that hits a roof or windshield can do devastating damage.
Because trucks are tall and carry heavy loads, they can easily roll over. While cars can also roll in an accident, truck rollovers are far more common. Almost half of truck driver fatalities are due to rollovers, but just 22 percent of car accident fatalities are.
The most common reason for a rollover is speeding—either going faster than the speed limit or going too fast for the conditions. A truck driver who doesn’t slow enough to get off an interstate ramp or turn a corner, for example, can cause a rollover. Events that cause a driver to lose control can also cause a rollover.
While driver error can be the cause, overly heavy loads or poor loading can also contribute to a rollover accident, as can poor maintenance, such as worn tires, worn brakes, or problems with the steering systems.
A jackknife is an accident that causes the tractor truck to swing around perpendicular to the trailer, resembling a jackknife that’s been opened. This type of accident is often caused by the truck’s driver braking improperly or trying to stop too suddenly. The brakes on a truck are complicated, and trucks need at least 40 percent more time and space to stop than other vehicles require.
Wide Right Turn
Because of their size and the position of the cab, trucks turning right actually must swing left first. Truck drivers learn techniques to make this turn safely, but inexperienced or fatigued drivers may either swing too far to the left or fail to make the right in their lane. The truck may hit smaller vehicles as a result.
While all vehicles have blind spots, truck blindspots are much larger. Blindspot accidents can occur if the driver fails to check, if other vehicles pull suddenly into a blindspot, or if the truck is missing needed side- or rear-view mirrors.
If a truck’s load was not properly loaded or secured, or has become unbalanced or unsecured during the trip, the cargo can fall out. The cargo then becomes a dangerous obstacle that motorists must avoid.
Blown out Tires
Truck tires can blow out if the tires haven’t been maintained properly. Generally, the cause is worn or even bald tread. At times, those conditions combine with objects that may have punctured a tire. Improper loading, or cargo that is too heavy for the size of the truck, are contributing factors as well.
Blown-out tires cause several dangers. First, they can cause the truck to veer into another lane or off the road. Second, they can make the truck difficult to control. Third, truck tire treads are very large. Loose tread can become a source of injury or an obstacle, such as fallen cargo can.
Striking a Bridge or Overpass
Trucks are taller and ride higher than other vehicles. Most bridges, overpasses, and similar structures have a specific clearance, and not all exceed a truck’s height. If the driver is unaware that the truck is too high, or unaware of the clearance, the truck can hit the structure as it attempts to drive through. These accidents can be very serious. They can almost cause structural damage to the bridge or overpass.
For further information and assistance if you’ve been hurt in a truck accident, contact an experienced truck accident attorney today.