Articles Posted in Trucking Accidents

Accidents involving commercial trucks can have devastating results. This is mostly due to the fact that a semi-truck can weigh more than 30,000 pounds, while a passenger vehicle typically weighs only around 4,000 pounds. The following are some of the most common causes of commercial truck accidents and some practical ways for commercial truck drivers to prevent these kinds of accidents.

What are the Most Common Causes of Commercial Truck Accidents?

There are a few common causes of truck accidents, which include the following:

Size matters in traffic accidents. Traffic accidents involving large vehicles frequently result in more, and more severe, injuries to those in the smaller vehicles. 18-wheeler commercial trucks are the blue whales of the highways. Nothing is bigger. Consequently, accidents between passenger cars and tractor-trailer rigs are much more likely to end in death or severe injuries, with those fates falling disproportionately upon the occupants of the passenger vehicles. It is not that the occupants of the 18-wheelers are never killed or injured – of course they are. But the occupants of passenger vehicles involved in accidents with tractor-trailers invariably suffer more serious injuries.

Accidents With Large Trucks Can Lead to Severe Injuries

More than 4,100 people were killed in traffic accidents involving large commercial trucks in 2019. In 2018, there were 176,000 people injured in such accidents. Of the 2019 fatalities in crashes involving large trucks, only 16% were occupants of the trucks, while 67% were occupants of passenger vehicles. The rest were motorcyclists, bicyclists, or pedestrians. Similarly, in 2018 82% of the deaths in accidents involving tractor-trailer rigs and other large commercial trucks occurred among people who were not occupants of the trucks. Every year, the vast majority of both injuries and fatalities in crashes involving large commercial trucks and passenger vehicles are not occupants of the trucks.

In August of 2016, the federal government proposed regulations to require that large commercial trucks be equipped with speed limiters. The proposed regulation did not set firm top speeds, but suggested the limiters could be set at 60, 65, or 68 miles per hour. All of those speeds are below – often well below – the top interstate highway speed limits across the nation. Only Hawaii has a top speed limit as low as 60, while many states have top limits of 80 miles per hour, and most have top speed limits of 70 or 75 on non-urban interstates. Just a few months after the regulations were proposed, Donald Trump was elected president and began an effort to reduce regulations. Speed limiter regulations died on the vine.

Speed-Limiter Regulations May Undergo a Revival Soon

The trucking industry at large considers it likely that the Biden administration will impose further regulations rather than eliminating them, making it a decent bet that speed limiters for large commercial trucks will be back on the regulatory table. One industry publication considers regulations on speed limiters among the most likely to be brought back to the table under the new administration.

Underride accidents, a type of accident involving passenger vehicles and tractor-trailer rigs, are responsible for only about 1% of all highway fatalities annually. However, like their cousin “override” accidents, underride accidents are particularly lethal for the occupants of passenger vehicles involved. In addition, safety groups tend to focus on underride accidents because of the belief that such accidents are preventable, given the proper safety equipment. Underride accidents occur when a passenger strikes a tractor-trailer rig from behind or from the side. Because the trailer in a tractor-trailer 18-wheeler rides much higher than most passenger vehicles, such collisions often result in the passenger vehicle driving under the trailer of the 18-wheeler. This frequently wedges the passenger vehicle under the trailer and essentially cuts the top off the passenger vehicle. Occupants of the passenger vehicles frequently suffer catastrophic, often fatal, upper body injuries, including decapitation. While the federal government has taken some regulatory steps to address the issues, there remain safety groups who are not satisfied with the progress.

Preventing Underride Crashes is Simple, But Complicated

On one level, preventing underride crashes is as simple as installing barriers that make it difficult or impossible for passenger vehicles to drive under the trailer of an 18-wheel rig. Unfortunately, that is not as simple as it sounds. Underride crashes cause far fewer accidents, injuries, and fatalities than do other primary causes such as speeding or driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Underride accidents caused an average of 219 traffic deaths annually from 2008 through 2017, accounting for less than 1% of all traffic deaths during that time frame. On the other hand, that number represents more than 5% of all deaths involving large commercial trucks over the same time period. The fact is, underride accidents tend to be fatal, certainly for the people in the passenger vehicles involved.

While federal regulations limit the amount of time a truck driver can spend behind the wheel in any given day, as well as weekly totals, those regulations still allow truckers to spend far more time per day driving than most people ever do, certainly on a daily basis. Truckers can spend up to 11 hours driving in a day, but that can be extended if there is adverse weather. Truckers are allowed to spend more time per week driving – up to 60 hours in 7 days — than most other people spend at work. Napping briefly at your desk might not win you points with your boss, but the consequences for napping behind the wheel, even briefly, are much more serious.

Driver Fatigue Negatively Affects Performance, Safety

Studies of the effects of fatigue on truck drivers indicate that driving while tired has a number of negative impacts on driving performance, including:

Millions of cars and other passenger vehicles share the nation’s roads and highways daily with large commercial trucks, including 18-wheeler tractor-trailer rigs. In the vast majority of instances, they do so without collisions or other incidents. When those two classes of vehicles collide, however, the outcome is overwhelmingly to the detriment of the drivers and occupants of the passenger vehicles. When this type of accident involves a truck override, the results quite often are fatal for the people in the passenger vehicles involved.

Commercial Trucks Versus Passenger Vehicles: Trucks Win

“Win” might not be the right term for this match-up so much as “passenger vehicles lose.” Physics dictates that the larger, heavier object dominates in a collision with a lighter object. Commercial trucks such as tractor-trailer rigs weigh at least 10 times what the average passenger vehicle weighs, and often more. Naturally, this leads to one-sided results in truck-passenger vehicle collisions, as federal statistics make clear. In 2018 there were 531,000 accidents involving large commercial trucks, including 18-wheel tractor-trailers, resulting in 4,951 deaths and about 151,000 injuries. Out of those, more than 70% of fatalities and 72% of injuries were suffered by occupants of the passenger vehicles involved in those accidents. Many of those accidents did not involve truck overrides, but many did, and truck override accidents often are especially deadly.

Say the words “truck accident” and most people immediately get a mental picture of an 18-wheeled tractor-trailer rig barreling down an interstate highway and somehow being involved in an accident worthy of a Michael Bay movie. If that is your mental image of a truck accident, you might be overlooking a common type of truck accident that is likely to strike much closer to home — accidents involving delivery vehicles, garbage trucks, and recycling trucks. COVID-19 has resulted in a lot more people ordering items online, and pretty much every neighborhood in the country has residential garbage and recycling pickup. This has led to residential streets swarming with delivery and refuse collection trucks that are in a hurry to accomplish their rounds and that are a lot larger than most passenger vehicles. The drivers of these vehicles are not just driving – they are focused on staying on schedule while they are delivering packages or picking up trash or recycling. That does not mean every driver of these trucks is distracted and dangerous, but it does not make them safer drivers, either.

Delivery Trucks are a Lot Bigger Than Your Car

Size almost always comes out on top in a traffic accident. Bigger vehicles weigh more and pack more force in a collision. It is just physics. Larger vehicles almost always emerge from accidents with smaller vehicles with less damage, fewer injuries, and fewer fatalities. Delivery vans, such as those used by Amazon and other companies, often weigh 11,000 pounds or more. A garbage truck can range from 40,000 to 64,000 pounds. Either of those vehicles has a substantial size and weight advantage over your passenger vehicle, which weighs an average of 4,000 pounds and can weigh as little as 2,400 pounds.

If you have driven on an interstate highway or other major multi-lane roads, then you know that large commercial trucks can be a hazard to other vehicles simply because they are so large. These tractor-trailer rigs, also referred to as semis or 18-wheelers, often consist of a large truck towing a trailer as much as 53 feet long, and rarely less than 48 feet long. These vehicles travel the nation’s roads and highways right alongside passenger vehicles every day, usually without incident. But when a tractor-trailer and a passenger vehicle collide, there is no mistaking which vehicle is going to get the worst of it. If injuries or deaths occur in such an accident, odds are that the occupants of the passenger vehicles will be the victims.

Truck Accidents Rarely Go Well for the Occupants of Passenger Vehicles

In 2018, nearly 5,000 people died in accidents involving large trucks, and another 151,000 were injured. Roughly 80% of the deaths were the occupants of passenger vehicles, pedestrians, bicyclists, or motorcyclists. A majority of the injuries likewise were suffered by people other than the occupants of the large trucks.

In any personal injury case, there is always a risk that the defendant has insufficient assets to pay any judgment or settlement and will therefore seek bankruptcy protection. In many cases, this means the plaintiff–the victim–is out of luck. What happens if there is a co-defendant who is not bankrupt? Can they be held solely responsible for the plaintiff’s damages?

Meeks v. Newcomb

The Atlanta-based U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals recently addressed such a case. In Meeks v. Newcomb, a man was killed after his vehicle crashed into the back of a tractor-trailer. The victim’s widow subsequently sued both the company that owned the truck as well as the individual driver.

As a general rule, you cannot directly sue an insurance company for a personal injury caused by someone they insure. In other words, if you are in a car accident caused by a negligent driver, you cannot name that driver’s insurance company as a defendant. Such “direct action” is not permitted under Georgia law.

Daily Underwriters of America v. Williams

But there are exceptions. Georgia law includes two separate provisions that permit direct action against insurance companies that insure motor carriers, i.e. semi-trucks. In a recent decision, Daily Underwriters of America v. Williams, the Georgia Court of Appeals explained how these two provisions can be applied in practice.

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