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.
Given that 18-wheelers are considerably larger than passenger vehicles, this should come as no surprise. Large trucks weigh as much as 30 times more than passenger vehicles, have a higher ground clearance – meaning they can drive right over passenger vehicles in some circumstances – and take as much as 40% more distance to come to a stop than do passenger vehicles. They are less able to avoid a collision and are so large that they almost inevitably inflict more damage on the other vehicle.
Who is Liable When a Truck Driver is at Fault for an Accident?
Federal and state laws and regulations all feed into the mix when a commercial truck is involved in a traffic accident. Thus, the list of those who could be found liable for a trucker’s accident potentially includes the driver, the company for whom the driver is working, the company that loaded the trailer, the manufacturer of the truck, or even the manufacturer of the trailer depending upon what is determined to be the cause of the accident. However, it is most likely that that company for whom the driver is working will lead the list, even if the driver is an independent contractor whose negligence caused the accident. For many years now, federal regulations have defined independent contractor truckers as “statutory employees” for whom the trucking company hiring them is responsible, just as if they were actual employees. That means if the driver is at fault in an accident, the motor carrier employing that driver is on the hook for liability.
There are many ways a trucker can be at fault in a traffic accident. Examples of trucker negligence include:
- Fatigue: Federal statistics show that 13 percent of truckers were determined to be fatigued at the time of their accident. Other studies are more damning, finding that inadequate sleep is a potential factor in as many as 40% of accidents involving large commercial trucks.
- Substance abuse while driving: While truckers are under more scrutiny, impaired driving is a possibility and can result in disastrous consequences.
- Speeding: Truckers, passenger vehicle drivers, it is all the same: speed kills.
- Not checking blind spots: 18-wheelers have much larger blind spots than smaller vehicles. Not carefully checking mirrors and blind spots can prove deadly.