Don’t Get Run Off the Road by Big Trucks

By Larry Bodine Publisher, The National Trial Lawyers

The next time you’re driving on a highway and see a 50-foot long, tractor-trailer truck weaving ever so slightly, ask yourself: Is the driver texting behind the wheel? Has he taken prescription drugs to stay awake? Is he traveling over the speed limit?   Drivers of large trucks are ten times more likely to be the cause of a car crash than any other factor, including weather, road conditions, or vehicle performance, according to the US Department of Transportation (DOT).   Tractor-trailers and other large commercial trucks account for approximately 500,000 vehicle accidents in the US each year. Ten percent of those end with at least one fatality, and in 80 percent of those incidents it is the driver of the car who suffers the life-ending injury.   These massive trucks can weigh up to 40 times more than a typical car. Fully loaded 80,000 pounds, a fully loaded truck traveling at 60 miles per hour can demolish anything else on the road.

Driver fell asleep

Death by tractor-trailer can even befall police officers. Illinois State Trooper James Sauter, age 28, was on duty in March 28, 2013 when he parked on the left shoulder of Interstate 294 in suburban Northbrook, IL. Meanwhile, the driver of a United Van Lines truck pulling a trailer loaded with household goods was roaring south on the highway in the left lane.   The driver had already worked a 12-hour shift loading the huge Freightliner truck in Wisconsin. He drove for another four hours when he fell asleep at the wheel at 11:03 p.m. His truck careened off the road, crashing into Sauter’s squad car at least 55 miles per hour. The trooper was engulfed in flames and he died of thermal injuries from the fire.   The 26-year old driver was criminally charged with violating federal safety laws meant to keep tired truck drivers off the road. The moving company was fined for breaking a federal rule prohibiting drivers to be on duty more than 14 hours without getting rest.   Sauter’s widow filed suit against the driver and his employers — United Van lines, Unigroup Inc. and Barrett Moving & Storage. Her lawyers said, “she suffered an indescribable loss that few can understand.” Earlier this month she received a settlement of $10.9 million.

Top ten reasons for truck crashes

There are an estimated two million tractor-trailer trucks on the road nationwide and every year some 123,918 large trucks are involved in crashes. Driver error combined with the following factors is the primary cause of these crashes, according to federal statistics:

  1. Prescription or illegal drug use affects the truck driver’s reaction time and causes 26 percent of truck-car crashes.
  2. Speeding or traveling too fast for the road conditions was also a common cause, found in 23 percent of accidents.
  3. Being lost or unfamiliar with the areas they travel cases 22 percent of wrecks. This is to be expected by the nature of a trucker’s work.
  4. Over-the-counter drug use by the driver contributes to 18 percent of smash-ups.
  5. Failure to check blind spots and carefully observe all sides of the truck before making a turn causes 14 percent of car-truck accidents.
  6. Fatigue is not the top factor causing truck crashes, surprisingly. A driver’s lack of sleep or rest causes 13 percent of accidents.
  7. Failing to use a turn signal or making some other illegal maneuver causes 9 percent of collisions.
  8. Distracted driving and driver inattention is a problem for truck drivers. Eight percent of crashes involved drivers whose attention was taken away from the road — including by road work or other accidents.
  9. Poor evasive action contributed to 7 percent of accidents. Big rigs are difficult to maneuver, and drivers can underestimate the level of evasive action needed.
  10. Aggressive driving, such as tailgating or weaving, contributes to another 7 percent of deadly crashes.


Avoiding tractor-trailer accidents

When driving near a big truck, remember that they have large blind spots. Auto drivers should avoid these “no-go zones” at the rear of the truck, the side, and the connecting point between the truck and the trailer. If you can’t see the driver in the truck’s side mirrors, the driver can’t see you. Other tips to ensure that you don’t get run off the road by big trucks include the following:

  • If you plan to pass, don’t change lanes abruptly and make sure you always use your turn signals in advance. Any sudden motion in a truck driver’s periphery can cause the giant truck to respond unpredictably and it can be extremely difficult for them to regain control of their vehicle once it lurches out of control.
  • Always keep a safe distance. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recommends a four second gap, which you can calculate by starting to count when see the rear of the truck ahead of you passed a fixed object – such as a sign post or a mile marker. And, finally, in deteriorating road conditions such as rain, snow, and high winds, you should increase your distance to maximize your braking capabilities.

Larry Bodine is a lawyer and journalist. Currently he is the publisher of The National Trial Lawyers and is the former Editor in Chief of Readers can follow @Larrybodine on Twitter, on Google+ and on LinkedIn, where he moderates several marketing groups.