Over3.5 million truck drivers deliver more than 70 percent of all goods transported in the United States each year. This amounts to $671 billion of products in the United States alone, and an additional $500 million between the U.S., Mexico, and Canada. Because truckers operate such large vehicles that pose unique dangers, they require proper qualifications and are expected to drive safely. Unfortunately, truck drivers and their employers often fail to meet basic safety standards that could cause truck accidents.
The IssueBeing drowsy affects the brain in many of the same ways that being drunk does. Symptoms of drowsiness include a diminished capacity to concentrate on the road and its conditions as well as a driver’s surroundings. It also slows a driver’s reaction time. When behind the wheel of a motor vehicle, it is important to drive defensively and pay close attention to what is going on around you. Drowsiness not only decreases a driver’s ability to stay fully aware of obstacles and dangerous situations, but also impairs the ability to make good judgments. In addition to fatigue negatively affecting a driver’s perception and reaction time, it also makes it more difficult to decide which course of action is the safest for both the trucker and others on the road. Worst of all, a drowsy driver may fall asleep at the wheel, which makes it impossible to drive safely. In sum, driver fatigue can have deadly consequences. While it is not certain how many truck accidents occur due to fatigue every year, the Centers for Disease Control estimate that the total number of fatigue-related crashes in the United States is more than 80,000, and that as many as 6,000 fatalities result from these crashes. While federal guidelines exist regarding the number of consecutive and total hours a trucker can drive, and the breaks truckers are required to take between drives, pressure to meet deadlines often leads truck drivers to ignore those rules. Additionally, since truckers often paid by the mile, financial pressures can also influence them to continue to drive when they should stop.
The Results of Driver FatigueBecause of the difference between truck size and passenger vehicle size, truck accidents commonly occur in different ways than traditional vehicle accidents. The size difference also often results in greater property damage and more severe injuries to the occupants of passenger vehicles. Some typical types of truck accidents are below.
- Tire blowouts: Blowouts occur most often because tires are not properly maintained. Low air pressure and insufficient tread can cause tires to blow out, resulting in the tucker’s inability to control a truck. In some cases, the tires come off of the wheels completely, causing obstacles for other drivers.
- Underride accidents: When a truck suddenly stops, it creates a situation in which the vehicle behind it must also stop quickly and unexpectedly. If the driver of the rear vehicle is unable to do so, his or her car might end up underneath the back of the truck’s trailer. This is referred to as an underride accident. The passengers in the front of the vehicle are most likely to be injured, but depending on the speed of the car upon impact, those in the back of the car can also suffer injuries. Both severe bodily injury and significant property damage can result from underride accidents.
- Rear-end collisions: A truck-caused rear-end collision can total a vehicle and cause major injury to the passengers in the rear seats of the front vehicle. In addition to causing property damage and injury to people in the vehicle immediately in front of the truck, rear-end collisions can force the target vehicle into other cars. A strong enough impact can cause this chain reaction to affect multiple cars in front of the truck, resulting in injury.
- Lost loads: An improperly loaded truck can cause loads to be thrown from the truck when the driver makes a sharp turn or stops suddenly. This creates hazards in the roadway for other drivers. The drivers of other vehicles may not be able to stop in time to avoid the cargo or may swerve into another lane causing a collision with other drivers driving in adjacent lanes or into oncoming traffic.
- Front-end collisions: When a driver crosses the center line and collides with an oncoming vehicle the results can be devastating. These collisions are often fatal because the vehicles are usually traveling at a high rate of speed—higher than other kinds of accidents. In addition, drivers of oncoming vehicles have little warning that another vehicle may cross the center line and crash into them, resulting in less opportunity to react.
- Blind spots: A vehicle’s blind spot is the area behind the vehicle that a driver is unable to see either with side or review mirrors. While drivers of passenger cars can look over either shoulder and see in their vehicle’s blind spot, truck drivers cannot. Their trailers block their view so they really are driving “blind” to some areas behind their trucks. This may cause the truck driver to make an unsafe lane change, which then can cause other vehicles to have to swerve to avoid a collision or be smashed into a center median.
- Jackknife: When a truck’s cab and trailer end up at a 90-degree angle after an accident, it is said to have jackknifed. This clearly presents a danger to other drivers, since a truck that has jackknifed takes up multiple lanes in a road, and other drivers may not have time to react to avoid a collision.
- T-bone accidents: These accidents are most often the result of the truck driver failing to stop at a red light or stop sign. A car coming from either cross direction impacts the side of the truck and can end up under the trailer, much like what happens in underride accidents. Trucks can also T-bone a passenger vehicle. Although truck drivers rarely suffer injuries in T-bone accidents, the same is not true of passenger car drivers, who often suffer serious injuries and significant property damage.