The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) was created on January 1, 2000, by the Department of Transportation to help prevent commercial motor vehicle-related fatalities and injuries. Most commercial motor vehicle carriers are large trucks and buses. As we have discussed before, motor vehicle collisions…
How Virginia Trucking Accidents Differ From Car Accidents
If you regularly drive on the interstate, you’re used to seeing large trucks everywhere. According to Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) data, there are nearly 12.5 million commercial large trucks and buses in the U.S. These truck drivers move 71% of the freight in America, and the industry is worth $700 billion. Trucking companies provide an invaluable service and employ millions of Americans, but their vehicles also bring danger to the road.
In 2020, Virginia saw 2,356 accidents involving large trucks, and 58 of those crashes were fatal. Only 27% of these truck accident deaths involved the occupants of large trucks, which is a grim reminder of how deadly truck crashes can be for people in passenger cars. The problem isn’t limited to Virginia, either. About 5,000 people die nationwide in large truck crashes every year, accounting for 14% of all United States crash fatalities.
Trucking Accidents vs. Car Accidents
Car accidents are dangerous, no matter who is involved. Crashes involving large trucks are even riskier due to a few factors. Semi-trucks can weigh up to 80,000 pounds and are around 72 feet long, making them 20 to 30 times heavier than passenger cars. Due to vehicle size differences, those in the passenger vehicles will most likely be the ones to be seriously injured or die in trucking accidents. Truck crashes are also fatal because of the various factors that can cause truck accidents. Accident causes vary by region, and each state keeps its data. The leading causes of truck accidents in Virginia, according to the Virginia Highway Safety Office, include:
- Improper lane action, or a truck driver changing lanes without making sure there’s enough room to move over
- Following too close, which Virginia law defines as driving closer to a vehicle than is “reasonable and prudent”
- Speeding or driving over the posted speed limit
- Improper turning, which can involve an illegal U-turn or turning before making a full stop
Virginia Truck Driving Dangers
Drivers have to pass a commercial driver’s license (CDL) test before legally driving a large truck. The CDL exam includes a medical certification and a driver education program, and it’s designed to be more stringent than a regular driver’s license exam. Driving a large truck is more challenging than driving a passenger car, and it requires more skill and attention as a result. Here are some of the factors that make truck driving difficult and contribute to the risk of a trucking accident involving fatalities.
Wind gusts: Large trucks are more likely to flip on the road, and they are especially susceptible to wind gusts. An empty trailer can make a semi-truck more likely to overturn, which is why some roads and bridges have wind restrictions. For example, on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel, empty tractor-trailers and small six-wheel trucks are forbidden when wind speeds reach 47 miles per hour.
Braking: Sometimes, you have no other choice than to slam your brakes when a car stops suddenly. For a truck driver, stopping without notice is more complicated. It takes 525 feet for a truck to reach a complete stop in ideal conditions, nearly the length of two football fields. In heavy traffic without the luxury of an empty road, a truck suddenly braking can cause a disaster.
Blind spots: If you’ve driven for any amount of time, you’ve probably seen a truck with a bumper sticker that says some variation of, “If you can’t see my mirrors, I can’t see you.” That’s because large trucks have four major blind spots. Truck drivers can’t easily see directly in front of their vehicles, behind their vehicles, or on either side. This means that a driver may switch lanes without realizing a car is in the way.
Tailgating: Tailgating, or following too closely, can be a sign of road rage or impatient driving. Truck drivers have schedules with little room from the trucking company they work for, and some drivers might tailgate in the fast lane because they’re worried they will be in trouble if they don’t get to their destination in time. That’s no excuse, and it can be cause for trouble if other vehicles brake suddenly.
Signaling: Like every other state, Virginia drivers must use turn signals to show their intent to merge, change lanes, or turn. It’s hazardous when any driver chooses not to signal but incredibly unsafe for large trucks. Much like any other dangerous driving behavior, the potential effects are magnified with a commercial vehicle weighing tens of thousands of pounds.
After a Truck Accident
If you’re on the road and another driver in a similarly-sized vehicle hits you, you’ll check for injuries, call law enforcement, and trade insurance information. The process for crashes involving large trucks is similar, but there are distinct differences. Because large trucks cause more damage than smaller vehicles, the potential for serious personal injury is much higher. It’s imperative to be examined by a medical professional, even if you don’t think you’re hurt. It can take days or even weeks for the pain to set in.
Truck crashes can cause broken bones, neck problems, traumatic brain injuries, concussions, soft tissue damage, paralysis, and even death. One distinct difference between passenger cars and large trucks is the difference in insurance requirements. Trucks that weigh 10,000 pounds must have at least $750,000 in primary liability insurance, per the FMCSA regulations. Even with these insurance requirements, trucking companies aren’t likely to offer the compensation you deserve upfront.
Trucking insurance carriers have deep pockets, and they’ll do everything they can to limit their liability. Hiring a truck accident attorney after a crash will help ensure that you get a fair settlement. Along with holding a trucking company accountable, truck accident lawyers will also help determine who’s at fault. With most passenger vehicle accidents, the other driver is the one liable for the collision. Determination of trucking accident responsibility can be more complicated, but there are a few common culprits.
Truck driver: If a truck driver acts carelessly and causes a crash, they can be held liable in a truck accident lawsuit. Even if a driver didn’t mean to harm other people, behavior like speeding, distracted driving, driving under the influence, and drowsy driving can have devastating effects. Drivers can receive a civil citation or be charged in criminal court after an accident and still be liable in truck accident lawsuits.
Truck companies: A trucking company may be liable for a trucking accident for a few reasons. Failing to maintain the vehicle properly is a common one. Trucks need regular oil changes, brake inspections, and tire pressure checks. If these checks aren’t completed regularly, and poor maintenance leads to a collision, the trucking employer might be at fault. Other examples include hiring inexperienced or reckless truck drivers or pushing drivers to work longer hours than allowed under federal law.
Truck manufacturers: Sometimes, truck drivers and trucking companies aren’t to blame for a crash. Instead, it’s the truck manufacturer who’s at fault. If a truck has faulty brakes, defective tires, or manufacturing and design errors, the truck manufacturer can be held liable for the crash. Proving a truck manufacturer’s liability is a complex task and one you shouldn’t attempt yourself. Truck accident attorneys have extensive knowledge of manufacturing laws and regulations. If a manufacturer is to blame for a trucking accident, you may be able to file a defective product case. Defective product lawsuits must usually be filed within two years of your injury.
Examples of Truck Accident Lawsuits
Schnitzer Southeast: In 2016, a truck driver swerved into oncoming traffic on U.S. 80 in Alabama and hit a car head-on, killing all five occupants. One victim’s family sued the truck driver, the carrier Schnitzer Southeast, and its parent company for negligence. A jury awarded $280 million to the family, making it one of the most significant verdicts against a trucking company.
Barkandhi Express: A 16-year-old was tragically killed on a New Mexico highway in 2015 after his car was lodged under a trailer and dragged for half a mile. The family sued the trucking company Barkandhi Express and the trailer manufacturer for not having a side underride guard on the truck. The family won a $42 million verdict.
Top Auto Trucking Company: In 2018, a horrific 45-car pileup on I-10 in Florida caused a truck driver to jackknife his vehicle, causing life-threatening injuries to a motorcyclist on the road. The motorcyclist was partially paralyzed, and a jury awarded an incredible $411 million to the victim. It’s unlikely that the payout will equal that total, but the trucking company was held responsible for the damage caused by the driver.
Truck accident attorneys make it easier to secure the compensation you need for medical bills, lost wages, physical therapy, and vehicle damage, along with intangible losses like pain and suffering and emotional trauma. After you’re injured after a trucking accident, one of your first calls should be to an expert truck accident lawyer who will help you navigate the overwhelming post-crash process.
The attorneys at Curcio Law have served truck accident victims throughout Virginia and Washington D.C. for nearly 40 years. If you’ve been injured in a truck accident, it can quickly become overwhelming. Let us help you through this complicated and challenging legal process. Call or text us today at 703-836-3366 or contact us here for a free consultation.