Every year, more than 500,000 tractor-trailer wrecks occur in the United States. For thousands of people, such accidents are fatal.
Driving an 18-wheeler is a tough job that requires sharp attention, extensive driving experience, and top-notch ability to react. Even though tractor-trailer drivers receive special training, accidents still happen.
Semi-trucks often weight over 10,000 pounds so injuries people sustain in crashes are more severe than in regular car accidents. About 20% of these accidents are caused by truck drivers. The rest is usually the car drivers’ fault.
The most common reasons for tractor-trailer wrecks are:
- Fatigued Driving
It’s not a rarity to find a sleepy driver behind the wheel of a big rig. The reason is simple. Trucking companies are under serious pressure to deliver as much cargo as quickly as possible. That’s why many drivers are working for 16 hours in a row.
Studies show that some truck drivers average four to five hours of sleep every day, which is not sufficient to stay alert on the road.
Even though Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations clearly state the limit on drivers’ working hours, many companies tend to find a way around these restrictions. In such cases, truck drivers often don’t have much choice: keep driving or lose the job.
Many drivers are paid based on the number of miles they drive. Such an incentive keeps them on the road even when they are tired. Tired truck drivers cause a lot of collisions.
- Poor Maintenance
Big rigs must be properly maintained by the trucking companies. However, some companies may put regular inspections off in favor of completing orders faster. Eighteen-wheelers are expensive to maintain so skipping an inspection or two can be a way to save time and money for a struggling trucking company.
Whatever the reason for poor maintenance is, it results in accidents. Faulty brakes, tire blowouts, or something as seemingly unimportant as worn down windshield wipers can cause serious wrecks.
- Distracted Driving
Distractions are a big problem for all drivers on the road. Since truck drivers spend long hours behind the wheel, they face the issue more often. Driving long distances can become boring, especially when the road seems empty and uneventful.
Some drivers let their guard down and start texting, eating, playing with the radio, calling, and doing other things that keep their attention off the road.
- Weather Conditions
About 22% of motor vehicle accidents are weather-related. Of them, 73% happen on wet pavement while 46% occur when it’s raining. Since tractor-trailers are heavier, harder to control, and less maneuverable than regular cars, they are more susceptible to weather-related wrecks.
Lack of proper maintenance can contribute to accidents in bad weather conditions.
- Lack of Training
Proper truck driver training is essential to safety on the road. Inexperienced drivers with inadequate training don’t have sufficient knowledge to react to dangers and emergencies.
Some companies prefer hiring inexperienced drivers due to their lower rates. As a result, a person without proper training sits behind the wheel of a large and dangerous vehicle.
Drivers with a CDL still require ongoing training to help them learn how to respond to poor weather conditions, equipment failures, and emergencies. If the company doesn’t provide proper training, it may be held responsible for the wreck.
- Driver Errors
Even experienced drivers can make driver errors, such as:
- Failing to check blind spots
- Not making sufficiently wide turns
- Driving too fast on wet roads
- And more
Without proper ongoing training, high-quality equipment, and timely maintenance, the chances of driver errors occurring are higher.
- Improper Loading
Improperly loaded cargo can cause the truck to get into an accident or overturn. If the loading team, including the driver, is pressed for time, it may not distribute the weight properly. This may lead to maneuverability problems.
Another common issue is overloading. Even though clear loading limits exist, some companies may overload the truck to fulfill their contract quicker. Overloading could lead to:
- Brake failure
- Increased stopping time
- Problems with control
- Higher speed when going downhill
All the above could cause fatal wrecks.
- Alcohol and Drug Use
Driving an 18-wheeler under the influence is highly dangerous. Meanwhile, surveys showed that more than 20% of truck drivers are doing it. Usually, the underlying cause of such actions is the wish to stay on the road longer to earn more money.
When drivers are under influence, their reactions are slow. In emergencies, they are unlikely to avoid a collision.
Just like other drivers, truckers may choose to exceed the speed limit. Since a tractor-trailer is a heavy vehicle, its breaking time is generally longer. As a result, speeding may result in serious collisions.
Reasons for speeding vary from being pressured to arrive earlier to trying to cover more miles in one day to receive higher pay. When it comes to 18-wheelers, each extra mile per hour puts the driver and other motorists in danger.
- Road Rage
According to AAA, as many as 80% of American drivers succumb to road rage and aggressive driving at least once a year. Truck drivers aren’t an exception. The number of fatal accidents related to road rage is growing annually.
Aggressive behavior behind the wheel of a big rig could be highly dangerous. Since the stopping time and maneuverability of a tractor-trailer is lacking compared to the regular cars, the consequences are more severe.
- Other Drivers
The behavior exhibited by other drivers can also become the reason for tractor-trailer wrecks. Such actions include:
- Driving in zero-visibility zones
- Abrupt lane changes in front of the 18-wheeler
- Making a left turn in front of the big rig
- Failing to keep a distance
- Failing to give the truck space for changing lanes or merging
- Unsafe passing
- Entering the traffic in front of the truck without maintaining a proper speed
- Driving between large trucks
Driving a large and heavy vehicle requires extra attention and special training. A lack of a consistently serious approach makes tractor-trailer wrecks unavoidable.
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