How Often Does Bad Weather Cause Truck Accidents in Pennsylvania?
It is common knowledge that driving in unfavorable weather conditions will increase the probability of getting into an accident. In fact, on the average year, 15% of all fatal crashes, 19% of all injury crashes, and 22% of all property damage crashes occur during adverse weather conditions and/or slick pavement. There are a multitude of weather conditions that prove to be dangerous and even life threatening if not responded to properly. Truck drivers or commercial vehicle operators must take extra precaution on the road in general, but especially during extreme weather conditions. As truck drivers likely face a wide range of weather conditions along their routes, this post will discuss the relevant variables to pay attention to, as well as the rights truck drivers have under the Surface Transportation Act.
The Pennsylvania truck accident lawyers at the Reiff Law Firm discuss how dangerous weather can affect truck drivers on the road.
Weather Hazards that Can Be Responsible for a Truck Accident
The following weather variables are some of the leading causes of vehicle accidents – namely semi, big rig, and other truck accidents – or even truck accident deaths:
Wind can influence visibility distance on the road, as snow, dust, or debris will likely enter into a driver’s field of vision. Furthermore, wind-blown snow or debris can accumulate, and could potentially cause a lane to become obstructed, increasing the probability of getting into an accident. Something else to keep note of are severe crosswinds. Trucks are more susceptible to dangerous crosswinds than cars because of how large the profile is. Heavy crosswinds can become powerful enough to blow a truck out of one lane and into another, or completely off the road. If operating a tractor-trailer, it is particularly important to be aware of high winds that could cause the trailer to sway uncontrollably, or even knock it over completely.
Anything that falls from the sky, including rain, snow, sleet or hail, is an adverse weather condition that truck drivers should be aware of. These conditions are similar in that they cause your tires to lose traction due to the mixture of water with asphalt and oil on the road. This can make it harder to slow down and break properly, as well as reduce your visibility and vehicle control. Furthermore, in severe cases, heavy precipitation can lead to lane submersion, increasing the risk of getting into an accident. A 2016 study published in Weather, Climate and Society found that the relative accident risk (RAR) due to precipitation changes depending on a variety of factors. The researchers concluded that frozen precipitation, higher volumes of traffic, and colder temperatures correlated to a higher risk of an accident. A 2019 study published by the American Meteorological Society found that the risk of a fatal crash increases by 34% when driving during precipitation. The researchers also discuss the implications of climate change—which is expected to increase precipitation and its intensity—ultimately leading to an even more dangerous driving condition.
Foggy weather drastically impairs the driver’s ability to see the road ahead of them, thus diminishing the amount of time they have to respond to other drivers or possible dangers. Fog is the most hazardous weather condition, making it difficult to judge speed, as well as judge the distances of cars in front or behind you. A driver should use low-beam headlights to avoid accidents, and if the fog completely obstructs visibility, the driver should pull off to the side of the road and wait for it to subside.
The condition of the pavement that a car is driving on can drastically impact a driver’s ability to control the vehicle. Often, the weather will directly impact the state of the pavement, leading to a higher probability of an accident. Ice or wet leaves will change the pavement friction, leading to less traction between the tires and the road. This can make the roads feel very slippery, and drivers operating a combination vehicle such as a tractor-trailer should pay special attention to this. Though modern anti-lock brakes will automatically pump over slippery surfaces when braking, each part of the combination vehicle must be checked and cleared in order for the entire system to properly function together.
Over time, weather conditions can even permanently change the pavement condition, an example of this being the development of frost heaves and potholes. A frost heave is a bump in the road that forms due to the thawing of frozen water in the road. If your vehicle has poor suspension, driving over a frost heave or a pothole can lead to a lot of bouncing, making your car harder to control, especially if there are other weather variables at place.
Considerations for Truck Drivers to Avoid Trucking Accidents Caused by the Weather
Successfully operating a truck or commercial vehicle requires an extra set of skills and practice on the road, and inclement weather conditions demand even more focus and precaution. It is essential for the operator of a tractor-trailer or other commercial vehicle to play close attention to the following:
Tractor-trailers have large blind spots in the front, back, and both sides of the vehicle that may increase the risk of an accident. When visibility is further reduced due to weather conditions, it is important that truck drivers pay closer attention to other drivers on the road and do not switch lanes abruptly.
Truck drivers need more time to come to a complete stop than other vehicles. In adverse weather, especially precipitation, the stropping distance will largely increase. Additionally, if the truck is fully loaded, it will take a distance of about 2 football fields for the truck to come to a stop. It is important for truck drivers to keep the weight of their vehicle in mind, and respond accordingly to any additional weather effects. On slippery roads, truck drivers should not utilize their Jake Brakes, as the breaks are not equipped to slow the vehicle in icy or wet weather conditions. Furthermore, truck drivers should also restrain from overusing their foot breaks when their truck and the trailer are not in alignment.
Pennsylvania has two different categories of speeding laws: a basic speeding law and an absolute speed limit. The basic speeding law forbids driving a speed “greater than is reasonable and prudent”, meaning that you must be able to gauge how changes in weather may impact appropriate speeds. If the roads are wet or especially snowy, it is recommended to slow your speed by half or more. Driving at a speed that wouldn’t allow you to safely stop will result in a violation of the basic speeding law. There are also much stricter laws called absolute speed limits that are fixed and if broken, will result in a law violation. The absolute speed limits are 15 mph in school zones, 25 mph in most residential districts, 35 mph in urban districts, 60 to 70 mph on freeways and 55 mph on other roadways. Contact our lawyers if you were injured in an accident caused by speeding.
Monitoring the Weather
Since the weather can drastically change from bad to unbearable driving conditions, it is fundamental that truck drivers closely monitor the weather by checking the forecasts and relying on their training and experience. If it becomes too difficult to operate the vehicle safely, drivers should pull over and wait for the storm to blow over. Even if your company is expecting you to complete a delivery deadline in the certain amount of time, it may be wise to avoid the very real chance of getting into an accident due to extreme weather conditions. Furthermore, the surface transportation assistance act (STAA) protects the rights of commercial drivers to refuse to operate their vehicle during inclement weather.
It is evident how important it is to inspect your tractor-trailer or other commercial vehicle at least once every 12 months. The air brake chamber housings should be checked for damage, and the dust plugs should be properly installed and seated. Additionally, the air-disc brakes need to be suitable for winter driving, which requires that the pads move freely in the carrier. The slack adjusters, clevis pin connections, cam tubes, shafts, and bushings also need to be lubricated to prevent corrosion and maintain good braking.
Knowing Your Rights Under the Surface Transportation Act
The Surface Transportation Assistance Act, or the STAA, is a federal regulation that protects commercial drivers from being fired or disciplined when refusing to drive their vehicle in unsafe weather conditions.
The United States Code of Federal Regulations [49 C.F.R. §392.14] states that when there are “hazardous road conditions, such as those caused by snow, ice, sleet, fog, mist, rain, dust, or smoke” leading to worse visibility or traction, commercial drivers shall reduce their speed. Furthermore, “[i]f conditions become sufficiently dangerous, the operation of the commercial motor vehicle shall be discontinued and shall not be resumed until the commercial motor vehicle can be safely operated.” 49 C.F.R. §392.14. In other words, if the weather is too extreme to drive safely, commercial vehicle operators have the right to stop driving until conditions improve without the fear of being penalized by their employers. If fired or disciplined, the driver can appeal to the STAA, and if the driver’s refusal is deemed to be reasonably based, they are protected under federal law.
Contact Our Truck Accident Attorney Today for a Free Consultation
Contact our truck accident lawyers at the Reiff Law Firm in order to set up a no-cost evaluation. Our team will work tirelessly with you in order to pursue a claim before the statute of limitations expires. You will only pay in the case of financial recovery. Give us a call at (215) 709-6940 or contact us online and we will get back to you.