Cars, SUVs, vans, and other passenger vehicles are forced to share the road with large, powerful commercial vehicles, such as 18-wheelers, dump trucks, and semi-trailer trucks transporting goods across Philadelphia and Pennsylvania. When a commercial vehicle collides with a passenger vehicle, the difference in size and weight usually means that occupants in the passenger vehicle are seriously injured or killed, even in low-speed crashes. Bicyclists, pedestrians, and motorcyclists are at even higher risk of catastrophic or fatal injury due to their lack of accident protection.
Philadelphia Truck Accident Injury and Fatality Statistics
At both the national and state levels, truck accident statistics are alarming, despite overall improvements to road safety. In 2013, there was a total of 3,602 fatalities due to accidents with commercial trucks and other large industrial vehicles. By 2014, there was a 14% increase in the number of deaths due to large commercial vehicles.
The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) keeps records of all reported auto accidents that occur in Pennsylvania each year. PennDOT reported that in 2014, there were a total of 332 daily reportable traffic crashes all across the state. This breaks down to approximately 14 crashes every hour. In addition, PennDOT reported that each day there are a total of 219 people who are injured in reportable crashes across the state.
What Type of Injuries Do People Suffer in Commercial Trucking Accidents in Philadelphia?
- Back injuries, including spinal cord injuries (SCI), paralysis, and injuries to the spinal column or backbone, such as fractured vertebrae or herniated disc injuries.
- Bone fracture injuries (broken bones), such as arm fractures, leg fractures, wrist and ankle fractures, and pelvic fractures (broken hip injuries).
- Concussions, head injuries, and other traumatic brain injuries (TBI).
- Severe lacerations (cuts) and puncture wounds.
- Soft tissue injuries, such as whiplash neck injuries.
Who is Responsible for a Truck Accident in Philadelphia?
Anytime there is an automobile accident the first question that people want to know is who was responsible for the accident. Unfortunately, truck drivers are often blamed for an accident due to their vehicle being larger. When there has been an accident, some of the people or parties who may be responsible for a person’s injuries include:
- The truck driver
- The owner of the truck or trailer
- The Company that leased the truck or trailer from the owner
- The vehicle manufacturer, including the tire manufacturer, or other parts of the truck that may have contributed to the cause or severity of the accident.
Many people assume that because a truck driver can view the road from a greater height that they should be able to see and avoid accidents much easier. However, many people forget that because of the size of a tractor-trailer that even an experienced truck driver cannot maneuver their truck like a car.
What Causes Commercial Trucking Crashes in Philadelphia?
Driver error is the main cause of or contributing factor to most vehicular accidents, including most of the trucking accidents that occur in Philadelphia and other areas of Pennsylvania.
Though vehicle defects cause fewer accidents than careless mistakes behind the wheel, equipment failures also pose a risk. According to the 2016 PennDOT statistical report mentioned above, “The vast majority of primary factors in heavy truck vehicle failure crashes were related to tires and wheels, brakes, powertrain failure, and total steering system failure.” The most common vehicle defects and driver errors in commercial trucking accidents, ranked by the number of crashes, were:
- Tire defects and wheel defects (100 crashes).
- Brake defects (65 crashes).
- Powertrain failures and steering system failures (32 crashes each).
- Overloaded or unsecured trailers (27 crashes).
- Improper towing accidents or trailer hitch defects (7 crashes).
Truck Size and Weight
Truck crashes pose a high threat of catastrophic injury due to the size and weight of commercial vehicles. For example, a fully-loaded tractor-trailer can weigh as much as 20 to 30 times the weight of a common passenger vehicle.
Furthermore, commercial vehicles typically travel at high speeds, increasing the potential for severe injury or death. As mass and speed increase, not only do the forces exerted increase but also, the vehicle requires more time and energy to control. When speed and weight are factored in, it can take a tractor-trailer roughly 20% to 40% longer to come to a complete stop compared to a standard passenger car, truck, van, or SUV.
Height and Maneuverability
Large commercial vehicles are much higher off the ground than other types of vehicles. This has at least three potentially dangerous consequences:
- Due to their height, commercial trucks often have considerably increased blind spots in comparison to a passenger vehicle.
- The increased vehicle height also means a higher center of gravity. This makes the vehicle less maneuverable and more prone to tipping and jack-knifing.
- The reduced maneuverability also means that the 18-wheeler is less able to avoid hazards on the roadway.
Rear Underride Guards
Rear underride guards theoretically prevent smaller cars from sliding underneath large trucks. However, even when these guards are properly installed, the extreme speed and weight of the truck often means that underride guards do little to actually prevent serious and fatal injuries. In a 2013 study conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, underride guards were found to be deficient in preventing injuries in certain crash types. This means that even when safety measures are implemented, they are often insufficient at protecting against fatal injuries on the road.
The Long Hours Some Truck Drivers Work
Of the many regulations created by regulatory agencies, one of the most effective is a rule limiting the number of hours that a trucker may continuously operate a vehicle. These “hours-of-service” regulations (HOS), as mentioned earlier, were enacted to reduce accidents caused by driver fatigue and exhaustion.
HOS regulations apply to commercial drivers operating a vehicle that has a gross weight of more than 10,000 pounds. If a driver falls under HOS regulations and is transporting property, he or she must generally abide by the following restrictions:
- 11-Hour Driving Limit – “May drive a maximum of 11 hours after 10 consecutive hours off duty.”
- 14-Hour Limit – “May not drive beyond the 14th consecutive hour after coming on duty, following 10 consecutive hours off duty.
60/70-Hour Limit – “May not drive after 60/70 hours on duty in 7/8 consecutive days. A driver may restart a 7/8 consecutive day period after taking 34 or more consecutive hours off duty.”
In addition to these hourly limits, there is an array of additional safety regulations intended to ensure that only qualified, fit drivers operate commercial vehicles like 18-wheelers. For instance, drivers must pass a test for medical fitness. The presence of certain uncontrolled illnesses or conditions, such as sleep apnea, can render a driver unfit. Trucking safety agencies also establish rules and regulations concerning the maintenance of truck equipment, such as procedures the driver must follow if the vehicle has a mechanical problem or cannot otherwise be driven. If a driver ignores or violates these standards, the trucker or trucking company may be liable for personal injuries, property damage, or wrongful deaths that occur as a consequence.
Road construction may seem like an unlikely reason for a truck accident, however, road construction often causes an increase in traffic congestion, and can cause shifting traffic patterns. In addition, when construction is set up it can require a driver to suddenly apply their brakes. However, tractor-trailers do not have the same braking capacity as a standard vehicle. A truck driver who is forced to quickly apply their brakes to accommodate for road construction can lose control of their truck or may be unable to bring their vehicle to a complete stop in time to avoid an accident. In addition, the sudden shift in traffic patterns caused by road construction can cause a driver to lose control of their truck as their vehicles’ size and weight demand that the driver does not make sudden adjustments such as jerking the steering wheel.
Weather and Road Conditions
Philadelphia drivers are all-too familiar with poor weather conditions. Snow, ice, and sleet can make driving in the winter extremely dangerous. While drivers should always exercise elevated caution when they are driving in poor weather conditions, truck drivers who do not accommodate for poor weather and road conditions can cause accidents.
Unsafe Driving Practices
Truck drivers are expected to operate their vehicles as safely as possible, in fact, as part of their licensing they must pass tests and exams and undergo training to make sure that these drivers do not engage in unsafe driving practices such as suddenly shifting lanes, drinking and driving, and texting. However, many truck accidents on the Vine Street Expressway can be attributed to the driver engaging in unsafe driving practices.
What to Do if You Are Hurt in a Truck Accident in Philadelphia
It is highly advisable that you call an attorney that handles cases involving accidents with trucks, semis, and tractor-trailers and understands the cause of these accidents and how to hold trucking companies responsible.
These types of cases are different than car accidents in Philadelphia and often involve much more serious types of injuries.
At the law offices of The Reiff Law Firm, our experienced Philadelphia truck accident lawyers represent clients injured by semi-trucks, tractor-trailers, 18-wheeler trucks, coal trucks, and delivery trucks in Southeastern Pennsylvania. We have fought for injury victims for nearly 40 years, helping accident survivors recover tens of millions of dollars.
We are a nationally-recognized personal injury law firm that is committed to obtaining favorable results for our clients. To discuss your Pennsylvania trucking accident case in a free consultation, contact us online using our simple submission form, or call our law offices at (215) 709-6940.
Can You Sue a Trucking Company for Wrongful Death?
It is important to know that, when a fatal truck accident occurs in Philadelphia or other parts of Pennsylvania, there are certain requirements under the law that must be followed. Examples of these requirements, which directly impact the surviving loved ones of wrongful death victims, include the following:
- Under Pennsylvania law, if a person wants to pursue a wrongful death claim, he or she must file the complaint within two years from the date of the victim’s death.
- After a death caused by negligence or misconduct, only a close relative or personal representative of the person who was killed, called the “decedent,” has the legal right to seek compensation (“damages”), which may include medical and funeral expenses, lost income over the decedent’s expected lifespan, and the loss of companionship.
Even in the aftermath of a deadly truck accident, insurance companies and other liable parties will likely try to avoid or minimize their obligations. This makes it essential for you to have strong, determined representation by a qualified wrongful death attorney who knows how to work against the tactics used by insurance companies and their representatives.
Truck Accidents on the Schuylkill Expressway
Driving on the Schuylkill Expressway can be downright stressful. With the number of drivers all vying for space on the road, driving on a major road such as this one is not always as safe as we would hope. However, drivers are not only sharing road space with other passenger vehicles who are trying to get to their destinations but are also sharing the road with commercial vehicles who are trying to get to their delivery points. While trucks are important to all of our industries, they also pose significant threats to drivers on the road. Accidents with trucks are unfortunately common on the Schuylkill Expressway, some of the most common reasons for truck accidents on this road can be attributed to:
- Truck driver fatigue – Truck driver fatigue is a major cause of truck accidents, and out of the nearly 4,000 fatalities every year many of these accidents can be attributed to drivers being fatigued. This problem has been so systemic in the trucking industry that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration enacted regulations to limit the amount of time a truck driver can be behind the wheel. Their rationale for enacting these regulations was that after intensive study, driver fatigue correlated to a significantly higher rate of accidents and driver errors.
- Poor or improper truck maintenance – Trucks are massive vehicles that require regular maintenance and care. While the average driver will drive for about 10,000 to 15,000 miles in a year, the average truck driver will be on the road for 2,000 to 3,000 miles per week. This means that their vehicles need to be regularly inspected and cared for. However, in an effort to cut costs or in an effort by the driver to stay on the road, maintenance issues can go ignored. Unfortunately, equipment failure in a vehicle that can weigh several times more than a standard vehicle can be disastrous.
- Distracted Driving – Distracted drivers are a hazard not only to themselves but also to everyone who is on the road with them. It can be unnerving to see a person driving next to us texting on their phone or engaging in some other non-driving related behavior. However, it can be deadly if a truck driver is not paying diligent attention to the road.
- Speeding – As you increase your speed on the road, you also increase your risk of accidents and injuries. While it is dangerous for anyone to speed, it is even more dangerous when a tractor-trailer speeds. Speeding itself is not always the cause of an accident, rather the distance and time it takes a commercial vehicle to come to a complete stop can cause an accident. While it takes a small car or pickup truck about 316 feet to come to a complete stop when they are driving at 65 miles an hour, it can take up to 525 feet for a tractor-trailer to come to a complete stop at this speed. As the speed increases the distance it takes a truck to stop also increases, which means that even if a driver is paying attention, they will not be able to readily avoid an accident if they are speeding.
Truck Accidents on The Vine Street Expressway
The Vine Street Expressway is one of the most heavily traveled roads in the city, and as a result drivers are sharing the road with not only hundreds of other drivers who are all eager and impatient to get to their destinations but also with large commercial vehicles and tractor-trailers who are just as eager and impatient to get to their delivery points.
A recent accident on the Vine Street Expressway highlights the danger that truck drivers pose. On September 1, 2016, firefighters responding to a two-vehicle crash were injured when a tractor-trailer lost control and slammed into their fire truck. While it was not immediately clear why the driver lost control over their truck, what is apparent is that these accidents are all too common. Fortunately, there were no serious injuries in this accident and all of the five firefighters who were injured in the accident were expected to make a full recovery, other drivers are not as lucky and sustain serious and traumatic injuries.
Our Philadelphia Truck Accident Attorneys Can Help
In Pennsylvania, injured individuals can hold truck drivers and trucking companies legally liable for harm caused by their negligence or noncompliance. If you were injured or lost a loved one in a trucking accident, our Philadelphia accident lawyers can help you understand your family’s legal options.
With offices in Philadelphia, our injury claim attorneys handle cases throughout Pennsylvania, including Bucks County, Chester County, Lehigh County, Montgomery County, and Northampton County. Whether a truck crash occurs on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, the Schuylkill Expressway (I-76), the Delaware Expressway (I-95), I-476, or elsewhere in Pennsylvania, we are prepared to make a determination about potential accident liability. Serving truck crash victims statewide, our knowledgeable personal injury lawyers are ready to fight hard against trucking companies, insurance companies, and careless drivers on you and your family’s behalf.
To set up a free legal consultation, call The Reiff Law Firm at (215) 709-6940, or contact us online. Since the Pennsylvania statutes of limitation can bar your claim if you wait for too long, time may be of the essence. In some cases, you may need to act immediately to preserve evidence in your trucking accident case. Contact us today to start discussing your injury confidentially and free of charge.