Commercial trucks are part of the lifeblood of the American economy. They carry goods, haul refuse, are utilized in construction and development projects, and are typically used in a vast array of contexts and purposes. However, whenever a vehicle becomes nearly ubiquitous on highways and roadways, accidents and injuries are bound to follow. In the May 2014 edition of US Department of Transportation’s (US DoT) Traffic Safety Facts newsletter, the agency revealed that 333,000 large trucks were involved in vehicular accidents in 2012. From those more than 300,000 large involved in accidents, there were 3,921 people killed and 104,000 injured. Of those injured, only 24 percent were actually the occupants of the large truck. Meaning that 76 percent of those injured in accidents involving large trucks – with 73 percent as occupants of the other vehicle and 3 percent not occupying any vehicle – are not in the commercial vehicle. The statistics bear out that those who are involved in truck accidents and not occupying the larger vehicle are significantly more likely to suffer an injury. That is, it is the everyday drivers of cars, trucks, SUVs and motorcycles that most often suffer the brunt of injuries and consequences in a commercial trucking accident.
Thus, while under Pennsylvania law you can recover monetary damages for your injuries due to a careless or negligent commercial driver, nearly all people would prefer to avoid the experience of a severe accident and a catastrophic injury altogether. The remainder of this post will further examine the characteristics of accidents typically caused by large trucks and discuss certain safe-driving practices that may reduce your chances of being involved in a serious or fatal truck accident.
Understanding Fatal Trucking Accidents In Pennsylvania And Beyond
In 2012 at the national level, large trucks accounted for 4 percent of all registered vehicles and nearly 10 percent of the total vehicle miles traveled. However, despite accounting for only 4 percent of registered vehicles, nationwide, accidents due to large trucks accounted for 8 percent of all fatal crashes. In Pennsylvania, the risk may be even greater due to the large numbers of registered trucks and the major highways and thoroughfares that pass through the state. In the state, 9.7 percent of fatal accidents involved a large truck – greater than the 2012 national average for large-truck fatal accident involvement at 8.3 percent.
Accidents involving large trucks also differ from those involving only passenger vehicles in a number of ways. First, the good news. Despite apparently unfounded stereotypes to the contrary, drivers of large trucks – typically commercial drivers – who are involved in fatal accidents show much lower rates of alcohol use that exceeds the .08 g/dL threshold. While 2 percent of large truck drivers had a BAC of .08 g/dL or greater following a fatal accident, 23 percent of drivers in passenger cars, 22-percent of pickup and light truck drivers, and 27 percent of motorcyclists. Furthermore, drivers of large vehicles were typically less likely to have prior license suspensions or revocations relative to the driver of a passenger vehicle.
However, there were also a number of negative conclusions to be drawn from the data presented by the US DoT. First, prior convictions for speeding were slightly higher among large truck drivers relative to the drivers of passenger cars and light trucks. Furthermore, and more troubling, accidents involving large trucks where a fatality occurs are more likely to involve multiple vehicles. In fact, 81 percent of fatal crashes involving large trucks involve multiple vehicles.
Tailgating any Vehicle In Pennsylvania Is Illegal And Dangerous
Many people feel that driving extremely close to another vehicle, also known as tailgating, will cause the other driver to drive faster so that they can reach their destination more quickly. Others realize that such actions are dangerous and unlikely to make driver speed up, but tailgate regardless because it makes them feel like they are doing something. However many of those drivers would probably change their habits if they were aware that the US DoT estimates that approximately 19 percent of accidents occur where a vehicle strikes the truck from the rear. The Mansfield Bar which is mandated and installed on modern commercial trucks certainly saves many lives, the size of the truck and the speeds involved often mean that injuries are catastrophic or fatal. If the foregoing wasn’t enough to convince you that tailgating is both fruitless and dangerous, consider that the truck driver probably can’t see you since directly behind the truck is a common blind spot for vehicles of this type.
Thus, one of the most straight-forward and effective pieces of advice is to allow a safe following distance when driving behind a large truck. Utilizing safe driving habits like this one can have the added benefit of reducing the likelihood that your vehicle will be struck by a stone or another piece of roadway debris that could cause a driver to lose control and crash. Furthermore, because the trailing driver in a rear-end collision is often at fault for the accident, your ability to recover for severe injuries is likely to be reduced or foreclosed if you suffer an accident in this fashion.
Avoid Travel When Conditions Are Poor Or Traffic Is Heavy
The occurrence of fatal accidents involving large trucks correlates closely to time. In fact, 78 percent of fatal crashes occur on weekdays with 72 percent of those fatal weekday crashes occurring during the daytime. Thus likely due to the volume of traffic during the day and the rush hours, if possible, it is advisable to avoid driving during those times. While only 22 percent of fatal trucking accident occurs during the weekend, those that do occur follow a different pattern from fatal injuries during the week. For weekend crashes, and in contrast to weekday crashes, 65 percent of all fatal accidents occur during the overnight hours. It is likely that fatigue plays a greater role in weekend crashes and thus it may be advisable to refrain from driving overnight during the weekend.
A variety of weather conditions can also affect driving conditions and roadway safety. While most people would consider clear conditions to be ideal for driving, even clear conditions can present a hazard as they can result in severe glare for drivers reducing visibility and increasing reaction times. Any form of precipitation – rain, snow, hail, sleet, and others – will make the roadway slick and increase stopping distances. In the case of a torrential downpour, water may pool on the roadways causing vehicles to hydroplane or, if sufficient water has accumulated, stall on the roadway. Large trucks with their large profiles are particularly susceptible to swerving when winds speeds are high and blowing across the roadway. In short, avoid travel whenever possible if conditions are poor or if you believe you’d be unable to safely operate your vehicle.
Assess the Truck’s Speed and Position Before Signaling and Taking Deliberate Action
Assessing the speed of a commercial vehicle prior to changing lane or taking other action can save your life. Large trucks have a much greater mass than most other vehicles on the road. Therefore, much like a train, they take significantly longer to stop. Furthermore, their size also makes them significantly less maneuverable and less able to take last-second evasive action. Therefore before you pass a truck or make a left turn when there is an oncoming commercial vehicle, first assess the other vehicle’s speed. Then, ensure that you have sufficient time and space to accomplish your goal successfully. If you are passing, be sure to leave enough space so that the trucker doesn’t have to slam on his or her brakes to avoid running your vehicle over. Also, as with most large vehicles, other motorists should be wary of blind spots and should especially avoid taking abrupt, unpredictable actions in these areas.
Rely on Our Commercial Truck Accident Legal Experience
At The Reiff Law Firm our lawyers are dedicated to fighting for compensation for individuals who have suffered catastrophic injuries and for the family of individuals who have been wrongfully killed. To discuss your legal options privately, call (215) 246-9000 for a free consultation.