When you think of commercial truck accidents, you most likely think of big 18-wheeler semi-trucks. Yet, large tractor-trailers only make up a percentage of commercial truck accidents that occur in Pennsylvania and across the nation. Other commercial trucks include delivery trucks, cement trucks, flatbed trucks, garbage trucks, and tankers. The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) estimates almost 7,000 heavy truck crashes including about 140 fatal crashes each year in their most recent data.
Regardless of the type of commercial truck, many are much heavier and bigger than the average car or SUV, causing more property damage, more severe injuries, and a higher chance of fatality. Below we offer an in-depth look at types of commercial trucks that you might encounter in a traffic collision and their potential risks, and causes of commercial trucking accidents specific to the commercial trucking industry.
Types of Commercial Trucks
A commercial vehicle is any vehicle that transports goods or people for business. Cars, limousines, taxis, buses, and pickup trucks are all examples of commercial vehicles. For this blog, we focus on commercial trucks that refer to vehicles that don’t fall under the bus category, and weigh significantly more than the average passenger vehicle or SUV.
Also referred to as big-rigs, semis, and 18-wheelers, tractor-trailers are the most plentiful of all commercial trucks. They are also the largest and pose the most risk to other motorists on the road. The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates tractor-trailers weigh at least 20 times more than the average passenger vehicle. They can weight up to 80,000 pounds, about 30 times more than a small passenger vehicle, when fully loaded. Most semis have a cab and a trailer, but on rare occasions you might see a double trailer.
Commercial tractor-trailer accidents are among the most dangerous and deadly of all commercial truck accidents. The hitch mechanism can lead to jackknife accidents when trucker drivers don’t adequately control their trucks, especially on wet, icy, or snow-packed roads. If a trucker brakes too quickly or uses their “jake brake” in inclement weather, the trailer skids until it lies perpendicular to the cab. Jackknife accidents might lead to multi-car pileups as a result of the truck colliding with other vehicles, or other drivers not having enough time to avoid the accident.
Commercial flatbed trucks come in all sizes. They might be a medium size straight truck or semi-truck and they get their name because the back of the truck is flat like a bed. Sometimes flatbeds have rails, but oftentimes they are completely open. Although you might encounter any kind of traffic collision with a flatbed truck, the most danger of collision comes from cargo spillage. If the load has been overloaded or hasn’t been properly tied down, it might spill onto another vehicle or the road. For example, a flatbed truck in Mechanicsburg spilled granite and quartz countertops all of the road. According to witnesses, the countertops struck an SUV, and forced it to move backward into a utility pole.
Commercial delivery trucks are those used by companies such as FedEx, UPS, DHL, and similar services. Sometimes these companies use cargo vans for delivery, but often you see them in bigger trucks with sliding side doors and a rear roll-up door. Drivers who work for these types of companies often receive on-the-road training where they learn about safety. Yet, the nature of driving a delivery truck includes always being rushed. The movie Castaway relays how time-focused these companies and their drivers are. Drivers are accountable for how quickly they perform pickups and deliveries. You face the most risk of an accident with a delivery truck during business hours in residential areas, where trucks make frequent stops. Rushed drivers sometimes forget to look around them, so pedestrians and bicyclists must remain especially alert when delivery trucks are around.
Commercial cement trucks, or concrete mixers, are some of the most dangerous commercial trucks on the road. Although they are short, they are extremely heavy, especially when they are filled with wet concrete. In fact, when cement trucks are fully loaded they can weigh more than a tractor trailer. Their shape and weight make them top-heavy and unstable. Concrete mixers are more likely to roll or fall over than other types of commercial trucks, even when they aren’t traveling at high speeds. Yet, those who drive cement mixers must make it to their destination before the mix starts to dry, so they are often in a hurry. Simply traveling around a corner too fast can result in a cement truck lying on its side and leaking hazardous fluid.
Commercial dump trucks carry sand, dirt, and gravel to commercial and residential construction sites. Some companies also use dump trucks to carry trash, debris from demolition, animal feed, and a wide variety of other things. Like cement mixers, dump trucks can be top heavy and are prone to tip over. Also, when the box on dump truck wears out, it can detach from the cab and cause a deadly accident. Other motorists face the most risk of injury when following a full dump truck. Not only can debris blow out and cause an accident, but if the door isn’t properly closed, material can come crashing out the box and cause damage, injury, and fatality to anyone behind the truck.
Commercial tanker trucks are typically also tractor-trailer trucks, but the trailer is a large tank that carries liquid, gas, or chemical cargo. Tankers might have a variety of different freight in their tank from milk to beer to fruit juice. Other times tankers might carry hazardous materials including bleach and other chemicals, liquid nitrogen, radioactive materials, and acids. In the U.S., many of the tanker trucks you see on the road are transporting gasoline to gas stations throughout the country. Tanker trucks pose the same risks as any other semi-truck, but crashes are often more likely to result in fires or explosion causing extensive injuries or fatalities to everyone involved.
Commercial garbage trucks are similar to dump trucks because they carry debris, but they introduce some additional dangers to those who share the road. Garbage trucks make many stops in residential areas, making it dangerous for those of all ages who are walking, bicycling, or driving. Garbage truck stops can be unpredictable and drivers sometimes take the shortest route to a garbage can without regard to traffic laws. When drivers don’t watch carefully, they can easily cause a collision. Full garbage trucks are also dangerous, especially when the load is unstable and not secured. Insecure trash can fall or blow out of the truck, landing on vehicles, and cause a severe accident.
Causes of Commercial Truck Accidents
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMSCA) is responsible for regulating the trucking industry, which includes any driver who holds a commercial driver’s license (CDL) or company that employs drivers. They estimate well over 400,000 traffic collisions each year involving heavy trucks. This doesn’t include smaller delivery trucks, who undoubtedly contribute at least a few more thousand crashes each year. Causes of commercial truck accidents can fall into three different categories: environmental, mechanical, and driver-related accidents. Yet, these broad categories are not mutually exclusive. Drivers can travel too fast for environmental conditions and companies can avoid doing necessary maintenance causing a mechanical failure that leads to an accident. Below are some common issues commercial truck drivers deal with that lead to accidents.
Driving While Distracted
When commercial truck drivers take their mind off driving, their hands off the wheel, or their eyes off the road, put other motorists at risk for a serious, perhaps even deadly, accident. The FMSCA has outlawed cell phone use for truckers for over a decade; truckers must use a headset, voice recognition, or some other hands free feature to talk on their phone. The consequences are severe, so this isn’t as big of a problem for truckers as you might think. Yet, many other things can distract a commercial truck driver including watching another event outside of the truck, daydreaming, eating and drinking, reaching for something on the floor or passenger seat, and making adjustments to a radio, C.B., or climate controls.
Driving While Fatigued
Commercial truck drivers typically have demanding schedules that require long hours. Those who transport goods across the country often drive overnight, against their body’s normal sleep clock. Even though the FMSCA has strict regulations in place for hours of service, drivers still might suffer from fatigue. According to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), more than a third of heavy truck accidents are a result of driver fatigue. This is most likely because staying awake for 18 hours causes the same impairment in a person’s body as a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08 percent. When drivers ignore hours of service rules or don’t take a break when they are overly fatigued, they risk falling asleep at the wheel and causing a severe accident.
Parking shortages don’t directly lead to commercial truck accidents, but they increase driving fatigue, especially for long-haul semi-truck drivers. According to the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), truck parking shortages are a national safety concern. When big rigs cannot find a place to stop for a break and get some sleep, they are forced to keep driving and risk falling asleep at the wheel or park on the shoulder of a road or exit ramp. Both scenarios might cause more accidents, injuries, and fatalities. Fortunately, the parking shortage issue only exists around some of the nation’s largest cities. Unfortunately, this includes the Philadelphia area. In many other places, truckers have plenty of places to stop and rest, or they plan their routes to avoid having to stop in a large city.
Elderly Commercial Truck Drivers
Over the past decade, the truck driver shortage in the United States has continued to grow. Some trucking companies have addressed this problem by recruiting retirees to fill open positions. In an in-depth investigation of elderly truck drivers, CBS News found about 6,600 elderly truck drivers were involved in trucking accidents across 12 states in a two-year period; the amount increased by almost 20 percent among those over age 70. Commercial truck drivers need to pass a physical to have their CDL, but they don’t have strict forced retirement ages like airline pilots, and age discrimination is illegal. As drivers age they risk having a medical emergency on the road, eyesight begins to declines, and response time to road hazards declines, which can all lead to severe commercial truck accidents.
Inexperienced Commercial Truck Drivers
In response to the truck driver shortage in the United States, some trucking companies have begun to aggressively recruit young drivers. Currently drivers must be 21 years of age to hold a CDL, but Congress and lobbyists for the trucking industry have been actively seeking to have the minimum age reduced to 18. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), commercial truck drivers are eight times more likely to die on the job than a police officer. Inexperienced drivers pose as much of a risk as elderly drivers, maybe even more. Although someone can learn how to drive a commercial truck in a short amount of time, it takes years of experience to learn how to deal with dangerous road conditions and accurately respond to dangers on the road.
For More Information, Talk to an Experienced a Truck Accident Attorney
If you suffered injuries in a commercial truck accident, you deserve compensation for your losses if a driver or trucking company’s negligence led to the accident and injury. Depending on the circumstances of your commercial truck accident, you might recover damages for medical expenses, lost wages, and non-economic losses related to your injuries such as pain and suffering and a loss in quality of life. Contact a skilled Philadelphia commercial truck accident lawyer to discuss the details of your case.