According to Pennsylvania’s Department of Transportation (PennDOT), a little more than 6,800 truck accidents occurred on Pennsylvania’s roads and highways in their most recent year of data, a number that has been on the rise or consistent in previous years. Undoubtedly a portion of those accidents includes flatbed trucks, some of the most dangerous commercial trucks on the road. Heavy trucks already create a larger risk for motorists who share the road because of excess size and weight, but flatbed trucks increase that risk, making serious injuries and fatalities far more likely when flatbed truck accidents occur.
Below we have provided more information about flatbed trucks, the items they haul, causes of flatbed truck accidents, and determining liability in flatbed truck accidents. A deeper understanding can help you prevent being involved or falling victim to a severe or deadly flatbed truck accident.
What Is a Flatbed Truck?
As its name suggests, a flatbed truck is a truck with a flat trailer that has no sides or roof. This flat load-carrying area provides a space to ship oddly-shaped or oversized cargo. Flatbed trucks can come in a variety of sizes. Some can be as long as 53 feet, the same size as the vast majority of semi-truck trailers. Yet, most flatbed trucks are about 48 feet long. They can be straight, or rigid trucks, where the trailer is connected directly to the cab without any hitching mechanism. Flatbed trucks might also be articulated vehicles that connect to the cab with a hitch and have a clear pivot point on which the trailer moves on during turns.
Regardless of the cab size or the length of the trailer, most flatbed truck trailers are 8.5 feet. In fact, this is the maximum legal width per the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). If a flatbed truck has a wider trailer, they need a permit to be on the road, and you will likely see a “WIDE LOAD” sign on the rear and sides of the cargo and/or trailer. Like tractor-trailers, flatbed trucks weight significantly more than the average passenger vehicle. Although it varies, most flatbed trucks weigh a little more than 30,000 pounds without cargo. A fully loaded flatbed truck can weigh up to 80,000 pounds, making them extremely dangerous to those in other vehicles when an accident occurs.
Common Uses for Flatbed Trucks
Without sides and a roof, flatbed trailers are especially a common choice for large cargo and oversized freight that won’t fit in a normal shipping container. This makes flatbed trucks the go to choice for a wide variety of cargo. Some common items hauled on flatbed trucks include:
Each year, millions of old, worn-out tires are left in lots and dump areas, creating massive piles of waste that also can be fire hazards. Some companies have addressed this issue by breaking down rubber tires, compressing about 100 of them, and creating a tire bale banded together with wire. These bales get hauled throughout the country for use on other projects such as retaining walls, terraces, and road fill. Flatbed trucks often haul tire bales because of their irregular shape and large size.
The things construction workers need on a worksite vary in size and shape and include scaffolding, lumber, steel beams, bricks, and pre-fabricated items, including walls for homes and siding. Flatbed trailers are the best and most common choice to transport these large items, because tractors, cranes, and workers can more easily unload or load the trailer from any direction, hopefully choosing the safest area. Sometimes items on a load are so large they have to hang over the edge of a flatbed and would never fit in a standard enclosed semi-truck. In any case, contractors and construction companies like using flatbed trucks because they transport building materials more efficiently.
Although companies often use dumpsters and dump trucks to remove debris from a worksite, some things are too large or odd-shaped for these options. In these cases, companies hire companies to use flatbed trucks, which are easy to load and unload, to remove debris. Companies often use flatbed trucks to remove scrap metal from a site and transport it to a recycling facility.
Moving Heavy Equipment
All types of heavy machinery from farming equipment, military vehicles, and construction equipment are frequently transported on flatbed trucks. Although these large loads pose risks for the truck driver and others on the road, using a flatbed truck is usually safer than driving the equipment to its destination, especially if it is a long distance. Driving machinery on the road can create traffic bottlenecks and potentially cause an accident. Sometimes heavy equipment loads consist of parts, with the best example being parts from large jets or airliners.
Transporting Super Sacks
Super sacks are industrial fabric bags, referred to as flexible intermediate bulk containers (FIBCs) used to transport dry products like grain, sand, fertilizer, seeds, and nuts. They are frequently used in the United States to transport bags of sand to areas expecting floods. The large sacks of sand work as flood barriers, especially in the spring when some of the country’s largest rivers threaten towns and cities. Each sack weighs about 2,000 pounds and can easily be unloaded and loaded from a flatbed truck.
The logging industry has long relied on flatbed trucks to transport cut trees to different parts of the country for processing. In fact, logging trucks are one of the first commonly used flatbed trucks in the United States. Companies transport logs to sawmills to be cut into lumber used for construction. Logs that don’t go to a sawmill, typically go to a paper mill. Paper mills turn the logs into wood pulp to make all types of paper products. These large loads create the potential for dangerous and deadly accidents for anyone who might be in the vicinity of a logging truck accident.
Causes of Flatbed Truck Accidents
Truck accidents often result in more severe injuries and are more likely to be fatal than other types of traffic crashes, but flatbed truck accidents are among the most deadly. Many accidents are related to the load on the truck. Spilled cargo can land on other vehicles and crush them or cause multi-car pileups when other motorists cannot stop in time to avoid the hazards. Some frequent causes of flatbed truck accidents include the following:
Failure to Properly Secure Cargo
Before going on the road, cargo on a flatbed truck must be properly secured to prevent it from moving around on the trailer. Although many types of devices exist to secure a load, steel chains and nylon straps are the most common. Each device has a different weight limit. When those responsible for tying down cargo use the wrong tools, make a mistake, don’t tighten the mechanisms enough, or don’t use enough straps or chains, the truck driver and everyone on the road are at risk for a severe accident. A sudden stop, a quick turn, or a wide turn might result in the load sliding off the flatbed truck into the road and/or on other vehicles.
Secure loads are so important, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has specific rules for cargo securement trucking companies and owner/operators must follow to avoid accidents from load spillage. They include:
- Proper use of tiedowns. The FMCSA requires all tiedowns to be attached in a way the load stays secure during transit. This includes edge protection that won’t cut or crush cargo.
- Cargo placement and restraint. Cargo items that might roll must be restrained with chocks, wedges, or the equivalent to prevent rolling during transit. Items must be placed in direct contact with one another and not able to move toward one another in transit.
- Minimum working load limit. The cargo securement devices that companies use to tie down one item or a group of items must be at least half the total weight of the item or group of items.
- Minimum number of tiedowns. The number of tiedowns depends on the size and weight of the items, but the general rule is one tie down for items less than five feet long and less than 1,100 pounds and two tiedowns for larger and heavier items.
When a flatbed truck is fully loaded, it obstructs views for others on the road. This makes it difficult for drivers to see other vehicles and appropriately respond to dangerous situations and hazards on the road such as stalled vehicles, dead animals, or road construction. It also makes it difficult for other drivers to see traffic signals and signs, speed limit signs, and other important road instructions. When drivers cannot respond to road hazards, they risk severe injury or fatality from an accident.
Even when cargo comes loose or shifts during transit, experienced drivers can feel the shift, stop quickly, or know how to respond in an emergency. This is especially true during inclement weather when road conditions are slippery because of rain, ice, or snow. When drivers don’t have ample experience hauling the large loads often found on flatbed trucks, they risk jackknifes, rollovers, and other dangerous accidents that can create a chain reaction, resulting in a multi-vehicle pileup.
Truck drivers might be impaired from drug or alcohol use or fatigue. The FMSCA reports 18 hours without sleep has a comparable impact on the body as a 0.08 percent blood alcohol concentration, twice the legal limit for commercial truck drivers. With wider than normal loads, flatbed trucks already fill up their lane. Anything that impairs a driver and causes him to swerve might result in a dangerous accident. Fortunately, the FMCSA has hours of service requirements to help curb driver fatigue. They also mandate random drug and alcohol testing for commercial truck drivers to hold those accountable who make poor choices while driving.
Flatbed truck drivers who are distracted by their cell phone, radio, daydreaming, eating and drinking, reaching for something on the floor, or anything else that takes their attention away from the road can result in a deadly accident. Flatbed trucks can be top heavy depending on their load. When distracted drivers make a quick correction, they risk a rollover. Similar to impaired drivers, distracted drivers who swerve slightly with a wide trailer risk causing an accident or running another vehicle off the road. Federal law prohibits truck drivers from using cell phones unless they use a hands-free feature. Yet, it isn’t illegal to look at an event outside of the truck or eat while driving. The best way to avoid an accident with a flatbed truck is to leave plenty of space between your vehicle and the truck.
Liability in Flatbed Truck Accidents
Determining liability is often difficult in traffic accidents. Truck accidents can involve multiple vehicles, making them more complex than other accident cases. When a flatbed truck accident occurs, the driver might be liable, but many times trucking companies will at least share liability, and in some cases might be fully liable for a flatbed truck accident. Examples of reasons a trucking company might be partially or fully liable for a flatbed truck accident include:
- Overloading a flatbed truck
- Failing to replace old straps and chains
- Failure to properly train employees responsible for loading trucks
- Failure to perform detailed maintenance inspections
- Failure to perform preventative maintenance
- Failure to hire qualified drivers or adequately train them
- Forcing drivers to drive longer in a day or week than allowed by federal law
Contact an Experienced Attorney if You Need Help a Flatbed Truck Accident
If you have sustained injuries in a flatbed truck accident caused by another party, you deserve compensation for losses related to the accident and injury. Depending on the facts of your case, you might be compensated for medical costs, lost wages, and non-economic damages related to your case. Contact a skilled Philadelphia flatbed truck accident lawyer for a free consultation to discuss the circumstances of your accident.