Semi-trucks fill the streets of Florida practically every day of the week. Most drivers get used to seeing them regularly around Fort Lauderdale, particularly on major highways like Federal Highway and Interstates 95 and 595. However, the frequent presence of semi-trucks on the roads can lead to one significant hazard for drivers: an increased risk of many types of accidents.
Semi-truck drivers spend long hours on the road. More than 4,000 people die in truck accidents each year, and thousands more suffer severe injuries due to the larger weight of trucks. A much higher percentage of passengers in another vehicle suffer injuries than truck drivers when big trucks end up involved in serious accidents. Accidents can occur for various reasons, some of which stem from truck driver negligence, others resulting from dangerous policies, conditions on the road, or the actions of other drivers.
1. Heavy traffic can increase the risk of truck accidents.
Fort Lauderdale sees a great deal of traffic each day, particularly during the so-called “rush hour” at the end of the day. In Fort Lauderdale, “rush hour” does not just make up a single hour when the most people need to get home. Instead, traffic increases dramatically between 3 pm and 7:30 pm throughout Fort Lauderdale. During these times, traffic, particularly traffic along I-95, may slow down considerably, making it more difficult for vehicles of all types to maneuver safely.
Traffic also slows down around the Fort Lauderdale airport, which lacks adequate infrastructure to support the number of vehicles that must merge toward its exit. Truck drivers may have particular trouble navigating in those areas.
For truck drivers, those traffic slowdowns can pose a number of problems. Many truck drivers have to operate on tight deadlines, with a relatively small window in which they can make their deliveries on time. Traffic slowdowns and delays can interfere with those timelines, making it very difficult for truck drivers to stay on schedule.
Furthermore, in heavy traffic, truck drivers often have a hard time changing lanes since they need considerably more room to exercise that maneuver safely. Many passenger vehicle drivers, eager to reach their destinations quickly, may not let truck drivers over easily, which can increase truck drivers’ urgency and raise the risk of an accident.
2. The truck driver shortage may increase the number of hours truck drivers spend on the road each week.
Many trucking companies continue to struggle to bring in adequate drivers to handle the loads they need to transport. Unfortunately, that shortage has become increasingly apparent across the country as more companies struggle to bring in the employees they need.
Truck drivers still on the road may find themselves pressured more than ever to meet tight deadlines or extend their shifts to as close to the federally limited number of hours they can spend on the road as possible. Worse, some companies may even push their drivers to exceed those hours whenever possible to prevent further delays in products reaching warehouses, stores, and recipients.
As a result of that heavy demand, many truck drivers find themselves struggling with burnout. They may have less time than ever to spend with friends and family members, which can make it more difficult for them to manage their work responsibilities or take care of personal tasks they may have on their plates.
Burnout can make it difficult for truck drivers to pay attention on the road or increase the risk that they will fall asleep behind the wheel, engage in risky or reckless behavior like drinking and driving, or fail to take adequate precautions to protect themselves and other drivers around them. Truck drivers under pressure to meet tight deadlines or complete multiple runs may also have an increased risk of speeding and other aggressive driving behaviors.
3. Poor weather conditions can increase the risk of truck accidents.
Fort Lauderdale sees an estimated 63 inches of rain per year, despite having more sunny days than the average US city. When the city does see rainfall, it could mean heavy rain, poor visibility, and slick roads. That heavy rain can make it very difficult for truck drivers to continue to monitor conditions around them.
During heavy rainfall, however, many Fort Lauderdale truck drivers may not have the ability to pull off the road and wait for the rain to pass, or might feel pressured to continue driving during dangerous conditions. While big trucks have enough weight to help reduce the odds of hydroplaning, truck drivers may still have a hard time with slick roads, especially immediately after rainfall begins, when oil may still sit at the top of the water and lead to slick conditions.
4. Truck drivers who lose focus on the road due to distraction can pose a potent risk to everyone around them.
Truck drivers can spend hours behind the wheel every day. Federal regulations state that truck drivers must take a break after eight hours behind the wheel, and that they can drive for a maximum of eleven hours out of a fourteen-hour shift. While those mandates do help prevent truck drivers from spending excessive hours behind the wheel without a break, federal regulations still allow for considerably longer hours than most people will ever spend behind the wheel.
During those long hours, many truck drivers will engage in a range of behaviors that could interfere with their ability to keep their attention on the road. Some truck drivers may choose to eat or drink behind the wheel in an effort to make up as much time as possible. Messy food, however, poses a particular hazard: it can fall into the driver’s lap or around him in the truck, which could draw his attention away from the wheel at a crucial moment.
Even normally neat foods can interfere with overall visibility or make it hard for the driver to focus on road conditions, raising the risk of a truck accident. Other truck drivers may engage in more dangerous behaviors, including texting and driving or trying to program a GPS device while behind the wheel.
Distracted drivers take either their hands, their eyes, or their focus—or, in many cases, some combination of the three—away from the task of driving. Most drivers do not deliberately perform actions that could pose a danger to others around them. However, during those moments of distraction, a big truck can travel a substantial distance, all without someone actively paying attention to what it does and how it needs to maneuver.
Big trucks naturally take up more room on the road and need more room to maneuver, which means that even a short distraction can cause the truck to ease out of its lane or prevent a truck driver from stopping in time.
5. Big trucks have large blind spots, and many drivers fail to realize just how difficult it can prove to see things around the vehicle.
Most passenger vehicles have a blind spot: an area where the driver may struggle to see what takes place directly next to the car. Frequently, cars have blind spots directly at the rear (which rear cameras aim to help with while the driver backs up) or along the passenger side of the vehicle. The larger the vehicle, the greater the odds of large blind spots that could interfere with the driver’s ability to safely navigate on the road. Blind spots can prove particularly large if the driver relies on mirrors alone, rather than turning in his seat to get a look at what happens around him.
For big truck drivers, those blind spots increase substantially. Most big trucks have blind spots on all four sides of the vehicle: the driver’s side, the passenger’s side, and the front and rear. In those spaces, the truck driver may have little idea what goes on.
Unfortunately, many drivers fail to realize the full size of those blind spots and just how dangerous they can prove. Drivers often pull into trucks’ blind spots without thinking twice or looking to see if the truck driver has signaled intent to change lanes or turn. Many drivers will often float in a truck’s blind spot, neither pulling forward nor allowing their speed to drop so that they can move away from the truck.
Consequently, the truck driver may not recognize their presence, which can cause the truck driver to move into that space. While modern trucks often have cameras that can increase visibility, not all trucks come equipped with those features, and cameras may not provide a full look at everything that takes place down the blind spot of the vehicle.
6. Many drivers do not pay adequate attention to a big truck’s stopping time.
Big trucks take a long time to maneuver on the roads. They require much longer to come to a full stop than the average passenger vehicle, especially at a high rate of speed. Going downhill can also put more strain on the big truck’s brakes, which may make it take even longer to come to a full stop.
Unfortunately, some drivers ignore the large space that most truck drivers leave between their trucks and the next vehicle. They will pull into that space, assuming that it offers adequate room for them, without realizing that the truck driver needs that room to stop safely. As a result, serious collisions can occur.
7. Truck drivers may struggle to stay awake behind the wheel, especially late at night.
Truck drivers often spend long hours on the road. Depending on when their shifts begin, truck drivers may find that they have to continue driving long after it gets dark. As the body’s natural lowest point approaches, many people struggle more with staying awake. Truck drivers, however, may not feel as though they have the luxury of stopping as they get tired. They may continue driving, particularly if they have moved closer to their destinations and feel that they can finish the run before they run out of time on their shifts.
Drowsiness can pose a potent problem. Florida’s large, flat layout means few features in the road that can command a truck driver’s attention. That monotony can quickly lead to drowsiness. In a worst-case scenario, drivers might even fall asleep behind the wheel entirely, leaving no one in command of a truck that weighs up to 80,000 pounds.
Drowsy drivers can display many of the same behaviors as inebriated drivers. A drowsy driver may suffer from tunnel vision, have a hard time paying attention to what happens around him, or struggle to keep his eyes open.
Some drivers may doze off for just a few seconds before snapping awake again, a phenomena called microsleep. Drowsy drivers may also have slowed reaction times, which can prove deadly if an error or hazards occur on the road.
8. Driver inebriation can pose a potent problem.
Most truck drivers know not to get behind the wheel while inebriated. In fact, truck drivers face stricter regulations with regards to drinking and driving than passenger vehicle drivers. Nevertheless, some drivers get behind the wheel while inebriated. Truck drivers have a high rate of alcohol abuse. They often spend most of their weeks away from friends and family, and many people rely on alcohol to cope with the loneliness.
That high rate of alcohol consumption can increase the risk that eventually, the driver will get behind the wheel while inebriated. An inebriated driver may have poor decision-making ability, slowed reflexes, and suffer from tunnel vision. Drunk drivers also tend to behave erratically, which can make it more difficult for other drivers to avoid them.
If you suffer injuries in a Fort Lauderdale truck accident due to the negligence of the truck driver, his company, or another entity, you may have the right to compensation for your injuries. Contact a truck accident attorney as soon as possible to learn more.