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Joe Crumley
Joe Crumley
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Big Trucks Kill! – The Dangers of 18-Wheelers

12 comments

Sharing the road with big rig 18-wheelers is dangerous. These large and powerful trucks often weigh 25 times more than the average passenger car. So, it goes without saying, that when these multi-ton behemoths are involved in crashes, the amount of damage and resulting injuries tend to be catastrophic. Passenger-car drivers face many risks when they share the road with the big dogs.

Here are images from professional towing companies…. Some with cars and some just trucks… but look carefully, there’s not much left of many of the cars: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=maWm4LC5q5c

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4NeH3N9GoVk

Many semi-truck wrecks occur because the driver is tired, inattentive or distracted. Sometimes they are under the influence of alcohol, prescription/non-prescription drugs or are driving aggressively, too fast, or too close to other vehicles. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration undertook a three year study to analyze the causes of large truck accidents. That research found:

For all crashes in the study (single and multiple vehicle crashes), trucks were assigned the critical reason in 55 percent of the cases. Driver reasons accounted for 87 percent of the reasons, and most involved failure to correctly recognize the situation or poor driving decisions. Thirteen percent of the coded reasons involved the truck, weather conditions, or roadway problems. The most common associated factors recorded were driver factors, such as legal drug use, traveling too fast for conditions, unfamiliarity with the roadway, inadequate surveillance, fatigue, and feeling under pressure from motor carriers. The most common vehicle associated factor was brake problems. Traffic flow interruption and requirements that the driver stop before the crash were prevalent roadway factors.

For two-vehicle crashes involving a truck and a passenger vehicle, trucks were assigned the critical reason in 44 percent of the crashes and passenger vehicles in 56 percent.

Truckie D, a trucker who contributes many excellent articles here on InjuryBoard, points out most crashes are caused by cars drivers, not truckers. The 56/44 breakdown in the FMCSA study seems to support that. But semis are driven by professional drivers, usually for commercial gain. Professionals driving dangerous behemoths must be held to a higher standard than us amateurs.

It is only fair to acknowledge that these drivers are under considerable time constraints and are often trying to meet critical deadlines. New federal regulations set forth time limits for how long truck drivers can be on the road. Some truckers, perhaps most, ignore these limits, using double logs or other tricks to gain the system.

Truckie also points out that states are closing rest stops, making it tough for truckers to find a place to rest. Many places do not allow truckers to park their 18-wheeler in their parking lot; and sometimes those places that do provide trucker accommodations are full.

But a trucker is a professional driver. Just as a professional driver should plan ahead to not run out of gas, a professional driver should plan ahead to have a place to stop to maintain compliance with the law. The alternative is to risk the lives of innocent drivers and passengers on the road. As I mentioned in a comment on his article:

… I can tell you that there are two main extreme types of truckers.

One is the very professional driver who understands that he’s driving a Goliath among us Lilliputians (to mix references), and acts accordingly. I suspect that most of these guys recieved excellent training by an excellent teacher at a real driving school, have never taken a drink within 12 hours of a shift, always check lights, always do a complete inspection of their truck and trailer multiple times daily, never keep double DOT logs, never drive sleepy, and have endless patience with all the goofy things auto drivers do around them.

Sadly, there are too many clowns out there who were taught by their Grandpa or their boss, who think they’re the best driver in the world, and thus can do anything, who hammer the accelerator and the brakes endlessly, who leave inspections for the guys back in the garage, or whoever had the truck before or after them. They cheat on their driving time and their logbooks, cuz laws and rules are for sissies, they party all night and get up early to drive still half-drunk or half-asleep, and they drive the same speed in a night snowstorm as a dry sunny day. Often they work doing short runs around town and not over the road. And if some idiot in a minivan or a subcompact dares pass them on the right, cuts them off a little, or drives under 80 in the fast lane, these clowns think it’s a good a idea to throw "a little fear o’ God in them" by putting the front bumper of his 80,000 pound behemoth inches behind their rear bumper.

It’s rare, but I’ve seen it too many times.

There are many degrees of skill between these extemes. And sadly, most of the killed and maimed who come to me have encountered someone closer to the second driver than the first.

Passenger-vehicle drivers are unable to ignore the presence of 18-wheelers on the road. Big rig 18-wheelers can and do bully the road. They dominate it, by noise, by weight, and mostly by size. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, in 2006 one out of nine traffic fatalities resulted from a collision involving a large truck.

Horrific crash resulting in seven deaths.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pw3odVTVNfA

Here’s an empty squad car hit by a FedEx tandem truck while clearing another crash. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JpwtsCds17U&feature=PlayList&p=FC4DBB03BF4BE17C&index=14

While it’s impossible to completely eliminate the dangers of driving with 18-wheelers, there are several ways to reduce your risk. Consider the following tips:

  • 18-wheeler Trucks Have Their Own Limitation Big trucks cannot maneuver like passenger vehicles. Oftentimes, these trucks are carrying thousands of pounds of cargo and it is difficult for them to not only accelerate, but to stop. For this reason, it’s important to avoid cutting too closely in front of trucks and avoid sudden braking.
  • Keep Your Distance Big trucks are hard to see around. Make sure you keep your distance when traveling behind a large truck. Following too closely prevents you from seeing potential hazards, such as pot holes and road debris. Also, if the truck doors shift loose then cargo may spill out. In addition to watching brake lights, you must keep a proper distance between your vehicle and the truck in front you.
  • Avoid the Shoulder of a Road If you experience car trouble or get a flat tire, try your best to get off the road. The shoulder (where most pull off to after they encounter problems) is one of the most dangerous places. Most large trucks travel in the right lane. Parking your vehicle and/or attempting repairs in the shoulder puts you at extreme risk. Shoulders are even more dangerous when roads are wet or slippery. When your only choice is to pull off onto the shoulder, move away from your vehicle and the road; then contact a tow truck to pull your car to a safe location.

    Here’s a guy who doesn’t pull over far enough, but is it his fault, or the trucker who’s not paying any attention? Regardless of that, it will be the car driver and passengers most likely killed or maimed:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IiiBmT6lYyQ

18-wheelers are very important. They carry large amounts of cargo across our country, and are part of the lifeblood of our economy. Long ago, our legislators made the choice to keep them on the same highway system as passenger cars, for better or worse.

But these mammoth vehicles can create dangerous situations and cause disastrous results. Drive cautiously and remain aware of other travelers on the road. Be considerate of others, consider each vehicles’ limitations, and always watch out for the big rigs.

12 Comments

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  1. Tom says:
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    I agree that they must be held to a much higher standard. A professional truck driver nearly killed by brother in a car accident when he fell asleep.

  2. Joe Crumley says:
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    Tom:

    Too many people share your experience. Thanks for reading and commenting.

  3. Marla (from Facebook) says:
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    I think we should ban them. In Italy trucks a iddy bitty things. We should follow the Italians truck size.

  4. Joe Crumley says:
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    That’s an interesting idea, but probably one of those toothpaste-out-of-the-tube issues.

    It’s truly unfortunate, because rail and water transportation are inexpensive. A system that relied on railways to handle the major freight movement, with smaller trucks handling the local distribution, would almost certainly be safer, and might be reasonable economically.

    Thanks for reading and commenting.

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    Joe
    Excellent and very well written. Years ago I helped run a heavy haul trucking company with a high school classmate. It was very difficult to get the drivers to understand they had a higher duty as a professional. Yet we as ordinary drivers often ignore the big trucks. I drive a 42 foot motorcoach built on a big truck chassie. Its scary how drivers ignore you especially in heavy city traffic.

  6. Mike Bryant says:
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    Interesting that today I-94 northbound was shut down in two spots to one lane. A semi hauling telephone poles decided they didn’t need to get over and ran down the side. I would guess they were late. But, as you point out they are professional drivers. You and I have represented a lot of truck drivers, so we understand many of their issues, but like anything there is always some bad ones, but any mistake with them can be very big one.

  7. Joe Crumley says:
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    George:

    Thanks for your kind words and also your unique point of view. As a former taxi driver, I find myself drawing on my professional driving experience in my practice, and your work must be similarly helpful. Thanks for reading and commenting

  8. Joe Crumley says:
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    “…any mistake with them can be very big one.” Mike, it couldn’t be said any more concisely.

  9. Renata (thru Facebook) says:
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    Thanks for this interesting article, Joe. I’m passing this along to our daughters who spend quite a bit of time driving I-94 coming home from college. It’s great information for any of us.

  10. Joe Crumley says:
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    Thanks, Renata.

    I worry the most about kids. They have so much faith in their own capacity; they think nothing can hurt them. But way too often, it’s parents of teenagers calling me after a tragic crash.

    Let’s hope passing articles along can bring home some reality and save some lives!

    Thanks so much for reading and commenting.

  11. Facebook User says:
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    I’m a paramedic and most often when these big rigs wreck with a car, motorcycle or SUV, the truck driver is fine and we declare the other drivers dead. Very tragic. Also, ambulances are big trucks and even with lights and sirens, so many people don’t see us or blatently ignore us. I see so many of them driving by us on cell phones with near-misses. They do not understand that we cannot stop on a dime and neither can those big trucks. We really need to population to be better educated.

  12. Joe Crumley says:
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    Gabriella:

    You made two excellent points in your comment. In collisions, size DOES matter.

    Second, almost nothing makes me angrier than people who ignore sirens and lights. This was always true, but became personal when I experienced a start and stop emergency ride strapped onto a gurney in the back of an ambulance, not sure if I was going to survive, with idiots driving all around us. I can’t believe I never wrote about that. You’ve inspired me to blog!

    Thanks for reading and commenting!