Several characteristics of a truck differentiate its accidents from those involving mere passenger cars. Most obvious are the massive size and weight of an 18-wheeler, carrying with them colossal amounts of potential destructive energy when compared to cars. When a car bumps an object at speeds less than one mile per hour, damage is usually minimal or non-existent. However, when a truck does the same, it crushes whatever it touches, imparting up to 25 times the motion energy of a car upon impact. The lumbering characteristics of the vehicle’s handling, cornering, starting and stopping capabilities simply make it more accident prone, and, in counter-intuitive fashion, the size of the truck makes it, under certain circumstances, more difficult to identify by sight.
Blending in With the Horizon; Drive-under Crash
The most common length of a trailer is 53 feet, which is also the maximum allowed by law. When a truck pulls out onto a highway to make a left turn, the trailer is momentarily perpendicular to the road. This pattern of maneuvering, coupled with the slow acceleration of a loaded truck, can make the truck difficult to identify through sight. Under conditions of low light, fog, or other factors inhibiting the vision of a motorist, the trailer can be perceived as either a bridge in the distance or the horizon, itself. Both of these misconceptions obscure the proximity of the truck, and at high speeds, a motorist might not be able to stop in time, crashing into the trailer.
Although difficult to comprehend by a reasonably prudent driver, this accident pattern is not uncommon. A motorist paying less than full attention to the road ahead contributes to this crash pattern because the brain classifies sights into preconceived patterns. This type of accident is a recurring pattern and can result in devastating damage with everything on the striking vehicle four feet or higher from the ground—metal, glass, and flesh—being skimmed off and separated from the lower portions. While the rear of a trailer has a federally-mandated crash bar to prevent a drive-under crash at the rear of a trailer, the sides of the trailer have no such devices and allow a car to crash underneath.
Since trucks are extremely slow to accelerate, the time during which a trailer blocks a roadway in perpendicular fashion pursuant to a left-hand turn is significant, and can last several seconds. Truck drivers cause this type of accident when they assume motorists approaching from either side will see the trailer, identify it, and react accordingly. Though most truck drivers practice safe driving, impatience fueled by the desire to maximize earnings can lead some to pull out onto a roadway without sufficient time and distance to clear the path for approaching cars.
Another variant of this type of crash involves a motorist who fails to identify the delay involved in a truck’s ability to reach an appropriate speed on the given roadway. The motorist crashes into the back of the trailer since the truck might not flow with the pace of traffic for as many as 30 seconds upon entering the road.
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Blind Spot Collisions
Considering the prevalence of this type of accident, many trucks display signs on the rear of the trailer warning that “If you cannot see my mirrors, I cannot see you.” Because of the extreme height of a tractor cockpit, drivers of trucks might not be able to see cars driving in adjacent lanes to the right and immediately on the side of the tractor or within approximately 15 feet to the rear of the driver’s seat. Depending on the truck itself and the adjustment of the mirrors, cars in this area can fall in the blind spot in which they are difficult to be seen by the operator of a commercial vehicle. When a truck operator changes lanes to the right, unseen cars in this area can be swiped by the tractor. If immediately next to a wall or road barrier, these vehicles can become crushed. If space exists to the right of them, they can be sent careening out of control and become hazards to yet other vehicles in the area. With an action similar to that known as a “pit maneuver’ executed by police, cars in the blind spot can be spun out of control and slide from the right side of the truck to the left side.
Though somewhat rare, drivers of commercial vehicles, just as those in passenger cars, are sometimes found to be impaired by drugs or alcohol. The legal limit for the blood alcohol content of a truck driver is 0.04, which is half that for common drivers of passenger cars. In many states, a driver will be placed out of service as a result of testing positive for any detectable amount of alcohol. In addition, operators of commercial motor vehicles are not allowed to carry any medications, whatsoever, unless accompanied by a doctor’s note stipulating that the medicine of a type that will not cause impairment.
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Based on obvious need, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has carefully crafted volumes of laws aimed at mitigating the risk posed by commercial motor vehicles. While the vast majority of truck drivers are law abiding citizens who behave with safety in mind, some inevitably will violate these laws in order to maximize earnings by increasing drive times or load weights. Likewise, these laws are effective, but only when they are observed by the people operating trucks. Violations of trucking laws create risk for any vehicle on the roadway as well as pedestrians near it. Failure to comply with these regulations will not appear in a standard police report, but will require the skill of an experienced truck accident attorney to be brought to light. If you or a loved one has suffered bodily injury or property damage resulting from a truck accident, call the experienced auto accident attorney in Kennessaw at the Law Offices of Roger Ghai, P.C. for a confidential consultation.
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