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Types of 18-Wheeler Accidents

Several types of 18-wheeler accidents fall under the categories of human error or mechanical failure. Commercial vehicles are often massive, requiring special training and certification to safely operate. When a large 18-wheeler is involved in a traffic collision, it becomes a significant hazard on the road.

The disproportionate size and weight of a commercial vehicle as compared to a passenger vehicle leads to substantial damage and physical trauma when they collide. The occupants of passenger vehicles often suffer life-threatening crush injuries, limb loss, and brain damage. Understanding the various types of 18-wheeler accidents is important to assessing the critical evidence needed to support an accident claim.

Types of 18-Wheeler Accidents That Are the Result of Human Error

Human error is the primary reason 18-wheeler accidents occur. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) lists the following large truck driver-related factors that contributed to more than 35% of the 5,633 fatal large truck accidents in the most recent reporting year:

  1. Speeding
  2. Distraction
  3. Carelessness
  4. Failure to Yield
  5. Impairment (fatigue, intoxication, illness)
  6. Obscured vision
  7. Improper lane use
  8. Failure to obey the law
  9. Following improperly

Distracted Driver Accidents

Driver distraction and inattentiveness is the second most common driving error made by truck drivers in fatal accidents across the nation. Distracted driving is usually defined by external factors, including phones or GPS devices. Inattentive driving is defined by a lack of mental engagement, such as when one is daydreaming. Distracted / inattentive driving was the second leading contributing factor to all vehicle crashes in Texas in the most recent year of data collected.

A truck driver who becomes distracted or lets their mind wander may miss critical traffic cues and not be able to slow down or negotiate the road. Distraction may cause a truck to drift out of the lane of travel, creating a hazard for vehicles in adjoining lanes. A driver may try to maneuver the truck back into their lane by overcompensating, and turning too quickly, losing control of their vehicle.

Drowsy Driver Accidents

According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), driver fatigue is a contributing factor in about 13% of all commercial motor vehicle crashes. Federal hours-of-service regulations were enacted to ensure truck drivers carrying property or passengers would get adequate rest to reduce the potential for drowsiness on the road.

There are certain times when drowsy drivers are more likely to be on the road. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that peak hours for fatigue-related driving crashes occur during the following time windows:

  • Between midnight and 2 a.m.
  • Between 4 a.m. and 6 a.m.
  • Between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m.

Jackknife Accidents

An 18-wheeler can jackknife when either the tractor or the trailer loses traction. Typically, this occurs when road conditions are slick. Load size (weight), speed, road conditions, and driver experience may all contribute to jackknife accidents.

An 18-wheeler is more likely to jackknife when a driver brakes on wet roads with an empty trailer. The back brakes lock up, sending the trailer sliding to one side but leaving the front tractor, or cab, to slide straight.

Another cause of jackknifing accidents is a heavy load that is not properly aligned with the trailer. When a driver tries to brake, the rear wheels of the tractor lose traction and begin pushing sideways. The extreme weight of the cargo can cause the tractor to slam into the side of the cab.

18-wheeler trucks can weigh up to 80,000 pounds when fully loaded. The sheer size and weight of commercial vehicles present an enormous hazard to the surrounding cars during a collision. When a large truck jackknifes, it can plow through multiple lanes of traffic, tossing smaller vehicles to the side or crushing them under the carriage.

Rear-End Accidents

Being much heavier than passenger vehicles, 18-wheelers need more distance to safely come to a stop. A semi-truck traveling at 65 mph on good roads needs approximately 525 feet to come to a complete stop, or about 40% more distance than a passenger car.

A safe following distance for 18-wheelers is about 7 to 8 seconds. When trucks do not maintain safe following distances, they are less likely to be able to safely stop and rear-end accidents can occur.

Sideswipe and Underride Accidents

Sideswipe accidents can occur when a truck driver is distracted or inattentive, and the truck drifts out of the lane of travel into an adjoining lane. Sideswipe accidents may also occur when a truck is moving from one lane to another but fails to see the other motorist.

Semi-trucks have large blind spots on both sides. A motorist driving alongside a truck is at risk for a sideswipe accident if the truck driver cannot see him when changing lanes.

When the side of an 18-wheeler comes into contact with a smaller vehicle, it creates the possibility of an underride accident. An underride accident occurs when the smaller vehicle slides underneath the truck trailer. The side of the trailer may impact the other vehicle at hood or windshield height with very serious consequences to the occupants.

18-Wheeler Accidents Caused By Mechanical Failure

The statistics show that most 18-wheeler accidents are the result of something the driver did or did not do. However, FMSCA notes two types of vehicle-related factors that contribute to a significant number of accidents in their Large Truck and Bus Crash Facts report. Trucks are hard on both tires and brakes, and when either fails on the roadway, accidents can result.

Blowout Accidents

Tire blowout is the number one mechanical failure contributing to large truck crashes. Truck tires see a lot of road miles and have a limited lifespan. As tires become more worn, they are more susceptible to structural breakdown. Improper inflation or carrying too heavy a load can also cause truck tires to degrade more rapidly.

A tire blowout is an unexpected event, and a driver may have trouble controlling a truck and getting it safely off the roadway without creating a hazard for other motorists. Debris in the roadway can pose an additional threat to safety as oncoming vehicles attempt to avoid hitting it.

Brake Failure Accidents

Reliable braking is crucial for 18-wheelers. Yet, the inability of a truck’s brakes to function properly is the second most significant mechanical failure contributing to semi-truck crashes. Brake failures may be due to defective braking systems, but they are more likely to result from inadequate maintenance or a load that is too heavy or improperly balanced.

If a truck’s brakes fail on a hill, a crash may be the only thing that will stop the truck. Runaway truck ramps exist to help drivers without brakes get off the road and safely stop.

Injured In An 18-wheeler Accident in Texas? Contact Farah Law.

Texas is the commercial trucking epicenter of the United States. With more large trucks on its roads, the risk of getting into an accident with an 18-wheeler is also greatest in the Lone Star State.

Headquartered in Houston with offices in cities around the state, Farah Law personal injury attorneys have more than 50 years of combined experience advocating for the rights of their clients. Schedule a free consultation today to discuss the unique details of your case. Our 18-wheeler accident lawyers are here for you.