Thousands of tractor-trailers and other large commercial freight vehicles fill American roadways every day. Commercial trucks account for over 13 percent of the nation’s registered vehicles and transport around 71 percent of our freight (measured by weight). The benefits of the trucking industry are undeniable. In 2017, over $40 billion were paid by commercial trucks in federal and state highway-user taxes. Unfortunately, there are also notable drawbacks in an environment where large trucks prove so ubiquitous. Tractor-trailers and similar vehicles can cause tremendous damage to people and property alike. In Virginia, over 5,000 commercial vehicle accidents injured more than 1,000 Virginians in one recent year. Accidents with large trucks—regardless of which type—involve some marked differences from accidents with standard passenger vehicles. Commercial truck collisions involve larger insurance policies, increased property damage, and more serious injuries.
What Is a Tractor-Trailer?Tractor-trailers are tractor and semitrailer combinations. The American Trucking Association defines the components as follows:
- A tractor is “a truck designed primarily to pull a semitrailer by means of a fifth wheel mounted over the rear axle.”
- A semitrailer is designed as “a truck trailer support at the rear by its own wheels and at the front by a fifth wheel mounted to a tractor or dolly.”
Common Causes of Tractor-Trailer AccidentsMany accidents that involve large trucks can be traced back to the same handful of causes. Unfortunately, the nature of the trucking industry presents ample opportunities for mistakes. Trucking companies that send drivers out in improperly maintained trucks or push drivers past their physical limits are particularly problematic. Some of the most notable and common causes of tractor-trailer accidents include:
- Poor truck maintenance | Many trucking companies operate fleets with hundreds or thousands of vehicles. Sometimes, even though it should never happen, a truck may be overlooked. Other companies may opt to try to evade maintenance requirements or cut corners during the process. Nevertheless, most tractor-trailers are driven thousands of miles per week, which necessitates frequent and rigorous maintenance. When proper maintenance fails to occur, the risk of an accident increases for everyone on the roadways.
- Driver error | Tractor-trailer drivers are susceptible to making the same mistakes as drivers operating passenger vehicles. A distracted or aggressive driver, for instance, poses risk regardless of the vehicle they are operating. Many tractor-trailer operators are also pushed to work beyond legal operating limits. With inadequate sleep, they may become drowsy increasing the risk of an accident.
- Improperly loaded cargo | Improperly loaded cargo can cause instability that decreases a truck driver’s ability to safely handle the vehicle. Tractor-trailers are often loaded with tens of thousands of pounds’ worth of cargo. Cargo must be loaded carefully and secured properly each time the trailer is loaded. Improper loading can cause the truck’s contents to spill onto the road. Some trucks may even lose balance and tip over due to improper loading.