Throughout the country, collisions involving commercial trucks resulted in more than 4,100 people losing their lives in one recent year. According to the Virginia Highway Safety Office, 5,025 crashes involved commercial motor vehicles (CMVs) in one recent year. Commercial truck collisions in Virginia account for 3.8 percent of all CMV-collisions nationwide. Of the collisions in Virginia, 101 accidents caused fatalities and 2,036 caused injuries. Because they are among the largest vehicles on the roadways, collisions involving CMVs pose a significant risk to occupants of smaller vehicles. While cars typically weigh around 2,000 to 4,000 pounds, semi-trucks can weigh up to 80,000 pounds. The sheer size of a tractor-trailer can result in accidents that spread over multiple lanes. Large commercial vehicles sit high above the roadway, creating the potential for smaller cars, motorcycles, and bicycles to become trapped underneath them. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), 68 percent of people killed in commercial truck accidents are occupants of passenger vehicles. Motorcyclists, bicyclists, and pedestrians account for 14 percent of commercial truck accident fatalities. If you are in a truck accident, the resulting injuries can be devastating. Frequently, individuals suffer catastrophic injuries that irrevocably impact their lives. For example, spinal cord injuries and brain injuries may permanently diminish cognitive and physical functioning. Victims suffering from catastrophic injuries may never be able to return to their former occupations. In addition, they may require extensive medical care for the rest of their lives.
The Danger of a RolloverDue to the size, length, and height of trucks, they pose an obvious danger to others on the road. In addition, trucks are prone to certain types of accidents that are more devastating than typical collisions. Trucks have a high probability of a rollover, which can cause considerable damage. As the name implies, rollovers happen when the truck rolls over, either completely or partially. A rollover poses risks to everyone involved, including the truck’s driver. The accidents often spread across lanes, causing multiple accidents. When a tractor-trailer is blocking multiple lanes, the resulting traffic jam can trigger additional accidents as vehicles try to avoid stalled vehicles. Rollovers frequently cause trucks to spill cargo. The cargo and debris become obstacles on the roadways that may cause additional accidents and injuries. Commercial trucks carrying flammable or hazardous materials pose an even greater danger in the case of a rollover. Spilling flammable cargo may lead to the truck catching fire or the roadway igniting. Those nearby at the time of a rollover may suffer burns or asphyxiation.
How Frequent Are Rollovers?State authorities have not quantified the number of truck accidents that involve rollovers. However, national studies indicate that roughly 9 percent of large truck accidents involve rollovers. As the height of a vehicle increases, so does the vehicle’s center of gravity. The higher the center of gravity, the greater the possibility of a rollover. Tractor-trailers have the highest center of gravity of all vehicles on the road. Forty-eight percent of truck driver fatalities stem from rollovers, compared to only 22 percent of car occupant fatalities. Other causes of truck accidents account for only 17 percent of truck driver fatalities.
Causes of Rollovers
SpeedSpeed is the most frequent cause of truck rollovers, causing 45 percent of all rollovers. However, studies show that frequently, excessive speed is not the sole factor contributing to rollover. In the majority of cases, commercial trucks were traveling at speeds too fast for the conditions encountered. Accidents most commonly occur when truck drivers take sharp curves too quickly, on highway exit or entrance ramps, for example. Another common cause of rollover is speeding coupled with instability due to improper adjustment for the weight of a truck’s load. Depending on the size of the load, a truck’s maximum safe speed may decrease and the distance required to safely stop may grow significantly. The third most common contributor to speeding resulting in a rollover is the driver’s failure to accommodate handling for “known bad brakes.”
Lack of AttentionLack of attention is also a major factor contributing to truck rollovers. Accidents are frequently caused by inattentive driving. Countless distractions may result in a driver’s lack of attention. However, over 33 percent of rollovers caused by lack of attention stem from driver drowsiness or fatigue, including falling asleep at the wheel. Drowsy driving can be an issue for all vehicle drivers across the country. However, truck drivers have an increased occupational risk for fatigue and tiredness. The U.S. government requires drivers to limit driving to 11 hours before a break after 10 consecutive hours off. Even so, 11 hours of driving on the road can cause driver fatigue. Regulations also prohibit drivers from ever driving over 14 hours straight. Some companies schedule shifts that make it impossible for drivers to adjust to driving at night or sleeping during the day. Truck drivers need adequate sleep when they are not driving. The limits do not guarantee that drivers are not overly sleepy or fatigued behind the wheel.
Losing ControlThe third most frequent cause of rollovers is losing control or partial control during driving. Loss of control can result from overcorrection, steering problems, following other vehicles too close, downshifting, braking, and other issues.
Who Is Responsible for a Truck Rollover?The common causes of truck rollovers may lead you to believe that the driver is clearly responsible for a rollover. After all, if a driver is speeding and caused the accident, it seems they should be held accountable. Truck drivers can definitely cause rollovers. However, even a speeding driver may not be the only responsible party. In identifying the responsible parties, you must consider whether a manufacturer’s defect caused the accident or whether the truck’s cargo was improperly loaded. The brake manufacturer or the company responsible for inspecting, maintaining, and repairing the brakes could be to blame. Many trucking companies hire third parties to load and balance the cargo. If the load exceeds the maximum weight limit or the cargo was not secured properly, they could be responsible for the accident. Due to the number of potentially responsible parties, truck accidents usually require an investigation to determine who or what caused the accident. The parties below owe a duty of care to all drivers to ensure vehicles are properly maintained for safe operation. A breach of the duty of care may be considered negligence. Liability for deaths or injuries caused by the accident may be assigned to any party who acted negligently. Potentially responsible parties may include:
- Truck owners,
- Trucking companies,
- Shipping or loading companies,
- Maintenance or repair companies, and
- Manufacturers of equipment and parts.