Big trucks on our highways create the potential for big truck accidents. Semi-trucks pulling long trailers are filling our nation’s roadway system as we head into the busy summer driving months.
Just the size and weight alone of these “big rigs” create the potential for severe injuries and death due to a truck accident. Many of these tractor-trailer trucks can span up to 80 feet and weigh up to 40 tons. That’s 80,000 pounds, the equivalent of about 15 adult African elephants! When you consider that the average passenger car weighs about 5,000 pounds, the potential for a truck accident if one of these big rigs hits you is obvious.
Safety issues are also complicated by the much longer distance it takes a semi to stop, especially when the road is wet or there’s snow and ice on the road, both of which increase stopping distances. Big trucks require much longer stopping distances than passenger vehicles, especially when loaded. On average, it takes a semi 40 percent longer to stop than a car.
Each year about 500,000 large truck accidents occur in the U.S. The sad reality is that truck crashes are increasing and often involve a fatality. About 86 percent of the time, the deaths in truck crashes were someone other than the truck driver.
There was a 20 percent increase in the number of large truck accident fatalities between 2009 and 2015 according to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. In 2015, 4,311 buses and large trucks were involved in fatal crashes. The number of bus or large truck crashes increased 62 percent from 2009 to 2015.*
It’s estimated that 87 percent of truck accidents were due to driver fatigue according to The U.S. Department of Transportation. The use of opioids by truck drivers is a growing menace to highway safety.
While many drivers are well trained and experienced, there are also many poorly-trained and inexperienced drivers out there as large trucking companies scramble to fill positions. All you have to do is drive on Interstate 82 or cross-state to Seattle or Spokane on Interstate 90 to see the safety hazards created by poorly trained truck drivers. I drive to Seattle a lot. I constantly come across truck drivers who are traveling 30 miles per hour in the passing lane as they attempt to pass another slow-moving truck going uphill on Manastash Ridge, often switching lanes in front of a faster moving vehicle causing traffic to slow suddenly.
Another serious safety hazard arises when truck drivers travel faster than the posted speed limit, sometimes much faster. The maximum speed for truckers is 10 miles per hour less than the posted speed for other vehicles. Unfortunately, many truckers attempt to make up for time lost climbing hills by speeding downhill.
The dangers of speeds too fast for conditions was clear in a case I handled involving a 20-vehicle chain reaction collision on I-82 east of Ellensburg, just east of the Ryegrass rest stop.
My client was a 26-year-old Hispanic farm worker from Yakima. He was a backseat passenger on his way to work at an orchard near Vantage about 6:30 a.m. in December. It was a typical cold winter day. As their car headed eastbound down the long hill from the Ryegrass rest stop to the Columbia River, it was foggy and the fog began to freeze.
Two semi trucks traveling ahead of our client were traveling too fast and lost control when they tried to stop. Our client’s driver switched lanes and tried to go around a semi blocking the right lane but another semi had lost control ahead of it and blocked that lane. The driver hit one of the trucks blocking the freeway, causing a huge truck accident.
Our client was injured when another truck approached from behind traveling too fast for conditions, couldn’t stop, and smashed into his van. Several other trucks piled into our client’s vehicle and the trucks blocking the road. Ultimately some 20 vehicles were involved in the pileup. Most of them were large trucks.
The crashes sent 11 people to the hospital. We represented the most seriously injured of these. He suffered multiple fractures in his neck leaving him a quadriplegic with no control of his arms, legs, bladder or bowel. He required a tracheotomy and respirator to breathe. He was hospitalized for 10 weeks in Yakima, where he underwent spinal surgery, and then spent another 12 weeks in rehabilitation at the University of Washington Medical Center.
Our client wasn’t able to return to work and required around-the-clock care. His past medical expenses totaled $812,000.
Abeyta Nelson Injury Law filed a lawsuit against five drivers, four of whom were truck drivers. All the drivers blamed someone else. Shortly before trial, four of the drivers settled, paying a total of $4.1 million. The settlement provided for our client’s lost wages and costs of care for the rest of his life. The settlement will allow him to live independently in his own home with dignity. This settlement was the largest in Kittitas County history.
You can’t be sure that you’ll never be involved in crash involving a big truck. But, as a driver, you should do everything possible to avoid it by traveling at a safe speed, reducing your speed for unusual road conditions, leaving plenty of following distance, staying out of the truck’s “blind spot” on its passenger side, and anticipate trucks making sudden lane changes to pass slower moving trucks ahead of them.
Abeyta Nelson attorneys have decades of experience handling truck accidents. If you or someone you love is involved in a collision with a truck, call Abeyta Nelson Injury Law. There’s no attorney fee unless we win your case.
-blog written by Terry P. Abeyta, Senior Attorney, Abeyta Nelson Injury Law