Why Are Truck Crashes More Severe Than Other Accidents?
The reason truck accidents are so much worse than passenger vehicle collisions comes down to physics. Tractor trailers can weigh up to 80,000 pounds, while most passenger vehicles weight below 4,000 pounds. The difference in weight means a truck will collide with far more force than even the heaviest passenger vehicle can withstand. That’s why 97 percent of deaths in fatal truck crashes are passenger vehicle occupants.1
Lack of Visibility & Immediate Stopping Power
It is also more difficult for a truck to see the road and other cars than it is for a standard passenger car, making poor visibility a leading cause of trucking accidents. For example, 18-wheelers have extremely large blind spots, which can prevent the driver from seeing if another vehicle is present. Entire vehicles can fit inside a truck’s blind spot, putting them at risk when the truck makes a lane change or a turn.
Cars are often crushed or forced off the road after a truck fails to see them, whereas if a car failed to see another passenger car, the damage would be far less significant.
Another contributing factor to severe truck accidents is the truck's stopping power. Drivers are unable to respond to sudden accidents, even if they see them in time. Due to a truck’s size and weight, stopping requires 20 to 40% more distance. As a result, collisions with trucks often means the truck is traveling at a far greater speed than a vehicle would be. Higher speed and higher weight means catastrophic levels of injury.
Rollover Accidents & Jackknifing
Unfortunately, trucks are also more prone to rollover accidents than standard passenger cars. Tractor trailers all have a higher center of gravity. In emergency maneuvers (like swerving at high speeds to avoid an obstacle), trucks are far more likely to roll over—crushing passenger vehicles.
Tractor trailers also have a unique feature that leads to unique accidents. Because most of their weight is being pulled rather than steered, trucks can lose control of their cargo under the right circumstances. This is commonly known as jackknifing, where the truck’s trailer travels in a different direction from the truck itself.
Trucks are especially vulnerable to jackknifing on slippery or icy roads. Drivers have to compensate by driving slower on wet roads. What will often happen is a truck driver may attempt to swerve his truck out of the way of an obstacle or another vehicle, causing the trailer to skid. The sudden swerve will take the truck on a different course while the trailer has too much momentum and continues on the same path. This causes the trailer to pull the truck, potentially trapping passenger vehicles between the truck and the trailer or causing a major pile-up within seconds.
Regardless of the circumstances of the accident, truck drivers are liable for the damage their equipment, their driving, or their state-of-mind causes. Trucking companies can also be held liable for their drivers’ accidents, as they are responsible for hiring skilled drivers and meeting federal safety regulations. When they fail to meet these regulations, regular people pay the price with their their well-being—even their lives.