The maximum legal weight for an 18-wheeler truck without oversize or overweight permits is 80,000 lbs. or 40 tons. In comparison the average SUV weighs around 4,000 lbs. and the average sedan weighs 3,00 lbs. Large, 18-wheeler trucks take an average of 40% longer to stop than passenger cars. The sheer weight of semi-trucks causes accidents involving them to be more dangerous to other drivers, passengers, motorcyclists, bicyclists and pedestrians. Large trucks can overturn, skid, jack-knife (where the trailer slides out from behind the cab); they have longer stopping distances and greater turning radii.
NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) compiles accident reporting data covering the United States and each state. According to NHTSA:
44,171 accidents involved large trucks in the United States in 2007
4,633 large trucks were involved in fatal accidents in 2007
4,229 people were killed in large truck involved accidents in 2008
3,139 of those killed in 2008 were occupants or drivers of vehicles other than the involved large trucks
413 of those killed in 2008 in large truck accidents were not in vehicles (pedestrians, bicyclists, etc.)
84% of all fatalities from large truck accidents in 2008 in the United States were not in large trucks
76,000 large trucks were involved in accidents causing injury in 2007 in the United States
90,000 people were injured in large truck accidents in the United States in 2008
67,000 of those people were not in the large trucks involved in the accidents
Trucking is a vital component to the economy. Trucking is involved in almost every part of production and the vast majority of products and commodities are shipped by truck throughout the United States. Because of trucking’s importance to the national economy, the industry is regulated by the federal government. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration regulates commercial trucking companies and trucks. These rules and regulations are created in order to make the highways safer.
The FMCSA was established in 2000 to reduce crashes, injuries and fatalities associated with large trucks and buses. The FMCSA regulates the manner in which commercial trucks can be loaded, driven and maintained.
The main cause of trucking accidents in 2006 was driver fatigue according to a FMCSA causation study. There are rules for the hours truck drivers are allowed to operate their vehicles following specific off duty periods. However, trucking companies are in business for the bottom line and sometimes the safety of the drivers and the general public is valued below profit lines and drivers are asked to meet unrealistic deadlines. Many truck accidents have also been caused by distracted drivers, overloading, improper loading, oversized trucks, reckless driving, aggressive driving, negligent maintenance, defective equipment, speeding, driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, following too closely and failure to yield. Large truck operators are often under delivery schedules and so the temptation to speed can be great. Of all fatal accidents involving large truck operators, about one-third of operators had previously received at least one speeding ticket. Trucking accidents are also susceptible to hit-and-runs and underinsured or uninsured drivers.
Trucking companies are well aware of how severe truck accidents can be and the question of who is ultimately at fault (or is responsible for what percentage of fault) can have consequences involving large sums of money. They may hire attorneys, investigators and risk management experts to travel to the scene of accidents no matter what the time.
The companies that own and operate semi-trucks have a duty to maintain and operate them responsibly and safely. These companies must keep proper care of the trucks, conduct background checks of all commercial drivers and the drivers must obey all traffic laws.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration requires only $750,000 in primary insurance coverage to operate a commercial truck. However, these large, heavy trucks can cause damages well beyond that requirement. Therefore, cases may end up involving a suit against the trucking company under the theory of “respondeat superior”. Respondeat superior is the theory that an employer should be held liable for the actions of an employee while he or she is under the control of the employer. Employers may also be held directly liable for the negligence of their employees if they have a policy or practice of negligently hiring drivers.
Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration – http://www.fmcsa.dot.gov/
United States Department of Transportation – http://www.dot.gov/
Oregon Motor Carrier Transportation – http://www.oregon.gov/ODOT/MCT/
Oregon Department of Transportation – http://www.oregon.gov/ODOT/
Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration Accident Countermeasures Manual – http://www.fmcsa.dot.gov/facts-research/research-technology/publications/accidenthm/accidentman.htm
Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration Company Safety Records – http://www.fmcsa.dot.gov/safety-security/sites/company-safety.htm