People instinctively avoid getting too close to large trucks, whether as pedestrians or other drivers on the road, and for good reason. Cement truck accidents, as well as other large truck collisions, are more common than you think. The latest statistics (2017) available from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) state that:
- 4,102 people died in crashes involving large trucks.
- 11 percent of all motor vehicle crash deaths involved large truck crashes.
- 17 percent of the people who died were truck occupants.
- 68 percent of the people who died were occupants of cars and other passenger vehicles.
- 14 percent of the fatalities were either pedestrians, bicyclists or motorcyclists.
- 97 percent of vehicle occupants who died in two-vehicle crashes that involved a passenger vehicle and a large truck were occupants of the passenger vehicles.
- 74 percent of large truck crash deaths involved tractor-trailers while 25 percent involved single-unit trucks; both a tractor-trailer and a single-unit truck figured in some crashes.
- 60 percent of deaths involving large truck occupants in multiple-vehicle collisions occurred in crashes involving another large truck.
- 12 percent of all passenger vehicle occupant fatalities in multiple-vehicle collisions resulted from large truck crashes.
- 22 percent of passenger vehicle occupant fatalities in multiple-vehicle crashes happened in collisions with large trucks.
Moreover, 2017 figures show that the number of people who died in accidents involving large truck crashes was 30 percent higher in 2017 compared to 2009–the year when large truck fatalities were at the lowest they have ever been since data collection on fatal crashes started in 1975.
The term “large trucks” here refers to 18-wheelers, cement or concrete mixer trucks, coal trucks, buses, and other similar vehicles.
Large Trucks: The Fear Factor
There are many types of large trucks or tractor trailers, so they naturally have a number of uses and different loads:
- Automobile and boat haulage
- Concrete pipes and water tanks
- Forestry (timber and wood)
- Cranes, construction, or mining equipment
- Dry goods
- Frozen or temperature-sensitive goods (refrigerated trucks or reefers)
- Aggregates and sand (tippers or dump trucks)
- Liquids such as milk, chemicals, or petroleum products (tanker trucks)
We usually hear the term “cement truck” used more frequently than the correct term which is a “concrete mixer truck” to refer to those vehicles which carry liquid cement to construction sites. A dump truck, on the other hand, has a deep open bed and is usually used for transporting scrap metal, lumber or rubble, construction site refuse, soil, or rocks.
Whatever type of large truck you encounter on the road, you inevitably are hit by anxiety, especially if it obstructs your field of vision. These trucks are huge, and by the way that they move, you can take a wild guess that the vehicle and whatever it is carrying means tons in terms of weight.
While others may be quick to dismiss such thoughts as being overly concerned, you’re right to trust your instincts. Dump trucks, concrete mixer trucks, and all other large trucks and vehicles can prove quite deadly in a traffic or road accident. Therefore, it makes sense to steer clear of them when possible and to always exercise caution when driving near or around these types of vehicles.
Common Causes of Large Truck Accidents
Truck drivers are required to meet delivery times set by customers, usually driving long distances, and often getting stuck in traffic or less-than-optimal road conditions. Sleep is frequently inadequate, and stress is a distinct part of the job.
Cement trucks, for example, need to transport materials meant to be used for paving and repairing roads. However, the cement exists in liquid form as it is being transported, and will solidify into concrete once it is poured.
Of course, prior to being used at a construction site, this cement has to be carefully transported. Multiple trips to the job site may be required, depending on the scale of the project. Additionally, more than one cement truck will be used to transport all the concrete required.
Truck drivers that operate a cement truck negligently could cause several types of accidents, as can drivers of similar large, heavy vehicles.
Not Taking Vehicle Weight Into Account
One major cause of large truck vehicular crashes is their weight and required stopping distance. An average motor vehicle weighs about 2.5 tons, whereas a tractor-trailer can weigh 40 tons. Because of this heavy weight, it takes significantly longer and a greater distance for a tractor-trailer to come to a full stop.
For example, if a regular motor vehicle like a car is moving at a speed of 40 miles per hour, and a tractor-trailer is moving at the same rate, the large truck will have to travel 45 feet further than the car once it begins to slow before it can come to a complete halt.
A typical passenger car requires approximately 306 feet to stop after braking; a tractor-trailer, on the other hand, needs about 525 feet before stopping. To put this in visual terms, the large truck will require the length of one and a half football fields between the action of braking to the full stop being made.
Of course, speed is a huge factor when applying the brakes (see below). The faster a vehicle is going, the longer it takes for it to stop after hitting the brakes. For these reasons (size and weight of large trucks), large truck fatalities and injuries resulting from collisions or crashes are quite common.
Like other large trucks, cement trucks already weigh several tons in and of themselves. So, of course, with the liquid cement inside the cylindrical tank adding several more tons, the danger of transporting the material increases. In fact, simply because of their heavy weight and uneven distribution of mass (moving liquid cement in the tank), cement trucks can roll over even when being driven at very low speeds (as low as 5 miles per hour!).
Drivers trying to make swift turns pose a potentially high accident risk on the road, especially since the liquid cement would be shifting within the tank thereby causing uneven weight distribution. The imbalance resulting from a sudden or swift turn can cause the vehicle to tip over. When a cement truck does flip over, it can result in a fatal road accident. Moreover, the cement could spill over onto the road and cause other accidents.
As mentioned previously, driving speed further intensifies what damage can be caused in accidents involving large trucks.
In the scenario involving cement trucks, it must be noted that cement truck drivers are usually in a hurry to get to their destination construction site. This is because they need to avoid the scenario of the liquid cement starting to harden. This is why you may sometimes encounter cement truck drivers driving erratically and speeding.
Of course, coupled with the heavy truckload, speeding, and weaving in and out of traffic is the perfect recipe for disaster. And as mentioned, the movement of the liquid cement can make for ungainly weight distribution. This, in turn, makes the cement truck unstable and harder to maneuver.
If you happen to figure in a truck accident where the driver is speeding towards a construction site, the driver as well as their employer can be held liable for any injuries incurred.
Errors of Judgment
Another common cause of large truck accidents, and practically all sorts of vehicular crashes, is driver error. A lot of fatal cement mixer and dump truck collisions usually result from erroneous operator behaviors such as:
- Speeding or moving too fast even when circumstances are not ideal
- Driving even when distracted, fatigued, tired, or drowsy
- Driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol
- Tailgating or driving too closely to other vehicles in front
- Failing to know and understand vehicle limitations such as truck blind spots
Some truck drivers tend to overestimate their driving capabilities and think they can speed or make sharp turns even while driving a large and heavy vehicle. Thus, they end up endangering the lives of other motorists and even pedestrians.
If you are driving and observe these dangerous behaviors in the truck operator, keep your distance from the vehicle. Pull off the road, if possible, and notify the authorities when you see a driver posing significant safety risks to other people on the road.
Also, be alert or vigilant with the road conditions as well as the position of your vehicle relative to any type of large truck. Take all of these factors into consideration whenever you approach or pass a truck. Factors such as the weather, road visibility, and the distance between your vehicle and the truck can significantly figure in the risk of large truck accidents. Whenever possible, put as much space between your vehicle and a large truck especially in cases of inclement weather like snow or rain. If the truck driver makes a judgment error, you want to be far enough away that it won’t imperil you.
Improper Vehicle Maintenance
We all know the importance of maintenance, whether we own a bike, car, van or some other type of vehicle. For large trucks like cement trucks that carry extremely heavy loads equal to or exceeding the weight of the vehicle itself, equipment and component parts tend to degrade more quickly than normal. This is why it falls on trucking and construction companies to ensure that their heavy vehicles and other equipment are serviced regularly.
However, some companies still neglect to conduct periodic maintenance checks on their vehicle fleets. This oversight can lead to potentially serious accidents. For example, if the tires of a cement truck are due for change but the vehicle continues to be used for carrying cement, these can explode anytime they’re on the road and cause a fatal accident, which could have been avoided had periodic vehicle maintenance and repairs had been done.
Driver Vigilance Alongside Large Trucks
Road safety is not just a matter of you driving safely because road collisions usually involve two or more vehicles. However, you can reduce your risk of figuring in one by practicing road vigilance and taking extra precautions when driving around these types of vehicles, especially cement and dump trucks.
As mentioned above, be sure to give them plenty of space on the road, especially near places where there are road turns or intersections. Always anticipate the possibility of driver error, poor vehicle maintenance, and the effect of weather on visibility and stopping distance.
Remember, only a few large truck crashes are a direct result of the vehicle design or errors on the part of passenger vehicle drivers involved in these accidents. Most of them stem from negligence on the part of the large truck driver or the owner of the vehicles.
Be aware too that the testing and requirements for obtaining a commercial driver’s license or CDL do not require any experience on the part of the driver. Many large truck drivers have limited experience and training in operating large trucks safely and efficiently in a variety of real-world scenarios. Assume that any large truck driver is new at the job to give yourself an extra margin of safety.
Large Truck Accidents and Settlements
Large settlements amounting to hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars usually result from large truck accidents where the fault clearly lies with the truck driver or operator. In fact, semi-truck accidents annually cost $20 billion in accident settlements, about half of which goes to injured victims who have suffered a diminished or lost quality of life after the accident.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) requires that all trucks hauling freight carry between $750 thousand to $5 million in insurance coverage. The insurance amount depends on what is being hauled as well as the weight of the material being transported.
One common issue is that the insurance coverage does not cover each person affected by a large truck accident, but is calculated for each incident. If an incident involves multiple victims, the payment must be shared among all of them.
For the victim of a large truck incident, damages can result not only from enormous medical bills, but also the recovery period, rehabilitation expenses, and the emotional and psychological scarring that can last long after the person has recovered physically. This is why the best law firms that deal with large truck accident claims include everything–from the medical expenses and lost time from work to other foreseeable expenses resulting from the accident–in the lawsuit.
If you or anyone you know has been involved in a cement truck or any other large truck accident and need assistance, please get in touch with us at Batta Fulkerson.