Fatal semi-truck accidents are a major problem on Pennsylvania roads. A recent study showed:
- Pennsylvania had the fifth-highest number of fatal truck crashes in the United States.
- I-95 ranks third in the nation for the most fatal truck collisions.
- Pennsylvania leads the country in fatal accidents where passenger cars underride (go underneath) semi-trucks.
Passenger cars are at a distinct disadvantage when they crash with a semi-truck due to the extreme differences in both size and weight of the vehicles. The worst damage typically happens to the smaller car, often with devastating results for the occupants.
US Roadways are Generally Becoming Less Safe
Traffic fatalities across the US have increased significantly over the past few years. Between 2019 and 2021, traffic fatalities nationwide increased by 19 percent. The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation reported roadway deaths increased nine percent in 2021.
What is the most likely reason for the increased death toll? According to National Transportation Research Nonprofit TRIP, drivers have become more likely to engage in risky driving behaviors since the start of the pandemic. Some of the more common risky behaviors contributing to traffic fatalities include:
- Failure to wear a seatbelt
- Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs
Since the beginning of the year, federal and state officials have been implementing roadway safety strategy programs in an attempt to stem the rising tide of traffic fatalities.
Common Reasons Semi-Trucks Collide with Passenger Cars
Some type of error on the part of the truck driver is the most common reason a semi-truck hits a passenger car. However, shifting cargo and mechanical or equipment failures – such as faulty brakes or a tire blowout – may also create circumstances that result in crashes. Weather and road conditions can also contribute to the probability of an auto accident.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) reports four main types of driver error that are responsible for the majority of large truck crashes:
- Unsafe decision-making – The truck driver was speeding, going too fast for the conditions, following too closely, driving while under the influence of alcohol or drugs, or making some other unsafe driving decision.
- Inattention/distraction – The truck driver was not paying appropriate attention to driving conditions or was engaging in activities other than driving.
- Unable to perform – The truck driver was mentally or physically unable to drive safely due to fatigue or illness.
- Inexperience/unprepared – The truck driver did not know how to properly respond to traffic conditions in order to avoid a crash.
Why Damages Can be Severe When a Semi-Truck Hits a Car
To understand what it can be like when a semi-truck hits a car, think about taking a hammer and smashing an aluminum soda can. Occupants of passenger vehicles made up 68 percent of fatal crash victims with semi-trucks in 2020.
Semi-trucks are not only physically larger than passenger vehicles, but they can also weigh up to 30 times as much. The size and weight of the trucks make them able to crush smaller, lighter cars. Semi-trucks need almost twice as much distance to stop as a passenger car and cannot slam on their brakes to avoid a collision.
Tractor-trailer trucks also have a much higher ground clearance than many passenger vehicles. The high ground clearance of a semi-truck can create a very dangerous situation by enabling passenger cars to underride the sides of a truck during a crash.
How to Stay Safe When Driving Around Semi-Trucks
The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation seeks to help people practice safe driving habits and reduce the number of traffic-related fatalities in our state. Motorists in passenger vehicles can improve their chances for a safe driving experience around semi-trucks by knowing how to recognize and avoid potentially dangerous situations, including:
- Blind spots – Truck drivers have blind spots in front, on both sides, and behind the truck. A good rule of thumb is to remember that if you cannot see the truck driver in his side mirror, then they cannot see you. Do not follow a truck too closely or pass on the right. After passing a truck, allow plenty of room before moving back over in front of the truck.
- Wide turns – Trucks may need to take up two lanes in order to make a turn. Be mindful of the need to allow more space for a truck to maneuver and give them the room they need.
- Stopping distance – Trucks cannot just slam on their brakes and stop. The heavier a truck is and the faster it is going, the longer the distance required for it to safely stop. On average, it will take a semi-truck twice as long to stop as a passenger vehicle going the same speed.
- Pay attention – When driving around semi-trucks, make sure you can be seen by the driver and allow enough room for all vehicles to safely maneuver. Try not to lose patience or react in anger. Remember that everyone wins when traffic accidents are avoided.
Committing to safe driving practices will help drivers and occupants of passenger cars avoid the devastating consequences of a semi-truck accident.
SMT Legal Can Help You After a Semi-Truck Accident
Unfortunately, safe driving practices will not always be enough to avoid accidents with large trucks. When crashes occur, injuries to occupants of passenger cars can be severe and often fatal. Trying to negotiate with an adversarial insurance company to establish liability and get fully compensated for the losses suffered is challenging for injured claimants. An experienced Pittsburgh personal injury attorney can provide invaluable guidance and advocacy during the contentious claims process.
The semi-truck accident lawyers at SMT Legal represent victims who have been injured in crashes with large trucks in Pennsylvania and the families who have lost loved ones in fatal truck accidents. Our legal team understands the complexities involved in semi-truck accidents and knows how to negotiate to obtain fair and complete compensation for their clients. If you or a loved one have been injured in a semi-truck accident, contact SMT Legal and schedule a free consultation to discuss your claim.