Feb 20

The Physics of Accidents Involving Tractor Trailers and Large Trucks

by Tate Law Offices, P.C.Injuries from Car Wrecks, Truck Wrecks

Tractor trailer

Accidents involving passenger vehicles and tractor trailers or other commercial vehicles often lead to catastrophic results. These accidents present distinct dangers for drivers of passenger vehicles. While many car accidents do not result in death or serious injuries to vehicle occupants, tractor trailer crashes nearly always do. Injures like brain and spine injuries are common in truck accident cases. Every 16 minutes, a U.S. driver is injured or killed by a commercial vehicle. About 98% of all 18 wheeler accidents result in at least one fatality. Sadly, over 3,500 automobile passengers are killed in crashes involving tractor trailers or other commercial vehicles each year.

All vehicles adhere to the basic laws of physics according to their mass and velocity, as well as interaction with the road surface. There are numerous differences between passenger vehicles and tractor trailers or other large trucks which have a large impact on the dynamics of a traffic accident. To better understand the devastating potential of tractor trailer accidents, you must first look at the physics of such accidents.

Incredible Mass: The Weight of Tractor Trailers Contributes to the Devastation of Accidents

A commercial truck has far more mass than a car. In fact, semi-trucks often weigh 20-30 times more than the average passenger vehicle. A fully loaded tractor trailer can weigh 80,000 pounds, whereas the average car weighs between 3,000 and 5,000 pounds. This immense difference in mass explains in large part the tragic nature of most accidents involving 18 wheelers and passenger vehicles. Given the mass difference, a semi-truck traveling at the same highway speed as a vehicle has far greater momentum and energy.  Accordingly, in a crash involving collision of the two objects, the passenger vehicle will incur far greater damages.

The weight of these beasts of the road further impacts their ability to stop in time to prevent an accident. Tractor trailers are equipped with special breaking systems to help control their weight, but still take 40% longer to stop than sedans and SUVs. This delay in reaction time can have costly results for the occupants of passenger vehicles in the path of these massive trucks.

Unbelievable Lengths: The Length of 18 Wheelers Makes Turns Difficult and Accidents More Likely

The average tractor trailer is between 70 and 80 feet long, over four times longer than the average passenger vehicle. As you could imagine, turning such a lengthy truck is challenging. Drivers have the difficult task of calculating whether roads are wide enough for them to turn and miscalculations do occur. Additionally, tractor trailer drivers are plagued by blind spots in the front, back, and sides of trucks. If a vehicle is driving in these blind spots, truck drivers may switch lanes without viewing them, to destructive results.

Distraction Can Be Deadly

Due to the tremendous mass of commercial vehicles, even a moment of distraction can produce lethal results. A recent study found that, on average, texting drivers take their eyes off the road for at least 5 seconds. For a truck traveling at 55 mph, this equates to driving the length of a football field while blindfolded. Studies show that texting raises the risk of a crash for drivers of large commercial vehicles by 23 times. Talking on one’s cell phone makes it 5.9 times more likely a truck accident will occur, as compared to a non-distracted driver. Use of dispatching devices increases the rate of accidents by 8.9 times. Other distractions can include use of maps, radios, smoking, eating or drinking, grooming or other personal hygiene, and talking to passengers.

Distraction can be equally as damaging where it is the driver of the passenger vehicle that loses his or her focus on the road. Recently, in Corpus Christi, a crash occurred involving an 18 wheeler and a Ford sedan. The driver of the sedan turned right into the large truck without noticing its presence because the driver was distracted. The truck struck the front of the sedan, sending both vehicles off the road. The driver of the Ford was cited for failure to yield.

Accident Reconstruction Can Unravel the Cause of a Truck Accident

Crash victims injured in accidents involving tractor trailers or other commercial vehicles often require the assistance of an accident reconstruction expert who will examine the facts of the accident and take into account the differences between cars and tractor trailers in determining fault. It is crucial that an accident reconstruction professional versed in the specific field of truck accidents examine the scene of the accident as soon as possible after the crash occurs. Much valuable physical evidence will be lost or deteriorate soon after the accident, including markings in the soil or on the pavement. Scene investigation will include photo documentation of the skid marks and physical objects in the area. Evidence gathering then moves on to examination of the vehicles involved.

Your personal injury attorney will gather witness statements and police reports. Communication between the attorney and accident reconstructionist is crucial. The accident reconstruction expert can use recent technological advances to his or her benefit in creating an accurate depiction of the accident. GPS surveying equipment can be used to determine the position of the objects during the tractor trailer crash. Cameras set up at intersections by the county can be subpoenaed by your car accident attorney to provide video footage of the accident. Further, many vehicles today, particularly commercial trucks, are equipped with computer systems that record speed and other operating parameters, such as brake usage, during the moments leading up to the accident.

After conducting scene investigations, vehicle inspections, and reviewing witness statements, the accident reconstructionist should be able to determine vital facts such as the path of the vehicles, the sequence of events, the actions taken by both drivers, and any evidence of mechanical problems that may have contributed to the accident. Physical evidence such as skid marks can be analyzed to determine the speed of the vehicles.

Tate Law Offices, P.C., Is Comprised of Tractor Trailer Accident Experts

Due to the physics of tractor trailer accidents, crashes involving these vehicles tend to be far more catastrophic than those between two passenger vehicles. The deadly potential of truck accidents, along with the special concerns involved in truck crashes such as Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) regulations, make litigation in this field unique. The truck accident attorneys at Tate Law Offices understand the complexities involved in commercial trucking accidents. We provide compassionate, effective, and unmatched representation to the victims of tractor trailer crashes. Call us today at 888-662-3892 to see how we can help maximize your recovery.

“Big Rig” image based on “Big Rig” by J Jackson Foto, CC-BY-2.0.