Deadly large truck and 18-wheeler crashes are occurring with greater frequency on highways and roads in Michigan and throughout the United States. In fact, truck and commercial accidents have resulted in over 5,000 fatalities in 2019. This compares to fewer than 3,200 in 2009, just ten years earlier.
18-wheelers are the main component of our nation’s economy. But they are dangerous machines that must be properly maintained and driven. Many 18-wheelers are up to 80 feet in length and can haul up to 80,000 pounds. The engine of an 18-wheeler is about six times bigger than a standard car engine. They provide was more torque and have 400 more horsepower than a normal car.
While most truck drivers and trucking companies do a good job ensuring their big trucks and 18-wheelers are driven safely, mistakes do happen. In fact, according to a study done by the U.S. Department of Transportation, driver error and drier negligence caused or contributed to the most serious accidents involving large trucks.
The reasons and causes of 18-wheeler accidents in Michigan are numerous. But first, a little background about 18-wheelers is helpful to better understand how powerful and different these commercial vehicles are from a normal car.
There are more than 2 million tractor-trailers on American roads. Interestingly, California, Texas, and Florida alone have approximately one-third of all registered semi-trucks.
18-wheelers can have up to 18 gears, although most standard 18 wheelers typically have 10 gears. These gears are necessary for accelerating, slowing down, and hauling heavy loads on different terrains and inclines. An 18-wheeler has up to 5 axles.
Unlike a regular car, big rig engines are designed to run non-stop. In fact, a gallon of diesel fuel is consumed for every hour a semi-truck idles.
One of the most important facts about a semi-truck is they require more than 40% stop time than a standard car. Factors that increase the length of time needed to stop an 18-wheeler include the load weight, road conditions, and whether the truck is driving without the trailer attached (bobtailing).
Further, unlike a car, an 18-wheeler needs 55 feet of turning radius. This is why big rigs have large side mirrors and drivers need to be trained to properly back up and maneuver on tight roadways.
Reasons for 18-Wheeler Crashes in Michigan
Due to their size, 18-wheelers are difficult to drive. Special training and licensing are required to operate an 18-wheeler in Michigan and elsewhere. Because they are such specialized machines, tragic and serious accidents can happen when people make mistakes.
Semi-Truck Accidents and Texting and Cell Phone Use
Cell phones have become a daily part of our lives. Unfortunately, they are very distracting and dangerous to use while driving.
Under FMCSR 392.82, drivers of commercial vehicles such as an 18-wheeler are prohibited from holding a hand-held cell phone while driving. In addition, texting while driving is prohibited per FMCSR 329.80. Unfortunately, for some drivers, the urge is too great and they will text and drive, use social media or search on the Internet while operating their truck.
Per federal regulations, hands-free use is allowed. But even this can be distracting and dangerous. Drivers can place more attention on the person they are talking to than the road conditions in front of them. This can lead to driver error and serious personal injuries.
Distracted 18-Wheeler Truck Drivers
Distracted driving is not just using a cell phone. Other examples of distracted driving can include eating, playing with the radio, or reading paperwork. According to a study done by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), distracted driving contributed to almost 80% of all large truck accidents.
The use of in-cab technology can also be distracting for 18-wheelers and big truck drivers. This can include the use of two-way radios, dispatch devices, and any technology used while driving. Electronic devices used by drivers should only require a single button press to use. Further, nothing should be installed that blocks the view of the road.
Driver Fatigue and 18-Wheeler Crashes
Truck drivers are under constant pressure to get their loads to their destinations on time. With the huge increase in online shopping, trucks from UPS, Fed Ex and Amazon have taken over Michigan freeways, highways and interstates. This had led to situations where the driver is behind the wheel for too long and becomes drowsy and tired drivers. Studies have shown that driving fatigued is as dangerous as driving while intoxicated.
There are federal and state regulations that control the amount of time a driver can spend behind the wheel at one time, and over the course of a week. These are called hours-of-service rules and they limit the number of driving hours truck drivers can complete over a set time period.
For example, a driver carrying property can only drive a maximum of 11 hours after 10 consecutive hours off duty. A passenger carrying driver can drive a maximum of 10 hours after 8 consecutive hours off duty. In addition, drivers must take a 30-minute break within 8 hours of any previous off duty period of at least 30 minutes or more before continuing to drive.
Long-haul drivers are required by law to log the amount of time they have driven. This includes keeping track of breaks, total miles driven in a day, and changes in the duty of status. The daily log must be an accurate and complete record of a driver’s activities for a 24-hour period. Usually, this is now done electronically and the data is saved.
The reasons for these strict commercial vehicle rules are obvious. We must prevent drowsy and sleepy drivers, especially when they are carrying large loads on an 18-wheeler, big rig, delivery truck or tanker. Some of the nation’s worst trucking accidents have resulted from fatigued commercial drivers.
Intoxicated and Impaired Semi-Truck Drivers
Drinking and driving is an awful combination no matter what the situation. It is compounded when an 18-wheeler operator is impaired. Under federal law, there is a zero-tolerance level for alcohol in a driver’s system when driving. Alcohol slows reaction time and prevents drivers from making proper decisions while on the road.
But alcohol is not the only intoxicant that is problematic on the road. According to the FMCSA, marijuana use among truck drivers has been increasing over the past several years as more states legalize the drug. This has led to an increase in 18-wheeler truck crashes involving the use of marijuana and other mind-altering drugs by 18-wheeler drivers.
According to a recent study by the FMCSA, marijuana accounted for 61% of all positive drug tests reported. There were a staggering 20,678 drug violations over a five month period, which included actual drug reports, drug test refusals and other reports.
Truck drivers are under immense pressure. It is not surprising that some may turn to stimulants to stay alert and to finish the job. But these substances can cause a driver to become distracted and lose focus quickly, which only increases the chances of a serious crash.
18-Wheeler Drivers and Speeding
Speeding is one of the main causes of 18-wheeler crashes in Michigan and the country. It is the experience of the big truck accident lawyers at the Lee Steinberg Law Firm that speed is the largest contributor to a major personal injury in a commercial truck accident. Recent data shows that 25% of all traffic-related fatalities in Michigan are the result of speeding.
Speeding is especially dangerous in an 18-wheeler. Due to its large force and velocity, it takes much longer for an 18-wheeler to slow down. A quick slow down or back up on a freeway can turn into an absolute nightmare.
But speeding is not the only form of reckless driving. Erratic lane changes, tailgating, unsafe and improper passing and failing to yield the right of way to other passenger cars can also be dangerous and evidence of negligent driving.
Failing to Account for Bad Weather and Poor Road Conditions
Michigan has it’s fair share of snow and ice. Driving in these conditions is never easy, even when using a normal sedan or SUV. But driving an 18-wheeler in snow, ice, sleet, ice or even just during a bad thunderstorm demands extra causation.
Because the stopping time is so much longer for an 18-wheeler or big rig, the driver is required to give extra space between itself and the vehicle in front of them.
Improper Maintenance on an 18-Wheeler
Carriers and truck companies are required by law to conduct and perform constant inspections of their vehicles, in particular large tractor-trailers and 18-wheelers. If an inspection shows a repair is necessary, that repair must be made before the vehicle can go back out on the road.
Some of the most comment maintenance issues 18-wheelers have include:
- Bad Brakes – A recent study found that more than 10% of all vehicles inspected were placed out service due to bad brakes. Many truck operators and carriers are small, with less than 6 trucks. They don’t want to spend the money on proper brake maintenance and not have their trucks making deliveries. But brake failure is a major issue and can cause horrible injuries for both the driver and other motorists.
- Tire Failure – Tires must be checked before every ride. Tread failure or wore out tires can cause a tire to explode. And spare tires must be in proper condition. Just because they haven’t been used doesn’t mean they can’t blow out.
- Engine failure – The engine inside an 18-wheeler is a complicated machine. It must be properly cared for. Failing to do this can cause all sorts of problems, including a driver losing control of his or her vehicle.
- Lighting devices and reflectors
- Windshield wipers
- Rear-view mirrors
- Steering wheel
Motor carriers are responsible for training their drivers on basic inspection of the big trucks they drive. Every 18-wheeler and commercial truck must be inspected by a qualified inspection once every 12 months. The carrier must keep a copy of the inspection report for at least 14 months following the inspection. FMCSR 396.17.
Preventing 18-Wheeler and Big Truck Accidents in Michigan
Preventing an 18-wheeler accident and ensuring the safety of all motorists must be the top objective of every single truck driver and carrier. The Lee Steinberg Law Firm advocates that all drivers do the following to make sure truckers and surrounding motorists stay safe:
- Keep your distance. Don’t follow another vehicle too closely. Big trucks take longer to stop and are harder to maneuver. Rear-end accidents happen when a car in front of you stops suddenly and you don’t have enough room to stop.
- Maintain your truck. Ensure your vehicle is properly inspected and in working order before and after every trip. Make sure any and all cargo is securely fastened and balanced in your trailer.
- Don’t drive fatigued or drowsy. Federal rules give strict guidelines on how long you can drive. Don’t violate these rules. If you are tried, pull over and rest before continuing on with the trip.
- Don’t text and drive and don’t use your cell phone while driving. The temptation is always there. But it’s against the law and only leads to tragic consequences. It is important to not be distracted and to keep your eyes on the road at all times.
Call our Michigan 18-Wheeler Accident Lawyers
18-wheeler crashes in Michigan can lead to serious property damage and injuries. The reasons for the crash are complex, and trucking companies and their accident attorneys do everything they can to shed blame and move responsibility elsewhere. That’s why it is important to contact an experienced and knowledgeable Michigan big truck accident lawyer following a crash.
We can get accident investigators and experts involved quickly to ensure evidence is collected and maintained. That way, the truck driver, the truck company and other carriers or defendants involved don’t get away with causing the crash.
We will work tirelessly to ensure maximum compensation for you, including the payment of medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering and other benefits. Call our office today for a free consultation at 1-800-LEE-FREE (1-800-533-3733).