Facts About Semi-Trucks and Accidents

Published On: December 8, 2021

What Is a Semi-Truck?

Semi-trucks are large, potentially dangerous vehicles that share the road with normal drivers. But what are they actually?

The two primary sections of a semi-truck are a semi-tractor providing horsepower and a truck for transporting the materials it is carrying.

Sometimes semi-trucks are referred to as 18-wheelers, with the defining characteristic being the number of wheels the truck and tractor have combined.

Semi-trucks are most often owned and operated by trucking companies and driven by their employees. These trucking companies are essential to transporting goods to and from different locations in the United States, and because of their importance, there are a large number of semi-trucks in operation. In fact, according to a recent report, there are roughly 2 million semi-trucks in the U.S., and around 5.6 million semi-trailers.

This large number of semi-trucks and the significantly greater danger they pose than normal vehicles leads to many severe semi-truck accidents in America every year.

What Makes Semi Trucks Dangerous?

Semi-trucks or 18-wheelers are hard to miss because of their sheer size and weight; unsurprisingly, this is what leads to them being some of the most dangerous vehicles on the road.

Semi-trucks are usually 72 feet long.

Laden trucks can reach up to 80,000 pounds. Unladen trucks are markedly less weighty, but still have a large average weight of around 35,000 pounds. An average passenger vehicle weighs closer to 3,000 pounds. The weight and length can cause severe injuries when they crash into smaller vehicles.

Semi-trucks are also more difficult to drive than normal vehicles due to their size, weight, special braking technology, and gadgets. For example, semi-trucks use air brakes, where a hydraulic system slows them down.

The drivers of semi-trucks need a special Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) that they must pass extensive training to acquire. These safeguards help ensure semi-trucks don’t cause an inordinate amount of accidents and damage, but are not foolproof.

Do Any Special Rules and Regulations Apply to Semi Truck Drivers?

As semi-trucks are dangerous by design, the federal government has stepped in and implemented many different statutory regulations on commercial vehicles. These regulations seek to protect both semi-truck drivers and the other cars on the road from possibly sustaining harm or injury in the course of driving.

Here are some federal commercial truck regulations:

49 C.F.R § 392 differentiates truck drivers and their trucks from other drivers. The reasoning for this is clear, considering the amount of weight and length involved with a semi-truck and the possible damage it can cause. The statute goes over many different rules about truck drivers and what they are and are not allowed to do while on the road, and even before they start driving on the road.

Part 392 specifically addresses ill or fatigued drivers and enacts health regulations so that truckers can better drive their vehicles and prevent accidents.

49 C.F.R § 395 reduces the hours truck drivers can drive to ensure they are not too fatigued to drive, which might lead to damage, injuries, and accidents. Property-carrying truckers can only drive 14 hours at a time. Then they must then take a 10-hour break to rest and recover before continuing.

Truck drivers who transport passengers have an even higher standard. They can only drive for 10 hours before taking an eight-hour break.

In addition, 49 C.F.R § 393 regulates every part of a semi-truck and commercial truck to ensure the best possible performance and reduce the chance of injury from the truck’s mechanical components. A further regulation, 49 C.F.R. § 396, governs the regular repair and maintenance of commercial trucks and semi-trucks.

This regulation requires periodic inspections by highly qualified inspectors who know large trucks. In addition, an independent brake inspector must ensure the brakes are operable and safe.

Many more federal and state regulations safeguard both truck drivers and the general public. Truckers and trucking companies that don’t follow them may face criminal penalties, and if they hurt someone, civil lawsuits.

Truck Accident Statistics

Per a recent report from the U.S. Department of Transportation, as one would expect, semi-truck accidents usually result in more injuries to the other vehicles involved in the crash rather than the semi-truck itself. This, unfortunately, also includes fatalities that occur in these accidents.

The occupants of large trucks suffered only 16 percent of the deaths in large truck accidents, while 67 percent were in other vehicles, and 15 percent were pedestrians and other passersby. This statistic demonstrates the disproportionate amount of harm caused by semi-trucks to others involved in a potential accident.

In a recent year, the number of fatalities caused by large semi-truck accidents was 4,119 people. This number of fatalities is up by 31 percentage points than a decade prior, meaning the number of accidents and fatalities involved in semi-truck accidents has risen over time in the United States.

Unsurprisingly, most semi-truck accidents occurred on large, national roads and interstates. About 51 percent of fatalities in truck crashes occurred on large roads, 34 percent on freeways and interstates, and 15 percent on smaller or rural roads.

From a state perspective, a recent report by the Florida Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles organization noted that semi-trucks caused a significant amount of harm.

The report defined a commercial motor vehicle or a truck as:

  • Having a gross and stated weight of over 10,000 pounds,
  • Having the stated purpose of transporting hazardous materials,
  • A crash report marking the accident as a commercial vehicle accident, or
  • Having a commercial motor vehicle configuration on the crash report

The report says that in medium to heavy trucks, 25 fatalities took place statewide in one year. The report also says 31,838 injuries involved medium to heavy truck accidents.

Semi-trucks cause many injuries and fatalities in the United States due to their unique proportions, difficulty of driving, and the large number of semi-trucks on the road.

Suggestions on Navigating Roads Safely

Driving alongside semi-trucks on the road is a given considering how popular they are in their function of transporting goods and services. The most important thing to consider is giving semi-trucks plenty of space to drive in their lanes because of their size.

The size of a semi-truck also means they have larger blind spots than most vehicles. These blind spots are extended down the sides of the vehicle and behind it. Give semi-trucks a large berth in the road to avoid the blind spots.

To drive safely next to a semi-truck, make sure your headlights properly work so you can view the semi-truck at night or in poor weather. Also, only pass a semi-truck while on a flat road and not in tight conditions with other cars pressing all around. For example, don’t pass a semi-truck while you both head downhill.

If you have a legal question about semi-trucks, a semi-truck accident, or any injury you may have suffered in an accident, an experienced truck accident attorney can discuss your legal claim with you.