7 Risky Maneuvers in Semi-Trucks That Can Cause Car Accidents

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Data from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMSCA) shows that semi-trucks were involved in more than 530,000 crashes in a recent year, and that those numbers have risen in almost every year over the last decade.

For the year in question, 120,000 of those accidents resulted in injury or death, which reflects a devastating and costly human toll.

Though most truck accidents are preventable, many of the most severe and often deadly truck accidents occur when truckers make dangerous maneuvers behind the wheel that put others who share the road in danger.

Below, we provide a list of the dangerous semi-truck maneuvers that can lead to car accidents, and steps you can take to protect your health, wellbeing, and legal rights if you suffer injuries or losses in a semi-truck accident.

Dangerous Semi-truck Maneuvers that Cause Damage

Truckers must hold a commercial drivers’ license (CDL) as a requirement of their job. Obtaining a CDL means agreeing to adhere to stricter standards behind the wheel than ordinary drivers.

Those standards reflect the great responsibility truckers bear for operating their huge, heavy vehicles with care and caution. Driver’s who do not follow road safety standards risk being reported and punished for their unsafe driving even if they do not cause an accident.

However, truck drivers today face numerous challenges that make their jobs more difficult, dangerous, and may cause a semi-truck accident.

They contend with demanding schedules that force them to spend long hours behind the wheel, often at odd hours. Many do not get enough sleep, and what sleep they do get is of poor-quality. Many frequently feel dangerously fatigued while driving.

Many also struggle with chronic health conditions. Some drive under the influence of prescription medication or illegal substances.

Virtually all truckers feel the pressure of meeting tight deadlines that do not change just because they encounter bad weather and heavy traffic conditions on the highway.

These stressors and challenges frequently lead truckers to engage in dangerous maneuvers and behaviors behind the wheel, and that leads to dangerous, deadly accidents.

A fully loaded semi can weigh up to 80,000 pounds, making traffic collisions more forceful and more likely to result in severe or fatal injuries.

Below we’ve listed 7 examples of dangerous semi-truck maneuvers that can easily lead to a car accident:

1. Careless Lane Changes

commercial vehicles passing each other on the highway and changing lanes carelessly

You might not consider changing lanes a risky maneuver because it happens all the time. However, there is a big difference between moving from one lane to another in a passenger car, and taking the same action while operating a 72-foot tractor trailer.

Semi-trucks have massive blind spots that extend 20 feet in front of the cab, 30 feet behind the trailer, two lane-widths on the passenger side of the truck and trailer, and one lane-width on the driver’s side of the trailer.

Careless lane changes create a dangerous risk of running a car off the road when they semi-truck driver fails to see a car in the other lane.

To change lanes safely, truckers have to monitor mirrors and (if they have them) cameras constantly to ensure they can move over without colliding with a smaller vehicle. A moment of distraction or inattention can lead to disaster.

Remember, if you cannot see a trucker in his mirror, then he cannot see you.

2. Driving Too Fast for Conditions

A semi truck driving too fast for the weather conditions on a highway during a rain shower

Many semi-trucks simply cannot break the speed limit because their engines have governors, or speed-limitation devices, that prevent them from going too fast.

However, not all trucks have those limiting devices, and even those that do can drive too-fast for weather, road, or traffic conditions.

Big rigs require tremendous skill and know-how to operate safely. They’re huge and heavy. They cannot stop quickly. They cannot turn quickly without running the risk of rolling over or jackknifing.

So, even a big rig operating within the speed limit may still end up traveling too fast to respond to varying road conditions, leading to a deadly crash.

3. Following Too Closely

a semi truck following too close as viewed from a rear view mirror

Tailgating is a risky practice in any vehicle, but it’s especially dangerous when driving a large truck.

Trucks need far more stopping distance than passenger vehicles. In fact, if a semi is traveling 65 miles per hour on the interstate, it needs roughly the length of two football fields to come to a complete stop in an emergency braking situation.

Truckers who get their rigs too close to a vehicle in front of them run a high risk of causing a dangerous rear-end accident. These are no minor fender-benders. Due to their size, weight, and high-profile, trucks that run into the rear of smaller vehicles virtually always cause massive damage and severe injuries.

The FMCSA recommends that truckers leave at least five seconds of separation between their rig and the vehicle in front of them. In heavy traffic or inclement weather, they should add a few more seconds to that window to keep themselves and others safe.

4. Failure to Yield

Merging into traffic without yielding is another risky driving behavior that happens far too often in semi-trucks.

Truckers make this mistake because of distractions, inattention, or (sometimes) a presumption that as drivers of the largest, heaviest vehicles on the road, they can do as they please.

Regardless of why truckers fail to yield, the result is often a dangerous sideswipe or angular collision, or the smaller vehicle swerving and either running off the road or causing an accident of its own.

5. Failure to Heed a Yellow Light

When stop lights turn yellow, it signals caution and lets the driver know a red light is coming. Drivers should treat a yellow light as a red light and slow down, but many instead treat it as a moment to make a split-second decision about whether to slow down or speed up.

Drivers often get that decision wrong, accelerate, and cause a t-bone collision in the middle of an intersection.

Truckers who make this mistake put the public in serious danger. They cannot stop their rigs on a dime, so even if they realize they have messed-up and need to stop, they often cannot manage to avoid crossing into an intersection and causing an accident.

6. Careless Turns at Intersections

A typical big rig consists of a tractor cab connected to a trailer at a hitch that pivots. When a tractor trailer turns at an intersection, the cab turns first, creating an angle between it and the trailer. As the cab proceeds through the turn, the trailer follows, gradually swinging back in-line with the vehicle pulling it.

This maneuver requires caution and skill on the part of the trucker.

If the cab cuts the turn too tight, it will pull the trailer across a neighboring traffic lane or (in the case of a right-hand turn), across a street corner, putting motorists, cyclists, and pedestrians at risk of being run-over.

The risk runs especially high when semi trucks make tight right turns, because of the large size of their right-hand blind spots.

7. Passing Vehicles on a Two-Lane Road

County roads and highways that have only one lane in each direction can be frustrating for drivers who are in a hurry when they get behind a slow vehicle. They wait for the moment when the double-yellow centerline turns to a dashed line, signaling a passing zone.

Passenger vehicles can usually pass in these zones with ease when no oncoming traffic blocks their way. Semi-trucks, on the other hand, run high risks in attempting a pass on a two lane road.

They simply cannot accelerate fast enough, nor maneuver sharply enough, to leave themselves a margin of error if an oncoming car suddenly appears on the horizon. In the worst case, trucks and oncoming vehicles suffer a catastrophic head-on collision.

What to do if You Are Involved in a Semi-Truck Accident

two semi trucks driving side by side on an interstate highway

An accident involving a semi-truck can inflict massive injuries and property damage. Victims of these accidents deserve compensation for the harm done to them by a trucker’s risky maneuvers.

To protect your health, wellbeing, and legal rights after getting hurt in a semi-truck accident, keep these tips in mind:

Always Call 911

Don’t assume someone else has done it. Report the accident right away and stay at the scene.

Always Seek Immediate Medical Care

Let EMTs at the accident scene check you out. If they tell you that you need emergency care, follow their advice. If they give you the “all clear” to leave the scene, then follow up with your primary care doctor or at an urgent care clinic within 24 hours.

Many severe semi-truck accident injuries may not show immediate symptoms, but doctors can spot them with simple tests. Never assume that you are fine just because you feel fine in the moments after a crash. Let a doctor give you an exam that can spot, or rule out, dangerous injuries that need immediate treatment.

Photos and Videos of the Accident Scene Can Help

If (and only if) you can do so safely, try to take photos or video with your cell phone of the truck accident scene, preferably before first responders show up. These images may prove useful to your lawyer in establishing the trucker’s liability for your injuries and losses.

Make Hiring an Experienced Truck Accident Lawyer a Priority.

Semi-truck accidents cause lots of harm, often to many victims. The sooner you have legal representation, the better your chances of protecting your rights to receive compensation from the parties at fault.

Over our years of law practice, the team at David Bryant Law has secured tens of millions of dollars in settlements and jury verdicts on behalf of our clients, including in cases involving semi-truck accidents resulting from risky maneuvers by truckers.

Contact us today online or at (502) 540-1221 for a free case evaluation to discuss the events leading up to your truck accident, the harm you have suffered because of it, and your potential legal rights to compensation.

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David G. Bryant is certified to practice in all state courts in Kentucky, and federal courts in the Eastern and Western districts of Kentucky, Southern District of New York, Southern District of West Virginia, Northern District of Ohio, Middle District of Tennessee, and Western District of Pennsylvania. He is licensed to practice before the United States Supreme Court and the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals.