The U.S. has nearly 4 million Class 8 trucks currently in operation on the roads. Semi-trucks make up most of the vehicles in this class, with the remainder being service vehicles like dump trucks and fire trucks.

These semi-trucks are involved in many truck accidents each year, causing over 4,000 deaths and over 100,000 injuries annually.

Unfortunately, these deaths and injuries disproportionately involve the occupants of passenger vehicles. The large mass of a semi-truck often protects truck drivers but crushes smaller automobiles. As a result, 97% of those hurt or killed in truck accidents are motorists, motorcyclists, bicyclists, and pedestrians.

Here are some of the most common types of semi-truck accidents and the best ways to drive safely when you share the road with semi-trucks.

Causes of Semi-Truck Accidents

Factors that can lead to semi-truck accidents include road conditions, poor equipment maintenance, traffic, and driver behavior. 

Some of the most common causes of semi-truck accidents include:

Tire Blowouts

Tire blowouts cause approximately 30% of truck accidents, making it the most common cause of truck accidents.

A tire blowout can lead to many problems, including:

  • Tires and tire fragments that fly into vehicles behind or to the sides of the semi-truck
  • Loss of control of the truck or trailer
  • A panic stop by the truck driver
  • Swerving by other vehicles that share the road

Most tire blowouts cause minimal damage. In most cases, the truck driver can move the semi-truck safely into the emergency lane. But in some cases, a tire blowout can cause a chain reaction accident as automobiles swerve and brake to avoid the semi-truck and the tire debris.

Distracted and Drowsy Driving

Truck drivers often drive for long hours. In some circumstances, truckers may work 14-hour shifts. The U.S. government also suspended some hours-of-service rules for truck drivers who haul essential cargo during the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, truck drivers may end up driving while they’re fatigued or distracted.

At 65 miles per hour, a semi-truck travels over 95 feet per second. This means that a semi-truck can travel the length of a football field during three seconds of distraction or inattention.

Heavy Traffic and Aggressive Driving

A fully loaded semi-truck can weigh 80,000 pounds. This weight increases the stopping time and distance for the vehicle. For example, at 65 miles per hour, a fully loaded semi-truck will need over 500 feet and five seconds or more to come to a complete stop.

In heavy traffic, a truck driver may not have enough time or distance to stop. Aggressive driving by automobile drivers compounds this problem. Cutting off a semi-truck can leave the truck driver with very few options to avoid a crash.

Poor Weather and Road Conditions

Semi-trucks perform poorly in bad weather and on rough roads. The weight of the truck can prevent truck drivers from making emergency maneuvers like swerving or stopping rapidly. Similarly, the height of trailers can make semi-trucks vulnerable to rollover and blow-over accidents.

Once a truck driver loses control of a semi-truck, he or she may be unable to regain control. The momentum of the trailer may push the semi-truck in an unexpected direction, and the brakes and steering may be inadequate to stop or redirect the trailer.

Dangerous Driving Habits

Automobile drivers often forget the lessons of their driver’s education courses about the limitations of semi-trucks. They may drive in a truck driver’s blind spots, tailgate, change lanes without signaling, or brake abruptly in front of a semi-truck. These behaviors can place the truck driver and the automobile driver in a dangerous situation.

Types of Semi-Truck Accidents

Truck accidents often look different than car accidents do. Some common types of semi-truck accidents include:

Side-Impact Accidents

Semi-trucks have large blind spots along their sides. Automobile drivers occasionally get caught in a blind spot when the truck driver changes lanes. This can result in a side impact.

These accidents can turn into multi-vehicle accidents if the automobile swerves or brakes to avoid the semi-truck and collides with another vehicle.

Underride Accidents

Underride accidents occur when an automobile collides with a truck and slides underneath its trailer. Because of the height of the trailer, the bottom edge can hit the windshield and shear off the roof of an automobile or crush the roof down onto the passenger side.

These accidents can result in severe injuries and even decapitation. Many trailers are equipped with underride bars that extend down from the rear of the trailer. These bars strike the hood or grill of an automobile rather than allowing it underneath the trailer.

Rollover and Blow-Over Accidents

Shippers load trailers carefully. However, a rapid maneuver or stiff wind can cause a load to shift. When the semi-truck rolls over, it can crush vehicles to its side and cause a chain reaction of crashes behind it.

Ways to Stay Safe Around Semi-Trucks

In some cases, an automobile driver may contribute to the cause of a truck accident. As a result, the automobile driver may bear partial or total responsibility for the accident.

Texas uses a modified comparative fault system to adjust damages for an accident. 

This means that:

  1. If you bear 0% of the fault for an accident, you can receive your full damages.
  2. If your share of the fault falls between 1% and 50%, the court will reduce your damages by your share of the fault.
  3. If your share of the fault exceeds 50%, you cannot recover any damages.

To ensure that you do not contribute to a semi-truck accident, you should:

  • Leave plenty of room when passing or following a semi-truck.
  • Stay out of a semi-truck driver’s blind spots and only pass a semi-truck on the left.
  • Pay particular attention to semi-trucks in windy, rainy, or icy weather.

By driving carefully around semi-trucks, you can minimize your risk of a truck accident and avoid sharing the blame if one occurs.