Inclement Weather and Commercial Trucking Accidents
Adverse weather conditions often make it much more difficult to operate a commercial truck due to its size, its overall weight and the braking distance it requires. While bad weather is a contributing factor in more than 20% of all motor accidents, it is only a factor in about 3% of accidents involving commercial trucks, which is a testament to the skill and experience of professional drivers. Still, trucking accident lawyers warn that when inclement weather is a factor, it can greatly increase the severity of the accidents.
Types of Trucking Accidents Caused by Bad Weather
Bad weather generally does not lead to accident types that are otherwise unusual. It makes the common accident types more likely to happen and can increase their severity. These types include:
- Lost loads
- Tire blowouts
- Rear-end collisions
- Lane-change collisions
- Chain-reaction accidents
There is also a wide range of weather events that all make driving a commercial truck more difficult in different ways. Let us explore the kind of bad weather that can make a truck accident more likely.
Precipitation is by far the most common type of bad weather that professional drivers have to deal with. It is interesting that the challenges truck drivers face are often less directly caused by the precipitation, but rather, the other drivers on the road who may drive in an unsafe or nervous manner. Of course, precipitation does make it more difficult to operate a large truck. The loss of traction can be substantial, and the required braking distance is often increased by a significant amount, which gives the driver less reaction time. Heavy precipitation can also reduce visibility and is often accompanied by strong winds, and snow and ice often make it much more difficult to regain control of a vehicle if the driver should lose it.
High wind speeds, even with no other weather events, can lead to serious difficulties for a truck driver. It can diminish visibility and require the driver to perform more minor steering corrections, but the greatest risk by far is a crosswind. Due to the large and tall profile of the usual commercial truck in the United States, they are particularly susceptible to strong crosswinds that can, for instance, sweep across a highway perpendicular to the flow of traffic. When strong enough, a crosswind can cause a driver to lose control and can even blow a truck into another lane or off the road entirely.
No weather event affects visibility as much as a dense fog, and it decreases the reaction time for the truck driver and all of the other drivers on the road. Fog makes it more difficult to assess speed in addition to the distance between the truck and the vehicles in front of it and behind it. Drivers are instructed to slow down but not to an unsafe speed and to use their low-beam headlamps. However, if the fog is too intense, they are obligated to pull off the side of the road and wait it out.
Winter leads to poor road conditions that often contribute to motor accidents. Precipitation has already been discussed, and rain, freezing rain, sleet, hail, snow and ice all significantly lessen traction. Another concern during the colder months is black ice, which is also called clear ice. This is a thin glaze of ice that a driver cannot see but can prove dangerous if traversed at high speeds. Truck drivers must also be aware of potholes and other potential damage to the roads themselves. Much of this damage occurs during the cold season, and those issues may even be obstructed, such as by snow.
Extreme cold itself is a serious concern due to all of the mechanical systems that are in place to make sure a commercial truck is safe to drive. Severe temperatures can cause these systems to fail. Consider that most semis have air brake systems and that extreme cold moisture can lead to ice accumulation that makes them less efficient or even causes them to fail outright.
Hot weather can cause mechanical issues as well. In fact, tire blowouts are much more common in hot weather and in extreme heat in particular. Tire blowouts can be quite dangerous because the vehicle becomes unstable, and it is a great test of driver skill to reign it under control.
Adverse Weather Driving Regulations
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration establishes the regulations to which commercial drivers must adhere. These include driving regulations for inclement weather. Drivers have a responsibility to maintain safe operation of the vehicle and to stop operating the vehicle when that is no longer possible. They even have an obligation to refuse to drive if, for instance, an employer or contractor wants them to operate the vehicle in unsafe conditions. Note that Mother Nature will never be deemed at fault. But if drivers fail to adhere to the regulations, their culpability can increase from at fault to negligent.
Inspections and Maintenance
The FMCSA demands extreme caution when there is the potential for hazardous driving conditions. Proper maintenance is required. That service must be adjusted to reflect the driving conditions, and a mechanic or fleet management company can be at fault if the maintenance or inspection is inadequate. Drivers must perform a pre-inspection every time they intend to operate their vehicles, and that pre-inspection must also take the hazardous driving conditions into account.
Adjusting Driving Technique
Exercising extreme caution is a broad term that encompasses all that a driver must do when faced with weather challenges. This includes reducing speed—but not to an unsafe level—and increasing following distance so that the vehicle can come to a complete stop on short notice. It also means that the driver should pull over if they feel that they cannot maintain an adequate speed and/or distance.
Avoiding Driver Fatigue
As mentioned in the introduction, inclement weather is a factor in only a small percentage of accidents involving commercial trucks. More than 85% of such accidents, however, involve driver fatigue. Inclement weather can indirectly exacerbate this issue. Consider the driver who continues operating their vehicle to reach their destination before an impending snowstorm arrives and gets into an accident. The statistics collected by the FMCSA will generally not associate that accident with the snow. But it was a factor. Although it can be easier said than done, truck drivers are often advised to adjust their schedule to the weather so that they are sleeping when the weather is worst and driving while it is the clearest.
Consult With a Trucking Accident Lawyer
If you have been involved in an accident with a commercial truck in which inclement weather may or may not have been a factor, it is imperative to speak with a trucking accident lawyer as soon as possible. Your lawyer can begin investigating your case right away and taking the steps necessary to ensure that you receive the compensation that you deserve. RAM Law has offices in New Brunswick and Somerville, and you can schedule a consultation with one of our lawyers by calling (732) 394-1549 or by contacting us online.