When you are driving on the road, one of the biggest threats to your safety are collisions with 18-wheel commercial trucks. Each year, around 500,000 semi-truck crashes occur. About 20 percent of those involve injuries and approximately 1 percent involve fatalities — which means roughly 5,000 fatalities every year. In 2018, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration reported a total of 5,096 fatal crashes involving large trucks and vehicles. And the data from the U.S. Department of Transportation shows that year after year, the majority of fatalities from these crashes are of passenger vehicle occupants. 

The more informed you are about the common causes for commercial truck accidents, the better prepared you are to avoid one and stay safe on the roads. 

What You Need to Know About 18-Wheel Commercial Truck Accidents

Most drivers can anticipate what other cars on the road will do and defensively react to avoid an accident. That equation changes for commercial vehicles, which have their own unique challenges and risks. Keep the following facts about semi-trucks in mind to help anticipate and avoid a costly accident.

Semi-Trucks Need More Stopping Distance

There is a reason semi-trucks present a higher accident risk. At nearly 20-30 times the size of a typical passenger vehicle, commercial trucks require careful operation and maintenance. 

For instance, commercial truck drivers need to be trained to react quickly and appropriately in a number of traffic conditions. Commercial trucks and tractor-trailers need additional stopping distance because of their weight, making it harder for them to brake and stop. 18-wheel trucks present a special set of risks because of their large size, onboard cargo, and heavy vehicle weight. Because of these factors, crashes involving semi-trucks are much more devastating and catastrophic than normal auto accidents.

Truck Drivers May Be Fatigued

Besides the semi-truck itself, the working schedules of truck drivers are also an important factor to consider. Trucks drivers typically have longer shifts than most, working up to 8 hours without a break and legally allowed to drive 11 hours in a 14-hour shift. When sick, injured or fatigued, their ability to focus can become inhibited while driving, creating an increased risk of a fatal crash. New employees on the job may also be insufficiently trained on how to maneuver and stop the truck, leading to further complications.

What Statistics Show about Truck Accidents

Regarding commercial semi-truck accidents, studies have shown:

For these reasons, it is of the utmost importance to stay alert and follow proper passing techniques and safety tips when driving next to a commercial vehicle.

7 Safety Tips to Avoid a Semi-Truck Accident

When passing a semi-truck on the road, you should take special precautions. Sometimes accidents are unavoidable, but by being a safe, defensive driver — especially around large vehicles like commercial trucks — you can avoid accidents. Here are safety tips you can follow when driving near semi-trucks.

1. Avoid blind spots

The blind spot for semi-trucks is much larger than that of your passenger vehicle. You will want to take extra precaution and ensure that you’re not in the truck’s blind spot when passing or when around semi-trucks that are turning, backing up or changing lanes. A general rule of thumb is that if you can’t see the driver in their mirrors, it is likely they can’t see you either. 

2. Use caution when passing

When passing, truck drivers can see you more easily when you are driving on their left side. Be sure to use proper blinkers to signal your lane change and let the truck driver know where you are going. When passing, do so as quickly as possible within the speed limit, so that you are not riding in a truck’s blind spot. 

3. Give the truck plenty of space

When driving around a semi-truck, it is best to avoid driving close by for prolonged periods of time. By driving close to a semi-truck, you put yourself at an increased risk of accident and injury if the truck has a tire blowout, needs to brake suddenly, or if their tractor trailer shifts or even flips over due to high winds. When possible, try to keep a distance of at least four seconds between you and the semi-truck. If you’re driving at speeds higher than 40 miles per hour, you will want to increase that distance to five to six seconds.

4. Lower your brights

It is typically not a good idea to drive with high beams on around other drivers. The bright headlights reflect off of the driver’s mirrors and can blind them. While this is dangerous for a driver of any vehicle, the consequences of a blinded commercial truck driver can be catastrophic.

5. Avoid distractions like texting

Studies show that rural roads and highways are where most crashes occur, with the vast majority of fatal and non-fatal crashes occurring over the weekend. Impaired and distracted driving tends to play a large role in this number, so the best thing you can do to stay safe is to stay alert while behind the wheel. Avoid texting and driving, driving while fatigued, and speeding or following trucks too closely. Staying alert to your surroundings and being mindful of semis on the road around you are the most effective way to protect your safety.

6. Merge carefully

Take caution when merging in front of a semi-truck. Commercial trucks require greater lengths of time to slow down due to the weight of the truck and the cargo that it is hauling. According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, semi-trucks that are traveling at 65 miles per hour will take up to two football fields to completely stop. Since it is more difficult for a semi-truck to stop quickly, it is best to decelerate and merge after a commercial vehicle, rather than trying to accelerate and merge in front of a semi-truck.

7. Give clear signals for lane changes

If you are passing a semi-truck, you should use your turn signal sooner than you normally would so that the truck driver has adequate time to recognize that you are planning to pass and to adjust their own driving if needed. A sudden lane change may not provide the truck driver with enough time to avoid a collision.

Why You Need a Truck Accident Attorney

Drivers should take extra precaution around 18-wheelers, but if an accident does occur, contact an experienced truck accident attorney to handle your case. Immediately following an accident, the company of the truck and its team of lawyers will begin building their case. It is crucial to hire a law firm with the collateral to go up against these big trucking companies and fight for the justice you rightfully deserve.

Trust Matthews Injury Law with Your Case

Although a truck accident may seem similar to a typical passenger vehicle, it takes an attorney with an experienced background in litigating commercial truck cases to navigate the intricacies of the negotiations or court room. The attorneys at Matthews Injury Law have successfully taken cases to trial on behalf of trucking companies as well as drivers injured by the negligence of truck drivers.

If you or a loved one has been involved in a truck collision in Tampa, Sarasota or another area in Florida, we can help you get the settlement you deserve. To request a free consultation, contact us today.

*The information on this page was either written or reviewed by attorney Marc Matthews, a managing partner at Matthews Injury Law and an experienced truck accident attorney in Florida.