A head-on collision can be an emotionally jarring experience. It’s an accident you can see coming but are sometimes helpless to avoid. Facing a large semi-truck head-on can be absolutely terrifying. Thankfully, this type of commercial vehicle accident is relatively rare. Between 2015 and 2017, approximately 14 percent of all fatal truck-involved accidents were head-on collisions.
But while they only make up a small share of all fatal truck accidents, the numbers are still alarmingly high. In 2017 alone there were 669 head-on fatal crashes involving large trucks. That’s just under two per day. So why do these accidents happen, where do they happen, and what can you do after an accident? If you or a loved one has been in a head-on truck collision, a Florida truck accident attorney can help you fight for your rights.
Why Large Trucks Are so Dangerous
Understanding the size and weight of large trucks is the only way to truly appreciate the amount of damage they are capable of. To be classified as a large truck, a vehicle must weigh at least 10,000. That’s two and a half times the weight of an average passenger vehicle. At maximum capacity, a truck can weigh as much as 80,000 pounds. The average semi-truck is between 70 and 80 feet long. The sheer size alone makes it scary to drive on the road with these vehicles.
But a closer look gives even more insight into the dangers of large trucks. Because of their size and the type of brakes they use, a large truck takes twice as long to stop as a passenger vehicle. This means they can’t respond as quickly as passenger vehicles. Large trucks also take longer to turn and take up more room when they do so. Because of their size and the amount of time it takes to maneuver, they cannot avoid hazards the same way smaller vehicles can.
On top of it all, the average driver drives between two to three thousand miles per week. All this does not bode well for drivers. In 2017, 11 percent of all motor vehicle fatalities involved large trucks. Even more alarming—the number of fatal accidents involving large trucks weighing between 10,001 pounds and 14,000 increased 225 percent from 2015 to 2017. The number of fatal accidents involving medium to large-sized trucks increased 95 percent during that same period.
High-risk Areas for Head-On Collisions
Head-on collisions can happen anywhere, but some places leave you more vulnerable than others. This includes:
- Non-divided highways: Non-divided highways do not have a barrier separating two one-way lanes. These roads are common in rural areas. Because there is no barrier, there is nothing to stop the driver from moving into the other lane. This can happen when the driver becomes distracted or is unable to see the painted lines on the road.
- Narrow roadways: Trucks shouldn’t drive on narrow roadways, but they do. When a large truck drives down a narrow roadway there may not be enough room for a passenger vehicle to pass. The passenger car may approach not realizing that the truck has taken up the entire roadway and collide into the truck.
- Curves: Curves are dangerous for a variety of reasons. The number one factor that makes curves dangerous is poor visibility. When you are traveling around a curve you are unable to see what is coming in front of you. Large trucks require extra room to turn. This may cause them to move into the opposite lane of traffic to make the turn. But just like passenger vehicles, large trucks have diminished visibility around curves. This means they may not see approaching traffic as they navigate the curve.
- One way streets: Head-on collisions can happen when a driver drives the wrong way on a one-way street. This includes entering the freeway in the wrong direction.
How Do Head-On Accidents Happen?
For a head-on collision to happen, one of the drivers must be driving the wrong way. But in most cases, a driver doesn’t voluntarily choose to drive against traffic. Other factors, including driver error and poor weather can contribute to head-on collisions. Here’s a look at some of the top reasons for truck-involved head-on collisions:
- Distracted driving: Truck drivers often drive 70 hours during an eight-day period. Most of the time they drive their route alone. This can cause drivers to become bored or lonely. When this happens, they may turn to a mobile device. Distracted driving is one of the biggest killers in the United States. In 2017 there were 3,116 fatalities related to distracted driving.
- Driver fatigue: Driver fatigue has long been one of the biggest concerns for the trucking industry. Drivers work long hours and often sleep in uncomfortable locations on the road. Drowsy driving is just as dangerous as drunk driving. When you don’t get enough sleep you increase your risk of falling asleep at the wheel. According to the CDC, approximately 1 in 25 drivers have reported falling asleep while driving in the past 30 days. When a truck driver falls asleep at the wheel their truck may drift into oncoming traffic.
- Driving under the influence: Driving under the influence is dangerous, regardless of what type of vehicle you are driving. Drugs and alcohol reduce a driver’s ability to react appropriately and make good judgment. Additionally, intoxicants can reduce a driver’s vision and cause their reaction time to increase. Thankfully, driver intoxication is relatively rare. In 2017, 5 percent of all drivers involved in fatal accidents tested positive for at least one drug.
- Medical emergency: When a driver suffers a medical emergency such as a seizure or heart attack they may not be able to remove their truck from the road before losing control of the vehicle. This type of accident is extremely dangerous because unlike accidents involving DUIs or a drowsy driver, the driver cannot respond when the vehicle crosses over. While a drunk or drowsy driver may attempt to brake to reduce the force of the impact, a driver suffering a medical emergency cannot.
- Poor visibility: Inclement weather can make it difficult to see. This can cause a driver to cross over the center line and into the opposite lane of traffic. In Florida, heavy rain and sun glare can make it extremely difficult to see ahead and can easily contribute to an accident.
- Mechanical failure: Trucks fail at a disturbingly high rate. Despite federal regulations requiring annual inspections, many trucks fail to meet safe driving standards. The Large Truck Crash Causation Study revealed that out of all the trucks involved in the 2004 study, 10 percent of all accidents were caused by vehicle problems. Brake issues and tire issues were the top mechanical issues.
- Complacency: Anyone who has driven a long distance can tell you that it is easy to become complacent on the road. After hours of driving the same stretch of highway, everything seems to fade together. For truck drivers, this is especially dangerous. Complacency can cause the driver to miss approaching hazards, go faster than they realize, and move into the other lane.
Who Pays for These Accidents?
Head-on collisions are some of the most dangerous types of accidents. As such, they often lead to serious and life-threatening injuries. Medical care is expensive. With truck accidents, hospital bills can easily surpass $100,000. As an accident victim, it’s important to know that you are not alone. Several sources can help you pay for your care and move on after an accident. This includes:
Your PIP Coverage
Florida law requires all drivers to carry $10,000 in personal injury protection. This coverage is the first payment you will use after an accident. For large truck accidents, this coverage is usually depleted within the first few days of care. It is also important to note that PIP insurance only covers 80 percent of your bills. This means you will be responsible for the other 20 percent.
The Other Driver
All truck drivers are required to carry liability insurance. In the event of an injury, you can file a claim against the other driver’s insurance policy to cover your damages. A personal injury attorney can help you file a personal injury suit to recover economic and non-economic damages related to your accident. If the other party’s insurance does not meet your demands, your attorney can file a personal injury claim on your behalf.
The Trucking Company
Depending on the circumstances of the accident, the trucking company may hold some financial responsibility for the accident. Trucking companies are responsible for making sure that their drivers are properly maintained and obey all laws and regulations. In addition to driver performance, they are also liable for making sure the truck is properly maintained and in compliance with federal regulations. If an employer’s actions caused the driver to act inappropriately or led to a poorly maintained vehicle, you may have a claim against the company. Examples of when the trucking company may hold liability include:
- The employer forced the driver to exceed maximum work hours
- The employer knew the driver had a medical condition that could affect their ability to drive the truck safely
- The employer was aware of a drug or alcohol addiction
- The employer did not ensure proper vehicle maintenance
- The employer knowingly hired an unqualified driver
The Truck or Parts Manufacturer
Given the high rate of accidents caused by vehicle problems, it’s important to investigate whether mechanical issues played a role in the accident. If there was a mechanical issue, an experienced attorney can help you determine whether the issue was because of poor maintenance or a faulty part. If there was a faulty or defective part and the manufacturer knew about it, they may be liable.
Your Own Insurance
In the rare event that the truck driver or the trucking company does not have a policy large enough to cover your damages, your own insurance company can help cover the costs. A truck accident attorney can help you file a claim against your underinsured policy to compensate you for your loss.
Damages After an Accident
Your personal injury protection will cover some of the economic damages after an injury. A personal injury attorney can help you seek both economic and economic damages from the responsible party. Common costs included in a personal injury claim include:
- Medical costs: Truck accidents can involve extensive medical care. A personal injury claim can help you recover the costs associated with your care. After you have exhausted your PIP coverage, your attorney can work with your care providers to delay payment until your case is resolved. Medical costs typically include doctor visits, hospital stays, medical transportation, medications, physical therapy, and necessary rehab.
- Lost wages: Lost wages begin from the time you are in an accident. When you are unable to return to work, you are unable to make money to support yourself. Lost wages cover any time missed because of the accident and in severe cases will include future wages.
- Pain and suffering: Accidents can cause severe physical and emotional pain. Pain and suffering may include physical pain, anxiety, depression, PTSD, or other mental health issues.
- Loss of enjoyment: An accident can leave you permanently handicapped or otherwise unable to participate in activities you once enjoyed. When this happens, you deserve financial compensation.
- Wrongful death: When an accident claims the life of a loved one, it can be difficult to comprehend. Monetary compensation will not bring back your loved one, but it can help offset the costs associated with the accident.
You’re Not Alone
A truck accident can inflict tremendous pain. When you are dealing with the physical and emotional aftermath of an accident, the last thing you want to worry about is paying your bills. A personal injury attorney can help you delay payment of your medical bills and seek compensation for your injuries. If you or a loved one has been injured in a large truck accident, contact an experienced personal injury attorney for more information.