When a passenger vehicle rear-ends your vehicle, the accident can cause whiplash, spinal cord injuries, or a traumatic brain injury, depending on the severity of the collision. When a big truck hits your vehicle from the rear, the force of the impact can cause even more catastrophic injuries. Because of the mass of a big truck, which, when fully loaded, can weigh as much as 80,000 lbs, trucks can do substantial damage to smaller passenger vehicles when the two collide.
Common Causes of Rear-End Truck Accidents
Rear-end truck accidents often seem to come out of nowhere. You might stop at a red light or stop sign, assuming that you simply have to wait your turn before you can progress through the intersection to your destination. Suddenly, a truck strikes you from behind, propelling you out into the intersection with no ability to stop. In other cases, you may be traveling smoothly down the highway. Suddenly, you need to slam on your brakes or slow down abruptly to avoid a hazard in the road, and a truck slams into you from behind. Many factors can contribute to rear-end truck accidents; these, however, represent some of the most common.
When traveling at 60 miles per hour, it can take as much as the distance of a football field to bring a big truck to a complete stop. A fully-loaded truck can require a great deal more stopping distance than one with only light cargo. If the driver fails to properly judge the space necessary to bring the truck to a complete stop or begins braking too late, these mistakes can lead to a rear-end collision.
Inadequate Space for the Driver to Stop
Many drivers forget how much room a big truck needs to stop. Because passenger vehicles require much less stopping room, passenger vehicle drivers may not give truck drivers adequate space, when pulling in front of them, for example. Many truck drivers also fail to back off and allow adequate stopping space on the road, especially on highways and other busy roadways, because they assume that they will have adequate time if they need to stop.
The faster a vehicle travels, the harder the driver will find it is to stop that vehicle. The danger increases for big truck drivers, since the truck’s greater mass means increased force is needed to stop the truck from moving forward.
Big truck drivers spend as many as 11 hours out of a 14 hour shift on the road, often several days a week. While federal regulations mandate that drivers receive adequate time to sleep and get off the road at the end of their shift, long hours on the road can still lead to inattentive drivers who fail to notice important things going on around them. An inattentive driver may fail to recognize that a driver is slowing down in front of him, or fail to notice potential traffic hazards that could prevent the vehicle in front of him from stopping. An inattentive driver can quickly cause an accident.
When brakes fail on a big truck, a driver may have no ability to bring the truck to a safe stop. Without brakes, the truck may just keep rolling, especially on an incline. When brakes fail unexpectedly, the driver may crash into the back of the closest vehicle with no way to prevent it. While most trucks undergo inspections of all their component parts, including the brakes, after every trip, brake failure can occur without warning. The driver may not even notice problems with the brakes during the trip.
Keeping Yourself Safe: Avoiding Rear-End Truck Collisions
When truck driver error causes a rear-end collision, you may have little ability to prevent it. But by exercising a few safe driving practices you can decrease your odds of suffering a rear-end accident with a truck behind you.
1. Maintain a safe speed.
Pay attention to posted speed limits, and maintain a safe speed. The faster you travel, the more room both you and other vehicles on the road around you need to maneuver. If you travel at a high rate of speed and must slam on your brakes to avoid an accident when a truck is behind you, the truck driver may lack the same mobility and ability to stop quickly. Instead, slow down. Pay attention to traffic patterns. If you notice traffic bogging down ahead, reduce your speed to make it easier to maneuver as you reach the tight spot on the road.
2. Clearly signal before making turns.
If you know that you need to turn off the road with a truck behind you, clearly signal your intentions well before making the turn, especially if you are driving in an unfamiliar area or do not know exactly where to find your turn. Slow down, rather than racing to your destination. Even if you are using GPS, you may not have adequate warning before you need to make your turn. Abrupt maneuvers can cause truck drivers to get close to your vehicle, raising the risk of an accident.
3. Try to avoid abrupt stops.
Sometimes you have little choice about making an abrupt stop: the car in front of you slammed on its brakes, someone pulled out in front of you or changed lanes too fast, or an animal ran into the road in front of you. In many cases, however, you have a choice about how abruptly you slow and stop your vehicle. When possible, especially with a big truck behind you, try to avoid making abrupt stops. Instead, slow your rate of speed reasonably and control your stop. Tapping your brake lights indicates that you plan to reduce your speed or stop. A truck driver observing these signs will often back off or slow their own rate of speed, which can help prevent rear-end collisions.
4. Allow adequate room when changing lanes in front of a truck.
You may have followed the same truck for miles, waiting for the perfect moment to get around. Finally, space opens up. Traffic in the other lane is flowing fast enough that you can get around. The truck, however, is driving just a little too close to the vehicle in front of it. If you cannot safely move in front of the truck and leave adequate stopping room, do not change lanes immediately. Instead, signal your intention. Often, the truck driver will back the truck off and leave room for you to get over safely. In many cases, the driver may even flash their lights to let you know when you have enough room.
Also, do not change lanes in front of a truck in tight traffic. Even if you think you have enough room, if you have to slam on your brakes immediately after changing lanes in front of the truck, that can quickly lead to an accident.
5. Check your brake lights regularly.
Even the most experienced driver may struggle to note how fast your car is traveling or when your speed is decreasing without brake lights to indicate your intentions. Many cars have indicators that will let you know if your brake lights fail. If your car lacks that feature, make sure you check your brake lights regularly: when filling up with gas, for example. If your brake lights go out, truck drivers have no way to know when you plan to stop, which can significantly increase your odds of being involved in a rear-end accident.
6. Keep an eye on your mirrors.
When driving, especially in heavy traffic, check your mirrors regularly. Note, in particular, truck drivers that appear to drift too close to your vehicle. If you notice anyone traveling too closely behind you, especially a truck driver who may need more room to stop, slow down. At a slower rate of speed, the truck will have lower odds of hitting you and will be likely to cause less damage if it does rear-end you.
7. Avoid distractions.
Distracted drivers often become erratic, making their actions incredibly difficult to predict. If you become distracted behind the wheel, whether by talking or texting on the phone or simply changing the station on the radio, you may miss what is happening on the road in front of you. When you look up, you may have to react abruptly, which can in turn make it difficult for drivers behind you, including truck drivers, to react safely. Instead, keep your attention on the road when you drive. The more closely you watch the road, the more effectively you can react to potential hazards, which may prevent you from suffering serious injuries in a rear-end collision.
What Injuries Do Rear-End Collisions With Trucks Cause?
In a rear-end accident with a truck, you may suffer serious injuries even at a relatively low rate of speed due to the truck’s greater mass. Many rear-end collision victims suffer neck and back injuries. Others may suffer severe injuries to the head, face, or hands. Airbag deployment can prevent some types of injuries, but may also contribute to arm and hand injuries in the accident. Severe injuries may include:
Spinal Cord Damage
In a rear-end collision, the car catapults forward sharply. When you hit the limits of your seat belt or strike the dashboard or the seat in front of you, you snap back hard the other direction. This places substantial stress on the spinal cord which can, in some cases, cause breaks or damage. Spinal cord damage can cause lifelong problems for the victim, including decreased mobility below the site of the injury. In the case of complete spinal cord injury, the victim may experience complete paralysis below the site of the injury. Some patients experience numbness below the site of the injury, while others suffer from tingling or increased pain.
In many rear-end collisions, the victim suffers whiplash: damage to the muscles and tendons in the neck due to the force experienced during the accident. Whiplash can cause serious complications for the patient. While some patients recover from whiplash within a few days or weeks after the accident, others may find that symptoms linger for months. Symptoms may include pain, tingling, or numbness in the neck, shoulders, and arms after the injury. Some whiplash victims notice increased pain with certain movements, which may prevent them from engaging in normal activities while they recover.
Sprain and Strains
Many people assume that a neck strain or sprain received in an accident is the same as whiplash. Sprains and strains, however, fall into their own category and include stretching or snapping of ligaments, tendons, and muscles in the neck during the accident. Some neck sprains and strains can create extreme pain for the victim, who may require physical therapy to regain mobility and strength in the affected area.
Traumatic Brain Injury
In a rear-end collision with a truck, accident victims are often subject to a great deal of force. Their head may slam forward, striking the steering wheel, dashboard, or the back of the seat in front of them. In some cases, striking the airbag can also create enough force to cause a traumatic brain injury. At the scene of the accident, a traumatic brain injury may present as disorientation or confusion.
Many victims of traumatic brain injuries, especially severe traumatic brain injuries, lose consciousness at least briefly. The victim may suffer from memory loss, ongoing confusion, problems with sensory perception—including blurred vision or ringing in the ears—and decreased emotional regulation. Traumatic brain injuries often leave victims struggling to participate in the activities of daily life without assistance.
If you suffered serious injuries in a rear-end collision, you may need an attorney to help you navigate the legal system and seek the compensation you deserve. Contact an attorney as soon as possible after your accident to receive the legal help you need to navigate the claims process.
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