Trucks and cars on the road

Many people understand that the size and weight of a semi-truck increase the potential for terrible damage and severe injuries in a truck accident. The size and weight of a large truck increase the distance required to stop a truck.

A semi-truck may need twice as much distance as a passenger car to come to a stop. A loaded truck traveling in good road conditions at 65 mph needs nearly 600 feet, the length of two football fields, to stop, according to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). When you add that the FMCSA puts “brake problems” at the top of a list of 10 causes of truck crashes, it’s quite obvious why some Kentucky truck accidents are so destructive.

After a truck accident, the law firm of Morgan, Collins, Yeast & Salyer brings Kentucky Courage to help injured people fight for fair compensation from trucking companies. Trucking companies and their insurers have many tactics to avoid financial responsibility for accidents caused by truck drivers’ disregard for safety. But our truck accident attorneys will stand up for your rights. Contact us 24/7 at (877) 809-5352 or online.

Stopping a Passenger Car vs. Stopping a Tractor-Trailer

It should take about three-quarters of a second for a truck driver to recognize the need to stop and then apply the vehicle’s brakes. Then it is up to the vehicle’s brakes to slow the rotation of the wheels until the vehicle comes to a standstill.

Most passenger car brakes are closed hydraulic systems, in which the pressure of hydraulic fluid operates the braking mechanisms. When a car’s driver applies the brakes, the vehicle starts to slow almost immediately and, at 65 mph under ideal conditions, will typically come to a stop in about 315 feet.

But most tractor-trailers and other large commercial trucks have air brakes, in which pressurized air is used to trigger a rig’s multiple braking mechanisms. If you’ve ever heard a loud “whooshing” sound come from a truck as it pulls next to you at a stoplight, you’ve heard air being released from its brake system.

When a truck driver applies the brakes, air pressure has to build up throughout a system that spans the length of the vehicle before the brakes start to slow the truck. This means that when a trucker recognizes a problem and reacts, there’s a brake lag of about half a second during which the truck continues at full speed. 

“Half a second” sounds like nothing, but at 65 mph, a vehicle covers 95.33 feet per second. During half a second of brake lag, a truck travels 47.6 feet.

Licensed truckers are aware of brake lag and the responsibility they have to remain alert to traffic conditions when behind the wheel because every second counts when applying the brakes on a large truck. It is well understood that stopping distance increases with speed, so speeding is more dangerous in a large truck than it is in a passenger car.

Yet, the FCMSA’s Large Truck and Bus Crash Facts 2018 (published in September 2020) says “Speeding of Any Kind” and “Distraction/Inattention” were the most frequent driver-related factors contributing to fatal crashes involving large trucks.

Brake Failure and Semi-Truck Accidents

Not all truck accidents are caused by a negligent driver at the wheel. There are multiple safety violations and mechanical failures that can cause commercial truck accidents. In the FMCSA’s yearly truck accident statistics, brake failure was second only to tire failure among vehicle-related failures leading to fatal truck accidents from 2016 to 2018.

Truck owners have a legal responsibility to inspect, repair and maintain their vehicles. Truck drivers are also responsible for certain spot checks each time they get into a rig to drive it.

Potential reasons why a large truck’s brakes might fail include:

  • Improper brake maintenance. Some companies try to cut corners and save money by delaying routine maintenance, ignoring minor problems or using inexperienced maintenance personnel/companies.
  • Overheating. Particularly in the mountains, overuse can cause brakes to overheat and expand or weaken and ultimately fail to control a truck’s speed. A driver who is not trained well may overuse and overheat their brakes. Poorly maintained brakes are also more susceptible to failure if overheated.
  • Brake imbalance. Brakes may lock up and cause a truck to skid and/or jackknife if some are applied harder or more often and have unequal wear. Overused brakes in an imbalanced system also tend to overheat. Brake imbalance may be due to mismatched components or failures in the pneumatic system that cause unequal air pressure.
  • Cutting front brakes. Some truck owners disconnect the brakes on a truck’s tractor to save money on tires and brake maintenance. What they’re really doing is shifting the full burden of stopping the truck to the brakes on the trailer, which makes the trailer brakes more likely to wear out and fail.
  • Overloaded trailer. Increased weight adds to the momentum and required braking distance. An overloaded truck requires even more distance to stop. The longer braking time can overtax the system, leading to failure. 

How to Drive Safely Around Trucks on Kentucky Roads18 wheeler truck

A large truck’s braking distance and the potential for brakes to fail and/or a trucker to be distracted or fatigued and slow to hit the brakes may convince you to stay away from trucks on the highway. But large trucks and buses also have large blind spots and limited maneuverability that make it vital for drivers in smaller vehicles to know how to be safe when they have to be around them.

The FMCSA offers these safety tips:

  • Stay out of blind spots. A commercial truck has blind spots on each side and in the front and back of the vehicle, and they are huge. Don’t linger directly in front of or behind a truck. You want to be at least 20 feet ahead of a truck and 30 feet behind. Alongside a truck, the blind spot covers a full lane to the driver’s left and two lanes to the right. If you can’t see the truck driver in the vehicle’s side mirrors, assume the driver can’t see you either.
  • Maintain your distance from a truck. Even if you’re visible to the truck driver, the trucker may not be able to slow down quickly enough to avoid hitting you because of lag time and braking distance. Stay well back when traveling behind a truck so you can be seen. Stay back when you stop, too, because a truck may roll backward before its gears engage when it restarts. Trucks need extra turning room and may swing wide or start a turn from a middle lane. Never try to squeeze by a truck in a turn.
  • Pass carefully. Make sure you can see the trucker in his side mirror before you start to pass, and signal before making a move. Then move quickly to get well ahead of the truck before moving back into the truck’s lane. Make sure you can see the whole height of the truck in your rearview mirror before pulling in ahead of it. If a truck starts to pass you, slow down and let it go.
  • Be patient. Trucks are slow to pull away from a stop and gain speed. It takes a lot to get that much weight moving. Give trucks room on approach ramps, where they may need to change lanes as they move in from the right. Don’t honk your horn, cut through traffic aggressively to get around the truck or do anything that could distract – or anger – the trucker and lead to a crash or another bad situation.

When to Contact a Kentucky Truck Accident Lawyer

If you have been seriously injured in a truck accident that was not your fault, you should speak to an experienced Kentucky truck accident lawyer. You may be eligible to recover compensation to pay your medical bills and other losses. An attorney working for you can make sure your rights are protected and seek a settlement that is appropriate based on your injuries. Without an attorney guiding you, an insurance company is more likely to try to take advantage of you. It is very easy to be shortchanged by an insurance adjustor whose real obligation is to their employer’s bottom line. 

The Kentucky truck accident attorneys of Morgan, Collins, Yeast & Salyer will do everything in our power to recover maximum compensation and make you whole again. Please contact us for a free consultation about your claim. We handle truck accident cases on a continency fee basis. You won’t owe any legal fee unless we are successful in recovering compensation for you through a negotiated settlement or jury award. Contact us online or at (877) 809-5352 today.