Driving in icy conditions is always dangerous, but even more so when large commercial vehicles like semi-trucks and tractor trailers are involved. According to the Federal Highway Administration, 22% of all motor vehicle accidents are weather-related.
Winter weather, with its poor visibility, snow-and-ice-packed roads, and the hazards of snow removal equipment, causes the perfect storm for slowing and blocking traffic. The U.S. Department of Transportation estimates that a quarter of all weather-related crashes happen on pavement made icy by snow, sleet, and ice.
Truck Accident Statistics and Recent Wrecks
The statistics regarding large trucks are even more alarming. While the average car on the road today weighs about 5,000 pounds, a tractor trailer can weigh up to 80,000 pounds when fully loaded with freight.
The combination of weight, size, and speed make these vehicles more difficult to stop under normal circumstances, and the presence of winter weather hazards like snow and ice only increase the difficulty. It takes great skill to control and stop such large vehicles, especially on wet or icy roads.
Since nearly 70% of the U.S. population live in areas that at least occasionally experience winter weather, weather-related truck accidents are a concern across much of the country. The Midwest, including Nebraska, is particularly susceptible to such weather conditions due to unpredictable weather patterns and because of its role as a transportation hub in the freight delivery industry.
However, these issues are not limited to Nebraska. You may recall, for example, a pile-up involving more than 100 vehicles on a Fort Worth, Texas, highway in 2021 that led to mass casualty injuries and several deaths was blamed on freezing rain, the presence of black ice on the roadway, and a failure of large trucks to slow down in time to avoid colliding with other, smaller vehicles.
The cost of these accidents can be measured in the number of injuries and fatalities they cause each winter. Nearly 76,000 people are injured each year in winter weather-related crashes, with an estimated 900 fatalities annually. The economic impact is also staggering. Truck accidents that result in death, injury and property damage have cost Americans up to $112 billion.
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What Is a Truck Driver’s Responsibility When Driving in Winter Weather Conditions?
With more large commercial vehicles on the road today than ever before, it’s not surprising that so many semi-trucks, tractor trailers, box trucks, tankers, and passenger busses are involved in accidents on the ice and snow.
Approximately 73% of cargo that is moved across the United States does so by truck, making commercial vehicles the main mode of freight transport in the country. Accidents involving public transit and private charter busses are of high concern as well, and tend to have particularly deadly outcomes due to the large number of passengers they are designed to carry.
All commercial drivers have a responsibility to the public while operating potentially dangerous vehicles on taxpayer-funded roads and highways, and to recognize that winter driving conditions invite extra risk. The federal government has specifically outlined regulations that are meant to safeguard other drivers from harm due to truck accidents like the one in Fort Worth.
Because large commercial vehicles are already more difficult to maneuver, drivers are required to undergo special training to deal with the dangers of driving in icy weather and to respond to hazardous road conditions. Knowing that these conditions can adversely affect visibility and traction, truck drivers are expected to exercise extreme caution when operating a truck or bus in the:
What Winter Driving Risks Pose a Hazard to Buses and Trucks?
Numerous risks pose a hazard to trucks and buses during winter months. These can include:
Road conditions can deteriorate rapidly when temperatures drop below freezing, leading to sleet, snow, and icy rain. Bridges and overpasses are particularly susceptible to slick spots and dangerous driving conditions due to the cold air that is able to pass beneath them, cooling road surfaces more quickly.
When weather accumulation like sleet and snow coat the surface of roadways and highways, it requires longer braking times on slick pavement and increases the possibility that a driver could lose control of the vehicle.
When a driver is unable to see hazards in the road before them due to blowing snow, driving rain, or fog, it adds to the potential for an accident.
Long after a storm passes, lingering cold air temperatures can lead to a phenomenon known as the freeze-thaw cycle, contributing to slick roads. This occurs when snow and ice melt to slush during warmer daytime temperatures, only to refreeze when temperatures drop again at night.
A thin layer of frozen water, known as black ice, forms an invisible layer on the surface of roads and highways. Black ice reduces the friction between the road’s surface and a truck’s tires, causing them to lose their grip and increasing the odds that a driver will lose control of the truck.
Due to their high center of gravity, trucks are vulnerable to strong winds, which can cause them to be pushed around on the ice or blown over, blocking roadways. Winter wind gusts may contribute to truck tipping or rollover accidents.
An ongoing labor shortage in the country has pushed some trucking companies to cut corners when it comes to training new and inexperienced drivers in their haste to get them on the road.
A lack of experience and training driving large trucks in adverse weather conditions not only puts truck drivers as risk, but everyone else on the road as well. A poorly trained driver may not know how to react when confronted with hazardous weather conditions they haven’t encountered.
Truck drivers are frequently under intense pressure to meet tight delivery deadlines. To keep up with demand, drivers and trucking companies may ignore federal safety requirements regulating driver rest periods and speed restrictions, even when road conditions make it treacherous to do so.
Fatigued drivers have less stamina and road awareness to react quickly and appropriately to changing weather conditions. A disregard for safety precautions increases the likelihood that a catastrophic accident will happen.
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What Can Drivers and Trucking Companies Do to Keep the Public Safe From Commercial Vehicle Accidents During the Winter?
There are several preventative measures that truck drivers and their employers can take to mitigate the risk of being involved in a winter weather-related wreck.
Driving too fast for road conditions is one of the top causes for weather-related crashes. All drivers should reduce their rate of speed any time hazardous conditions are present.
But truck drivers should be hypervigilant because it takes significantly longer for a large truck to slow down and stop on the snow and ice. It’s also more difficult to maintain control of the vehicle at a high rate of speed.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration advises that commercial drivers should slow down by a third of their normal speed on wet roads, and by half or more on snow-packed or icy roads.
So, if the posted speed limit on a highway is 60 mph, a truck driver operating in the rain would need to reduced his or her speed to 40 mph, and the same driver traveling on a snowy day should slow to just 30 mph.
Increase Following Distance & Spread Out
Along with reduction in speed, drivers should increase their following distance from other vehicles, including other commercial trucks. Any time a vehicle in front of a semi-truck or tractor trailer truck comes to a sudden stop, a greater distance is required for the truck to slow down to avoid crashing into it. The distance needed is even larger when roads are slick.
When trucks cluster together on the road, it increases the number of vehicles that are likely to be involved if a truck slides on the ice. Drivers should spread out and give other truckers the room they require to maneuver such large vehicles safely.
When visibility is reduced and drivers already have less control over their vehicles, clearly signaling intentions to other drivers on the road becomes critical for truck drivers. The use of turn signals before changing lanes or making a turn ensures that smaller vehicles have ample time to get out of the way and avoid becoming trapped in a truck’s blind spot.
Cold weather affects the performance of all motor vehicles, but winter driving is particularly hard on large trucks. Mechanical issues, such as a broken defroster or a missing or broken taillight, can be catastrophic in bad weather conditions with poor visibility.
Drivers should have their brakes, windshield wipers, and other essential equipment thoroughly inspected before the beginning of winter weather season. Routine maintenance and keeping a full tank of gas prevent the possibility of being stranded on the side of the road in below-zero temperatures, and the extra weight of a topped off gas tank helps to stabilize the vehicle in icy conditions.
When the weather becomes sufficiently dangerous, drivers of semis, tractor trailers, and other large commercial vehicles should discontinue operations entirely until conditions improve and they are able to drive safely again.
An example would be a driver who suddenly finds him or herself driving through a blizzard. In such a case, it would be best-advised to pull off of the road or highway to avoid causing an accident due to poor visibility.
Drivers who come upon slick or icy roads should drive slowly and cautiously until they are able to pull off of the road at the next possible opportunity, making sure that their vehicle is clear of highway lanes and using appropriate signals and signs to give unsuspecting motorists time to react and avoid crashing into a parked truck.
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Who Is Responsible When a Truck Slides on Ice and Causes an Accident?
Drivers and trucking companies who don’t take precautions in hazardous weather conditions can be held responsible for their role if an accident does occur. The liability for damages may be shared among several parties, including:
- The driver
- The trucking company
- The manufacturer of hazardous materials
- A cargo loader
- The manufacturer of faulty parts or equipment
Your legal team can help determine negligence in these situations and pursue compensation from all responsible parties.
Reach Out to Berry Law’s Truck Accident Lawyers
If you’ve been injured in an accident with a commercial vehicle on the ice and snow, you may be eligible to receive compensation. Large truck accident cases can be quite complex, with the potential for multiple defendants sharing liability. You need someone with the experience to evaluate your situation and fight for the financial compensation you and your family deserve.
Contact the attorneys at Berry Law. They have an extensive background representing truck accident victims and their survivors, successfully recovering compensation for thousands of clients over the years. The personal injury team at Berry Law will analyze your case, identify the responsible parties, and fight to hold them accountable.
Call or text 402-466-8444 or complete a Free Case Evaluation form