Over the past year, the United States has been hit with unusually severe weather. While the northernmost states have dealt with blizzards, ice storms and banks of snow, the southern states have been less equipped to handle these hazardous conditions.
One of the hardest-hit was the Peach State. While spring, summer and fall in Georgia might mean warm, dry weather, this past winter set records for snowfall and low temperatures, which led to significant traffic issues. The media reported highway shutdowns, serious car accidents and fatal car and truck accident injuries, some of which were linked to tractor trailers and winter road conditions.
In 2008, nearly 400,000 large trucks were involved in traffic crashes in the United States. These crashes accounted for more than 4,000 deaths, approximately 11 percent of all the traffic fatalities that year. While trucks make up 4 percent of registered vehicles on the road, commercial trucks are linked to about 12 percent of all traffic accidents.
Coupled with the highway risks related to commercial trucks and tractor trailers, cold-weather holiday travel increases the risk for human losses. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, an average of 572 people were killed on U.S. highways during each Thanksgiving holiday from 1998 to 2008.
Drivers should realize that the standard rules that apply to smaller cars do not apply to big trucks. These larger vehicles require longer stopping distances in dry weather conditions. Adding inclement weather and slippery roads reduces the ability to stop and increases the risk for loss of control. While driving over black ice, through thick snow or on icy patches, tractor trailers can fishtail, roll over and crash into other vehicles.
Commercial truck companies might be able to reduce the risk of these mishaps by promoting safe-driving standards and training truck fleet drivers on driving in severe weather conditions and good driver behaviors on the roadways. Without proper training, poorly trained or minimally skilled drivers are liabilities to their companies. Driver training is a relevant issue when juries or judges access fault and damages after a serious truck accident because it may show that the company negligently informed drivers of the hazards of poor weather conditions.
Millions of commercial trucks travel U.S. roadways. While human and mechanical faults are the causes of most accidents, weather also plays a role in truck accidents. However, bad weather does not have to mean bad driving for car or big-truck drivers. Careful planning, preparation and patience when travelling in inclement winter weather can save lives.