Don't let yourself be run over by medical treatments and other costs
Most drivers know the feeling… a large truck approaching from behind, traveling a little too fast for your comfort. Your discomfort might be for good reason — truck accidents are a problem nationwide.
But let's take a deeper look at Maryland truck accident statistics.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) publishes data that reflect the types of vehicles involved in fatal crashes. Here's what they found in 2018 (the most recent year for which information is available):
The NHTSA separates large trucks and small trucks for statistical purposes but combined, there were 315 fatal truck accidents in Maryland in 2018, as compared to 350 car accidents. (source)
Common causes of truck accidents
One of the ways you can avoid a truck accident is to know what causes them. A truck accident can be either the fault of the truck driver, the passenger car driver, or another party. How the accident happened can help determine who's liable (or at fault) for the crash.
Common causes of truck accidents by
commercial truck drivers
- Inadequate training on driving techniques, safety, and defensive driving
- Fatigue or exhaustion from a trucking company's schedule pressure and too many road hours with too few hours of sleep or breaks.
Common causes of truck accidents by
passenger vehicle drivers
- Failure to move a disabled vehicle completely onto the shoulder of the highway
- Driving in the truck driver's blind spots (areas behind or next to a commercial truck)
- Driving between 2 or more large trucks
- Fast maneuvers like abrupt lane changes in front of a truck
- Moving into traffic from the shoulder or merging from an on-ramp without sufficient acceleration in front of a truck
- Moving to the right of a truck that's making a right turn
- Passing too close to a truck and being blown to the side by air turbulence or crosswind
- Making a left turn in front of a truck while misjudging its speed
- Failure to slow down or speed up when a truck begins to change lanes or merge
Common causes of truck accidents by
either a truck or car driver
- Driver fatigue. Drowsy driving is as dangerous as drunk driving. If you're too tired to drive, you might have trouble focusing or concentrating. Twenty-one percent of fatal crashes involve a drowsy driver.Federal laws and regulations provide rules for how many hours a truck driver may be behind the wheel at a time and how many hours of sleep are required in between. Still, some trucking companies push the limits or break the rules entirely. A schedule might make it impossible for a driver to make good enough time to travel the number of miles required for a load, so they instead sleep fewer hours in order to get to the destination on time. As a result, there are truck drivers who fall asleep at the wheel, or who lose concentration or coordination and are slow to react to a traffic situation.
- Distracted driving. We hear about texting and driving all the time because it's a big problem. But distracted driving isn't just texting. Distracting behaviors can also include eating, checking a map or directions (on a device or on paper), or even just losing concentration on a long and uninteresting strip of highway.
- Alcohol and drug use. Nearly a third of truck drivers admitted to using amphetamines on the job, according to a Reuters Health study. Another 20% admitted to using marijuana, and 3% used cocaine. Often, it's appealing to a truck driver to use amphetamines or cocaine in order to stimulate themselves to stay awake while driving. The hazard is that these drugs also compel drivers to take unnecessary risks (like speeding). Also, the drugs' effects wear off quickly, which makes it more likely for a driver to fall asleep at the wheel.Of course, non-truck drivers can cause accidents by driving under the influence, too. The bottom line: Don't drive if you're impaired.
- Speeding. Professional drivers are under pressure to make tight deadlines. A commercial truck driver might be at risk of losing their job if they can't deliver a load on time, and that might mean they're more likely to speed to get there. For an 18-wheeler traveling 55 miles per hour on dry pavement, it can take 390 feet (or 4 seconds) to come to a stop. That might not sound like much, but if you're in a small car in front of a big truck and you need to come to a sudden stop, then you could be at risk if the driver can't stop the truck fast enough.
Liability for a Maryland truck accident
There's one big difference between how a truck accident and a car accident might be handled by the courts. While Maryland's pure contributory negligence laws will apply to any personal injury lawsuit, the trucking industry is largely regulated by the federal government.
That's significant because it can change how a judge or jury determines who's liable for an accident.
For instance, if 2 cars are in a crash and one driver was speeding, it might seem fairly clear-cut that the driver who exceeded the speed limit caused the crash. Both drivers are treated equally under the law, the decision is based on the evidence, and each driver has the same legal obligations.
But if one of those vehicles is an 18-wheeler, it could have a different outcome.
One driver is responsible for their own actions and behavior while driving. But what if the other driver — the truck driver — was speeding because their employer put unreasonable pressure to deliver a load within a tight timeline that required the driver to travel faster than the speed limit? Or what if the driver was required to work a longer shift and spend more hours on the road than permitted by federal law?
There are strict regulations for how many hours a driver may spend behind the wheel without a specific amount of hours for sleeping or breaks. If a crash happens and the driver wasn't within the federal guidelines, the liability could be on the trucking company instead of the driver.
Maryland at-fault rules and pure contributory negligence
Maryland is an at-fault state. That means the person who causes an accident is financially responsible for the injured person's expenses. They could pay by using their insurance policy, out of pocket, or could be subject to a judgment from a personal injury lawsuit.
Maryland also follows a pure contributory negligence standard. Under this fault system, a plaintiff (the injured person) cannot recover any damages from a lawsuit if the plaintiff had any responsibility for the accident. In other words, even if you didn't cause the accident, you can't recover damages if the court finds that you could have prevented it, or if your action or inaction contributed in any way — however small — to your injury.
Who is liable for a Maryland truck accident?
There are several parties that might be liable for a truck accident. Sometimes, there's 1 party that's at fault, but in other cases there could be 2 or more parties who are jointly liable for an accident.
These are some of the possible liable parties:
- Truck driver. Depending on the type of driver and the nature of their employment, the trucker could be held personally responsible for any truck accident injuries and damage they cause. You likely won't know which type of driver they are at the accident scene, but your lawyer will be able to get this information.
3 types of truck drivers Owner-operator The driver owns the truck they drive and either is an independent contractor or leases vehicles to a trucking company. Company driver The driver is an employee of a trucking company and only drives that company's trucks. Independent owner-operator The driver operates their own truck to haul goods from their own company.
- Trucking company. There are several ways the company could be liable for an accident. The contracts between the trucking company and the shipper or manufacturer, and between the trucking company and the driver (many drivers are independent contractors or subcontractors), can determine who's liable for an accident. The company could also be liable if the accident was caused by a truck that wasn't properly inspected or loaded, or if the trucking company violated strict federal standards for how many hours a driver may work in a shift or how long they have to sleep in between shifts.
- Parts manufacturer. Your car was probably manufactured in a plant that's owned and operated by a specific manufacturer. A truck, on the other hand, might be made from parts made by a number of different manufacturers. If the accident was caused by a faulty bearing, a defective cargo restraint, a defective brake system, or any other way that's related to defective parts, it could be the manufacturer that's ultimately at fault.
- Shipper/distributor. Some shippers use their own trucks to transport goods. Others contract with a trucking company, but the shipper would still load cargo before the trip. Some truck accidents are caused because cargo is loaded improperly, there's too much weight, or for other cargo-related reasons.
- Highway crew or government agency. If the accident was caused by poor road conditions, inadequate signage, or other maintenance issues, a government agency like the highway department could be responsible.
Workers' compensation for truck drivers
Though passenger car occupants are most often injured when involved in truck accidents, sometimes the truck driver can be hurt, too.
Injured truck drivers may be eligible for workers' compensation benefits if they're injured in a work-related accident.
Workers' compensation is a no-fault system of insurance, which means you only have to prove that your injury happened while you were doing your job. Some independent contractors can receive workers' compensation.
If you were injured in a trucking accident, you should contact a workers' compensation lawyer to determine whether your injuries are covered.
Common types of truck accidents
Understanding the common types of accidents that happen is one way to prevent being involved in one. Though you might never be behind the wheel of a truck, you should know what to look for when you're on the road and how to leave enough space to avoid a collision.
You can't anticipate every accident, but here are some of the ways truck crashes most often happen:
Jackknife truck accidents
A "jackknife" is when the cab and trailer portions of a big rig fold at the joint. If the back of the trailer moves faster than the cab, it creates a sharp angle that causes the truck to face 2 directions. If this happens, the driver no longer has control over the vehicle. A nearby car could collide with the swinging trailer or wedge underneath the rear of the truck.
Tire blowout accidents
Both cars and trucks can have tire blowouts, which can cause the vehicle to swerve into another lane, rollover, or jackknife. A tire blowout is usually caused by wear and tear, defective manufacturing, or routine maintenance deficiencies.
If a truck tire blows out, the debris from the broken tire could hit other cars, or the truck could collide with other cars if it swerves out of its lane.
Underride truck accidents
A passenger car can slide underneath a truck, either from the rear or the side. The height difference in the vehicles means that the top or front of the car could be crushed and its occupants seriously injured. Underride crashes are some of the most deadly truck collisions.
Unsecured load accidents
There are many federal regulations for loading cargo, and the main consideration is that the haul must be immobile and secure. The truck's restraint system must be strong enough to keep cargo from sliding or shifting.
There are 2 ways an unsecured load accident could happen:
- If the truck is involved in an accident and the load isn't secured properly, it can create an additional hazard because the impact could cause the cargo to slide into oncoming traffic, or onto the road.
- The other possibility is that the instability of the load, itself, can cause an accident if the truck's center of gravity is thrown off or the movement causes the truck to move unpredictably.
Hazmat truck accidents
"Hazmat" stands for hazardous materials. This classification could include anything from gasoline to pesticides, to lithium batteries, to dry ice. What classifies cargo as hazardous is if it's either highly flammable or could become harmful to breathe if it becomes airborne.
A hazmat accident can affect not just the drivers on the road, but also anyone in surrounding areas. If a toxic substance is released into the air or certain bodies of water, it can affect the health of people in nearby communities.
10 tips for avoiding a truck accident
- Allow more space when following a truck than you would with a passenger car. A larger vehicle limits your visibility of what's ahead, including slowed or stopped traffic, construction, or other hazardous travel conditions. By leaving plenty of space between your vehicle and the truck in front of you, you have more opportunity to react if you need to make a sudden stop or swerve.
- Leave space when passing in front of a truck. A truck is much heavier than a passenger car, which means it requires more distance to stop. Don't ever cut in front of a large truck. If you can't pass with plenty of room, then stay in your lane.
- Stay out of a truck's blind spot. There's a little trick to help you know if you're in a truck's blind spot: look at the truck's side mirrors. If you can't see the truck driver's face in the mirror, the truck driver can't see you. It's safer to pass a truck on the driver's side since they have a bigger blind spot on the passenger side.
- Be careful where you pull over on the highway. If you need to pull off onto the highway shoulder in between exits, try to find a wide shoulder or a designated pull-off spot. Many accidents happen because a car is pulled over and sideswiped by a passing truck that swerves a little onto the shoulder.
- Use caution if a truck is turning. A truck needs more clearance to turn than a car. In addition, the driver has less visibility. So, if you need to judge a truck's speed as it approaches an intersection or how much space it will need to clear a turn, always allow more room, rather than less. Assume that the truck is moving faster than you think it is and requires most of the intersection to make a turn.
- Never play "chicken" with a truck. If you think a truck is going to try to pass you or get in front of you, let it. The highway isn't a time to be "right" or faster, even if you think you have the right of way. Even if you don't want to allow the truck to get in front of you, do it anyway. Not doing so can have deadly consequences.
- Pass quickly. Only pass a truck when you can see that there's space ahead to do so swiftly. You don't want to linger in the lane beside a truck for any longer than necessary. Tire blowouts and rollovers happen frequently and you definitely don't want to be alongside a truck if one of these events happens.
- Be predictable. This is important in any driving situation, but especially when it comes to proximity to large trucks. Use signals clearly so that a truck driver can see what you intend to do and can adjust their own driving accordingly. Never change lanes or turn without using your signals.
- Avoid distracted/drowsy driving. Highway and interstate driving, in particular, can be long and boring. But don't let yourself become too fatigued or distracted while driving. Just remember that other drivers are bored, too. Plan your trip before you leave so that you have good music, audiobooks, podcasts, or whatever you like for entertainment already queued up. Don't be fiddling with your phone or the car radio while driving. If you need to change things up, wait until you get to a rest area or find a safe place to pull over — or have a designated passenger "co-pilot" do it for you. If you begin to feel tired, take a break. Don't wait until you start to nod off because by then you're already in a dangerous situation.
- Anticipate weather conditions. Storms can happen anywhere and sometimes they pop up fast. Bad weather creates dangerous driving conditions. You can set a weather app on your phone to alert you if a dangerous storm is coming your way. If one does happen quickly, head for the nearest exit and wait it out.
When to contact a Maryland truck accident lawyer
If you've been involved in a truck accident, Enjuris offers a variety of resources to help you navigate the legal system. For starters, our free, downloadable Truck Accident Ebook includes worksheets and guides to prepare for your first meeting with a lawyer, along with additional detail about how to handle your truck accident.
It's also important to contact a Maryland truck accident lawyer. A trucking company, manufacturer, or another potentially liable party in a truck accident likely has deep pockets and a team of lawyers who defend these cases every day. Their sole objective is to pay out as little money as possible to an injured person. Your insurance company, alone, might be no match for that because your claims adjuster handles hundreds of other cases a day, too.
Your lawyer will work with all parties to make sure you recover the compensation you need and deserve after an accident.
A personal injury lawyer helps individuals who have sustained injuries in accidents to recover financial compensation. These funds are often needed to pay for medical treatment, make up for lost wages and provide compensation for injuries suffered. Sometimes a case that seems simple at first may become more complicated. In these cases, consider hiring an experienced personal injury lawyer. Read more