Long haul trucks transport more freight than any other method of domestic transportation and deliver most of the goods consumers purchase in stores. Georgia’s reliance on tractor trailers on the numerous highways throughout the state means that Atlanta and Savannah drivers often share the road with large commercial trucks. As necessary as these vehicles are to commerce, their size and weight pose an ongoing, potentially fatal danger to occupants of smaller, passenger vehicles, particularly while making turns.
Why do tractor trailers pose dangers to passenger vehicles on the road?
Tractor trailers are dangerous on the road for numerous reasons but are particularly dangerous to passenger vehicles simply because of their much larger weight and size. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) and the Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI) recently analyzed U.S. Department of Transportation data on truck accidents in the report “Fatality Facts 2020 Large Trucks.” The report found that “[m]ost deaths in large truck crashes are occupants of passenger vehicles” because the weight and size of tractortrailers made them lethal in accidents:
- Heavy trucks have gross vehicle weights reaching up to 80,000 pounds; “Trucks often weigh 20-30 times as much as passenger cars.”
- Heavy trucks are “taller with greater ground clearance, which can result in smaller vehicles underriding trucks in crashes.”
Why are trucks turning particularly dangerous to passenger vehicles?
The weight and size of tractor trailers also makes turning especially dangerous to surrounding passenger vehicles. In “Tips for Truck and Bus Drivers” ,the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) warns these kinds of trucks that they must execute wide turns very carefully. Turning is further complicated by the trucks’ four blind spots located directly in front and behind the truck, and on the right and left of the truck causing passenger vehicles driving in these “no zones” to disappear from the truck driver’s view.
Overly wide turning or improper wide turning can cause dangerous accidents in several ways, including:
- “Squeeze accidents” during wide right turns
- Collision accidents during wide left turns
- Jackknife accidents.
Passenger vehicles can get “squeezed” when trucks making tight, right hand turns resort to using too wide of a turn in a “jug handle” maneuver. Drivers using the jug handle method start the right turn by swinging wide left away from the curb to pull the trailer around the corner. However, when a truck moves too widely left, or widens left too soon, a smaller vehicle driver may reasonably think that the truck is turning left, or that it has room to continue in the right lane. Vehicles continuing in the right lane will then be in the truck’s right no-zone causing the truck driver to be unable to see the passenger vehicle. Because of this, these vehicles can get “squeezed” and crushed between the truck and the curb when the trailer swings back to the right, and passengers may suffer injuries or fatalities.
To avoid this kind of “squeeze” the Georgia Department of Transportation Commercial Driver’s Manual 2021-2022 (Georgia Manual) requires trucks making right hand turns in tight spaces to use the “buttonhook” maneuver to block smaller vehicles from the right lane until after the turn is completed. “Right Turns” (Section 2.7.6. and Figure 2.13) of the Georgia Manual explains that when trucks cannot make the right turn without swinging wide into another lane, drivers should only widen as they complete the turn, so they “[k]eep the rear of [their] vehicle close to the curb. This will stop other drivers from passing . . . on the right.” In a “buttonhook” turn, the tractor moves slightly into the oncoming traffic lane of the destination street to widen the turn, carefully avoiding collision, rather than risking a jug-handle approach.
Trucks turning left in an intersection may also cause accidents with overly wide turns. The “Left Turns” (Section 2.7.6 and Figure 2.14) of the Georgia Manual notes trucks should reach the center of the intersection before starting turns. If the turn is started too soon, “the left side of [the tractor trailer] may hit another vehicle because of offtracking.” (Offtracking occurs when the rear wheels do not follow the same path as its front wheels.) The Georgia Manual also instructs truck drivers to always take the outside turn lane if there are two turning lanes since they may have to swing right to make the turn.
Tractor trailers turning left may also misjudge the speed or distance of oncoming traffic and collide with cross traffic if they fail to yield by turning too late or run a red light. They may also suffer instability if the load they carry is poorly packed, too heavy, or unbalanced. Taking a left turn too tightly with too much speed can result in the trailer jackknifing and spilling its load across the highway or causing the trailer to completely flip over onto its side blocking the roadway and acting as a barrier to oncoming traffic. These spilling, jackknifing, and flipping issues are only more troublesome for trucks attempting a U-turn where the large truck is making an even sharper turn and may misjudge its speed or the angle of the turn.
“Drive-wheel Skids” described in the Georgia Manual (Section 2.19.1 and Figure 2.29) explains that jackknifing most often occurs when the rear brakes on the trailer lock-up due to excessive braking and the trailer swings around to create a V-shape with the tractor. Jackknifing can happen when a tractor trailer driver misjudges oncoming traffic before or during a left-hand turn or when a right-hand turn comes up more quickly than anticipated and the driver must brake suddenly. Jackknifing is very dangerous as regaining control over the truck can be very challenging and the jackknifed tractor trailer may be pushed into oncoming traffic causing an accident.
What kinds of injuries are common in truck and tractor trailer accidents?
Due to their weight and size, accidents with tractor trailers can cause traumatic injuries to the occupants of passenger vehicles and the likelihood of catastrophic injury and wrongful death are higher than other motor vehicle collisions. Some of the injuries frequently sustained in truck accidents include:
- Traumatic brain injury(TBI)
- Loss of limb
- Broken bones
- Damage to internal organs
- Spine and neck injuries
How to avoid turning tractor-trailer accidents in Georgia
To protect yourself from the dangers of turning tractor trailers:
- Be aware of the blind spots or “no-zones” on trucks and avoid them where possible.
- Pass trucks on the left.
- Stay alert for turning trucks and space as traffic allows.
If you or someone you love has been harmed in an accident with a turning truck, you may be entitled to an award compensating you for loss or damage to your vehicle, personal injuries, medical bills, and pain and suffering, and even wrongful death. You will need an experienced and knowledgeable truck accident lawyer to evaluate your situation and represent your interests.
Harris Lowry Manton LLP has experienced Atlanta and Savanah truck accident attorneys who will work to secure the compensation you deserve. Make an appointment with one of our leading Atlanta or Savannah truck crash attorneys today. Please phone our offices in Atlanta at 404-998-8847 or Savannah at 912-417-3774. You can also complete our contact form. Initial consultations are free.
Steve Lowry is an award-winning litigator who has secured record-setting jury verdicts on behalf of his clients. A passionate advocate for individuals who have been harmed by the actions of others, Steve has won numerous top 10 verdicts in Georgia.
Read more about Stephen G. Lowry here.