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Are Truck Drivers Always at Fault When They Rear-End Other Vehicles?

May 4, 2023

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In rear-end crashes involving cars, pickup trucks, and SUVs, the drivers who rear-end the vehicles in front of them are almost always considered at fault. That’s because maintaining a safe follow distance is expected of drivers and is often enough to avoid a crash, regardless of what the drivers in front of them do.

However, semi-truck rear-end crashes are different. The biggest passenger vehicles weigh around 6,000 lbs., while fully-loaded semi-trucks can weigh up to 80,000 lbs. That means semi-trucks take much longer to stop than other vehicles on the road, which also makes them more likely to rear-end other vehicles.

Because of this weight difference, truck drivers must constantly be aware of their vehicle’s limitations in slowing down and stopping. However, as you’ll see in this blog, these limitations also mean that truck drivers aren’t always at fault.

Semi-Truck Drivers Can Be Held Liable When They Follow Too Closely

Truck drivers need to be extremely cautious while driving. One slip-up, lapse in focus, or broken traffic law and they can cause devastating accidents that injure or kill others.

One of the most important safety guidelines truck drivers need to remember is maintaining a much longer following distance than they would if they were driving a passenger vehicle. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration says the average stopping distance for a loaded tractor-trailer traveling at 55 mph is 196 feet, which is more than 60 feet longer than a passenger vehicle traveling at the same speed.

Because of trucks’ increased stopping distance, it’s important for truck drivers to never exceed the speed limit. To enforce this, some roads have lower speed limits for trucks, and some trucking companies forbid their drivers from exceeding 65 mph.

When it can be proven that truck drivers were following the vehicles in front of them too closely and then rear-ended them, they can be held liable for the victims’ damages.

Truck Companies Can Be Held Liable When Trucks Are Overloaded

The main reason it takes trucks so much longer to stop than passenger vehicles is their extreme weight. Trucks aren’t supposed to exceed 80,000 lbs., but some trucking companies overload trucks to increase profits by hauling more goods per trip. Unfortunately, this also affects trucks’ handling and stopping distance.

When trucks are overloaded, that 196 feet of stopping distance at 55 mph may become 206 feet or more, as much as a full additional car length. Truck drivers may be unaware that the trailers they’re hauling are overloaded, so when they need to slow down or stop, they may be unprepared for how long it will take them to slow down, which can result in a serious rear-end collision.

In these cases, the companies that overloaded the trailers can be held liable for rear-end collisions instead of the truck drivers.

Truck Owners Can Be Held Liable When Trucks Aren’t Serviced Properly

Only around 9% of truckers on the road in America own their trucks, according to GlobeCon Freight Systems. The rest of the truckers who haul goods drive trucks owned by other parties—which are often the companies whose goods they’re hauling or trucking companies contracted to haul the goods.

When truck drivers don’t own their trucks, they don’t have much, if any, say over how the trucks are maintained and serviced. Unfortunately, some trucks aren’t serviced as regularly as they should be, and they may go tens of thousands of miles beyond recommended service intervals for parts like tires and brakes.

Both worn brakes and tires can increase stopping distance significantly, and truck drivers may not realize how much longer that distance is until it’s too late. However, truck drivers typically aren’t held liable for these crashes, and instead, the parties who own the trucks are considered at-fault for failing to service them.

Other Drivers Can Be Held Liable When They Cause Trucks to Hit Other Vehicles

Other drivers may be held liable if they cut off trucks and immediately slow down, as the drivers are unlikely to be able to slow down in time to avoid a crash. In some cases, truck drivers can’t even see vehicles that cut them off due to the blind spots directly underneath their cabins.

Other drivers can also be held liable if they drive dangerously and cause truck drivers to swerve to avoid crashes, only for the truck drivers to rear-end other vehicles in the process.

Finally, some semi-truck rear-end crashes happen because the trucks were pushed into the vehicles in front of them by vehicles behind them. Although semi-trucks significantly outweigh other vehicles on the road, they can still be pushed forward when struck with enough speed or force—especially when their trailers are unattached or when the trailers are empty. In these cases, the drivers that rear-end trucks can be held liable.

Our Ohio Truck Accident Lawyers Can Pinpoint Who’s Liable for Your Truck Crash

Many people are quick to blame truck drivers for truck accidents. And while truck drivers are responsible for many truck accidents, they aren’t responsible for all. As noted above, many parties can be partially or fully responsible for big truck wrecks, even rear-end accidents.

One of the most important parts of building semi-truck accident claims is determining exactly who was liable and why. At Nurenberg, Paris, Heller & McCarthy, our decades of experience building truck accident claims means we can do both quickly and accurately. And when multiple parties are liable, we don’t hesitate to hold them all accountable to get our clients the money they’re owed.

Contact us today for a free consultation and to learn how we can help.

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