Winter presents many challenges to drivers of all types of vehicles, but truck drivers who handle large tractor-trailers or big rigs need to be extra cautious on winter roads. Big rig accidents are some of the most damaging motor vehicle collisions possible and typically result in extensive damages for all parties involved. This winter, it’s vital for everyone to know how big rig accidents happen during the colder months. According to annual averages collected by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration, about 21% of vehicle crashes logged over a 10-year period involved poor weather conditions.
Speeding is generally dangerous for all drivers in any situation, but for big rigs the danger is exponentially greater. A tractor-trailer needs much more time and distance to come to a stop from high speed than a smaller passenger vehicle due to its heavy weight and large size. Speeding on roads with patches of ice or pools of water can be exceptionally dangerous. High winds also pose a risk to truck drivers driving tractor-trailers with empty trailers. These vehicles have high centers of gravity, and strong wind can be enough to cause a tip-over. Traveling at high speeds, especially around curves, compounds this danger.
It’s more difficult for all drivers to see in fog, rain, snow, or any other type of precipitation. Drivers should engage safety features such as lights and wipers as necessary and use extra caution during inclement weather. A study from AAA conducted over a five-year period concluded that rain contributed to more than 9% of crashes. Rain is dangerous, because it not only affects the quality of the road surface and vehicle tire traction but also impedes visibility.
During any type of limited visibility, all drivers should use extra caution and adjust their speeds as necessary. In some states, police have the power to conduct traffic stops if a driver is “traveling too fast for conditions.” For example, the posted speed limit on a stretch of road is 55 mph, and a driver is traveling at 52 mph during a severe storm. A police officer may conduct a traffic stop because it is too dangerous to travel at or near the posted speed limit.
Snow, Ice, and Sleet
One of the most prevalent dangers of driving in winter is icy or rain-slicked roads. Vehicles can lose traction with the road surface after hitting ice, snow, or water. Hydroplaning occurs when a vehicle’s tires skim across water on the road instead of the road itself, and snow and ice accumulation can make it difficult for a driver to stop or make necessary maneuvers. Winter precipitation can easily cause multi-vehicle collisions, resulting in significant damages, and determining fault for these incidents can be difficult.
Road surfaces may also sustain damage over time from typical wear and tear, but winter weather conditions can compound the dangers such damage presents. Damaged road surfaces may weaken further from expanding and contracting water as it freezes, thaws, and refreezes, and this may cause chunks of asphalt to separate from the road surface. Infrastructure damage is a common cause of truck accidents, and winter weather is one of the leading causes of infrastructure damage in the country.
Holiday Traffic Congestion
Winter coincides with the holiday season, and that means many more vehicles on the road than usual. Additional traffic congestion naturally leads to a higher risk of accidents, and there are generally more private and commercial drivers on the roads. Tractor-trailers help many companies restock their products for holiday shopping and several delivery services including UPS, FedEx, and the USPS handle the vast number of holiday gifts sent through the mail. This means not only are more private individuals driving passenger cars during the winter, vastly more large trucks and commercial vehicles are on the road as well.
It’s wise for all drivers to use extra caution during holiday season travel. Plan trips before leaving and take care in unfamiliar areas. Always drive defensively, and if you don’t feel comfortable driving in inclement winter weather, wait for conditions to improve before driving, if you can.