News & opinion What Makes Houston Semi-Truck Accidents so Much Worse?

What Makes Houston Semi-Truck Accidents so Much Worse?

What Makes Houston Semi-Truck Accidents so Much Worse?

When a semi-truck crashes into a car on a Houston highway, it’s often a nightmare scenario brought to life. The impact generates enough power to crush a smaller car’s reinforced metal and shatter its glass.

The destruction rarely ends there. A truck’s weight-driven impact often cancels out a private passenger car’s safety systems. The most vulnerable occupants sustain fatal injuries. Those who live, suffer from severe and catastrophic conditions that often affect them for the rest of their lives.

Unfortunately, this horror plays out far too often in the Houston Metro Area.

Statistically, truckers are some of the safest drivers on the road, but some have risky driving habits. Just like non-commercial drivers, truckers drive under the influence of alcohol and drugs. Some cause accidents by speeding while others lose control due to distractions.

That’s a big problem for private passenger vehicle drivers in Houston. The Metro Area has so many semi-trucks and commercial drivers, you share the road with dangerous trucks wherever you go.

What Is a Semi-Truck?

Semi-truck is one of several names for the large trucks you see all over Houston. Truckers often call them tractors or semi-tractors and they’re actually only the front section of a big rig.

Semi-trucks are big enough and powerful enough to pull fully loaded commercial trailers, multiple trailers, flatbeds with heavy equipment, tanks, car transporters, shipping containers, and other huge loads. Some of the most well-known semi-truck manufacturers include Freightliner, Kenworth, Peterbilt, and International.

A trucker adds a trailer to prepare a semi-truck for transporting cargo. Often, a shipper or contractor loads the trailer, and the trucker connects it to the semi-truck for transport.

Once the trailer is in place, the combined units have various names.

  • Big Rig
  • Tractor-Trailer
  • 18-Wheeler
  • Semi-Tractor-Trailer
  • Semi-Truck
  • Car Transporter
  • Tanker Truck

Driving a Semi-Truck Without Cargo

Truckers often drive a semi-truck without a trailer attached. When they do, it’s called bobtailing. When a driver pulls an empty trailer, it’s called deadheading. Even without an empty or fully loaded trailer, these power units remain some of the biggest, most deadly vehicles on the road.

The U.S. Department of Energy Vehicle Weight/Class chart lists semi-tractor weights under two classes.

  • Class 7 Vehicles, 26,001 to 33,000 pounds: High profile semi and medium tractor-trailer
  • Class 8 Vehicles, 33,001 pounds and over: Heavy semi, heavy semi sleeper

Even without a load, a semi-truck easily exceeds the 10,000 pounds Gross Vehicle Weight Rating that defines a large truck. Their 26,001 plus weight places them in the heavy truck category. When a semi pulls a fully loaded trailer attached, it often reaches the legal gross vehicle weight rating of up to 80,000 pounds. Based on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s recent Large Trucks Traffic Safety Facts publication, 75 percent of all fatal truck crashes involved trucks in this weight class.

Bobtailing and Deadheading Complications

When a semi-truck crashes while hauling a loaded trailer, the trailer owner, shipper, or loading contractor often share liability for a load shift or a jackknife accident. When the trucker works directly for the loader or shipper, they often establish an agency relationship. If the trucker is operating his truck within the scope of direct orders or a contract, the entity often shares liability for the driver’s actions on the road.

When a trucker drives a semi-truck without a load and/or a tractor, it often creates liability issues depending on his purpose and destination.

  • Questions arise when a bobtailing or deadheading trucker has an accident while traveling to pick up cargo or a loaded trailer. Is a trucker acting as the customer’s agent since he wouldn’t have been on the road otherwise?
  • The same issues arise after a trucker drops off the loaded trailer or unloads the cargo after reaching the destination.

Truckers In Houston

The transport industry is a big deal throughout Texas, and particularly in Houston. Its location and its proximity to air, rail, and shipping systems make it an ideal cargo transportation hub. The Texas Department of Transportation and Houston.Org provide these key transportation statistics about Houston and Texas.

  • Geographically, Houston is equally distant from the east and west coasts.
  • It has the number one foreign trading port in the U.S.
  • Houston has the largest Gulf Coast container port.
  • Greater Houston has 4,822 transportation and warehousing companies. This number includes 90 pipeline transportation firms and 1,067 long-distance trucking firms.
  • The Greater Houston Area has 258,690 transportation and material moving employees
  • Texas is home to 66,000 trucking companies.
  • One in 16 Texans works in the trucking industry.
  • Texas transport companies employ 185,000 drivers.
  • Texas has the largest interstate and highway systems in the country.
  • Texas manufacturers transport 73 percent of their goods by truck.
  • Trucks log 12 percent of the vehicle miles driven in Texas.

Why Do Semi-Truck Accidents Happen so Frequently in Houston?

The data analytics company, INRIX, ranks Houston number 8 on their list of America’s worst cities for traffic. The city is number 57 on the list of the worst traffic locations worldwide. The Greater Houston Area (Houston Metropolitan Statistical Area) is large and highly populated. Traffic is just one of the factors that make Houston a tough place to drive and a hot spot for semi-truck accidents.

The Texas Department of Transportation, Houston.Org, and other organizations track and document the conditions, the people, and the regional activities that make semi-truck accidents inevitable.

High Population

Houston MSA is a partnership of nine counties. They work as a unit, promoting economic development, foreign trade, investment, and efficient, effective government. The Houston MSA covers 9,444 square miles and has approximately 7 million residents. Houston is the most highly populated city in Texas. It’s located in Harris County, which has the most residents of any county in the state. Harris County is also the third most populated county in the United States.

High Number of Vehicles

The most recent statistics for TxDOT’s Houston District (Brazoria, Fort Bend, Galveston, Harris, Montgomery, and Waller Counties) show the following data:

  • 5,091,153 registered vehicles
  • 100,384,366 miles driven each day
  • Annual vehicles sold: 292,606

Neither of these sources breaks the statistics down as to total numbers of commercial or private passenger vehicles. The vehicle numbers purchased and registered would include the varying sizes of commercial trucks local transporters use. They would also include long-distance transportation company’s semi-trucks.

Numerous Work, Play, Educational, Arts, and Entertainment Destinations

Each day, millions of Houston motorists head for the streets and highways. Drivers commute an average of 30 minutes to reach one of the area’s many commercial destinations, schools, medical facilities, and entertainment venues.

Houston is a major hub for technology, oil refining, manufacturing, and many other growing businesses.

  • Total Businesses/organizations: 160,791
  • Total Non-farm jobs: 3,084,700
  • Arts, Entertainment, and Recreation venues: 1,732
  • Four-year colleges: 20
  • Two-year colleges: 13
  • Health Care and Social Assistance establishments: 20,588
  • Professional sports venues: Eight locations, eight professional teams

Semi-trucks are an integral part of the city’s traffic dynamic. With numerous manufacturers and local cargo drop-off points, semis have multiple opportunities to cause collisions. Truckers pick up cargo for shipping, air, or rail transport. Once they drop off a trailer, unload the cargo, or offload a shipping container, a trucker deadheads his semi or bobtails the empty trailer to the transport company or another local destination.

Semi-Truck Crashes in Houston

The Texas Department of Transportation tracks crash statistics by county. Harris County is the largest, busiest county in the state. Its crash statistics reflect the heavy traffic and activity in the area. TxDOT documents commercial crashes but doesn’t designate the type of commercial vehicles involved.

Harris County Crashes

  • Total crashes: 97,201
  • Total Fatalities: 501
  • Suspected serious injuries: 2,315
  • Non-incapacitating injuries: 9,401
  • Possible injuries: 26,535
  • Unknown injuries: 24,322

Harris County Commercial Motor Vehicle Crashes

  • Total commercial vehicle accidents: 4,915
  • Total CMV Crash fatalities: 46

Why Do Houston Semi-Truck Drivers Cause Accidents?

Whether a trucker operates a semi with or without a load, they often crash due to unsafe driving behaviors.

  • Substance Impairment: Truckers drive while impaired by alcohol and drugs.
  • Speeding: They drive too fast for roadway, visibility, and weather conditions. One of the reasons speeding contributes to trucking accidents is that truckers need more time to slow down when they see a problem ahead. When they crash into another vehicle, speed heightens the force upon impact and increases the vehicle damage and occupant injuries.
  • Drowsy Driving: Based on National Transportation Safety Bureau research, truckers are an aging workforce. They are developing age and weight-related medical conditions that jeopardize their ability to drive safely. Sleep apnea is particularly dangerous as it reduces sleep quality, leads to drowsy driving, and it’s often undiagnosed. Drowsy driving is also a result of excessive drive-time hours.
  • Distracted Driving: Just like other motorists, digital devices and other non-driving-related diversions contribute to trucker accidents. Many states ban hand-held electronic device use. The NTSB believes that state laws should also ban hands-free devices as they still cause distraction.
  • Lack of Skill/Experience: Existing pools of truckers are aging out of the workforce. When possible, trucking companies are replacing them but newer drivers often lack the skills to drive big rigs. They also don’t have the road experience it often takes years to accomplish. Of course, some truckers are just bad drivers.

Types of Houston Semi-Truck Accidents

Semi-truck drivers cause the same types of accidents as other large or heavy trucks. They weigh less than a fully loaded tractor-trailer, but when they crash, they produce significant vehicle damage and horrific occupant injuries.

Rear-End Impacts

Semi-trucks are smaller than a truck with a fully loaded trailer, but they’re still heavy. Like a fully loaded tractor-trailer rig, they require a longer distance to come to a complete stop. Inadequate stopping distance often causes a trucker to crash into another vehicle’s rear.

Truckers sometimes cause rear-end accidents because they’re speeding, distracted, drowsy, or under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

Sideswipe Crashes

Truckers cause sideswipe accidents when they make inappropriate lane changes. This often happens when a trucker is driving distracted, substance impaired, or simply lacks adequate driving skills. It also occurs when a trucker runs out of room on the entry ramp while attempting to enter a highway.

Intersection Crashes

Semi-truck drivers cause intersection collisions when they misjudge an oncoming vehicle’s speed, misinterpret the driver’s intent, or drive distracted. Some truckers simply choose to ignore oncoming vehicles. Intersection accidents often involve excessive speed, distraction, improper trucker training, driver impairment, or bad weather conditions.

Head-On Crashes

Truckers cause head-on accidents when they cross over the center lane or highway median. This often occurs because of distraction or loss of control due to speeding, substance impairment, or drowsiness.

Types of Semi-Truck Accident Injuries

When a semi strikes a smaller car, its weight gives it the capacity to cause extensive damage and injury.

The average private passenger vehicle weighs approximately 5,000 pounds. Even when a semi isn’t hauling a trailer, it weighs far more.

This weight advantage is even more significant when a truck is rolling at highway speeds.

The combination of weight and speed generates an impact capable of causing serious, catastrophic, and fatal injuries.

  • Traumatic brain injuries
  • Spinal cord injuries
  • Nerve damage and paralysis
  • Severe soft tissue injuries
  • Shattered and fractured bones
  • Neck injuries
  • Internal organ damage
  • Loss of bodily functions
  • Severe Burns
  • Fatal injuries

When a heavy commercial truck crashes into your vehicle, it becomes a life-changing event. The injuries you sustain often require costly hospital and physician care, medication, and rehabilitation. If you’re temporarily disabled, you lose income and you might lose your job.

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Truck Accident Attorney, Stewart J. Guss

When disabilities linger, they ruin your finances and sometimes force you to abandon a lifelong career. These financial and lifestyle changes affect you and your entire family.

Do You Need a Semi-Truck Accident Attorney?

Never try to settle your own case. Commercial truck claims involve complicated corporate relationships and complex liability issues. Insurance representatives and their attorneys deal with these types of cases every day. A truck accident attorney works hard to protect your legal interests. When you meet with an attorney, your consultation is free and you don’t have to commit to making a claim or filing a lawsuit.

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