Big trucks, with their massive size and heavy weight, can cause serious injuries in an accident. A big truck rollover accident, however, can pose even more danger. Houston drivers of passenger vehicles involved in big truck rollover accidents may find themselves suffering from severe injuries—and in many cases, those injuries can have lifelong consequences.
Unfortunately, big truck rollovers do occur in Houston, both for reasons within the driver’s control and reasons that the driver can do nothing to control.
1. High Winds
Due to high-pressure air coming in from the Gulf of Mexico, Houston often experiences high winds, especially on the hottest days of summer. The average wind speed in Houston hovers around 7.6 miles per hour, but Houston may see gusts at much higher speeds—including speeds that have enough force to rock big trucks.
Take a look at a big truck on a windy day. You may see the trailer shifting in the wind. Some people quickly get nervous when they note that shifting, and with good reason! High winds can, in some cases, push a truck over completely.
In other cases, those high winds could offer the extra push that helps knock a big truck the rest of the way over once the truck has already started to tip. On windy days, truck drivers throughout Houston may need to reduce their speeds and take turns a little more carefully to help them avoid the risk of a serious accident.
2. Unbalanced Loads
Big trucks haul a lot of heavy loads both into and out of Houston. The Houston area houses manufacturing plants that rely on those big trucks to help move their cargo across the country and get it in the hands of the people who need it. Due to its proximity to the Gulf of Mexico, Houston also has trucks that carry cargo from boats that require transportation across the country.
Due to the need for regular movement of goods, ports, warehouses, and manufacturing plants usually have employees who have a great deal of experience loading trucks. However, that does not necessarily mean that they will load those trucks safely every time. Sometimes, trucks may end up with unbalanced loads that can pose a serious danger to the truck driver and everyone else on the road around them.
Trucks naturally sit high on the road, which makes them more prone to tipping over to begin with. Add in an unbalanced load in the back, especially a top-heavy one, and it can further increase the risk that the truck will tip over. Sometimes, shifting cargo in the back of the trailer can pose enough risk to simply pull the entire truck over.
Flatbed trucks, which often haul cargo that cannot fit in the trailer of a standard truck, may pose even greater dangers. Often, flatbeds end up loaded with unwieldy, unbalanced items. Sometimes, those items, including heavy equipment, may even hang off the sides of the trailer somewhat. While flatbed loads must meet clear standards and receive proper tie-downs to keep them secure on the back of the truck, those unbalanced loads can raise the risk that a truck will topple.
3. Heavy Traffic
Despite the growth of public transportation in the city over the past few years, Houston residents, for the most part, prefer driving. Traffic remains heavy throughout the area, with many people struggling to get to their destinations during rush hour.
Heavy traffic can offer many hazards for big truck drivers. Not only does heavy traffic raise the risk of a collision, it may raise the risk that a truck driver will roll over in an accident. In heavy traffic, truck drivers might have less room to recover if they over-steer into a turn or feel the trailer starting to wobble.
Heavy traffic can also make it difficult to maneuver safely. For example, many truck drivers prefer to make very wide right turns so that they have better visibility as they try to complete the turn—and so that the vehicle will prove less likely to tip. Heavy traffic, however, may not leave enough room for the driver to make those wider turns. Sharp turns may increase the risk of a rollover collision.
4. Driver Error
Truck drivers across the country, including those in the Houston area, spend hours on the road. They must go through more training than the average driver of a passenger vehicle before they can secure the Class C driver’s license they must hold to safely operate a large truck. They often grow comfortable driving a vehicle that many drivers could not manage.
Unfortunately, those long hours on the road can also increase the risk of some types of driver errors.
High rates of speed can increase the risk of any collision, particularly rollover collisions. Speeding heightens everything out on the road. Drivers who travel at high rates of speed have to respond faster to potential threats. If a big truck does start to tip at a high rate of speed, it may prove much more likely to fall over.
Despite knowing the dangers of speeding very clearly, however, many big truck drivers continue to race through the streets of Houston, especially if they get lucky and can travel with few disruptions or interruptions. Speeding, they feel, can help them make up lost time after sitting in a Houston traffic jam, or help them reach their destinations faster.
Because the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration regulates the number of hours truck drivers can spend behind the wheel each day, some truck drivers may choose to travel faster to reach their preferred destinations before they have to stop for the evening. Truck drivers may also grow frustrated by the slower pace they must often keep while moving through big cities like Houston, so they may move up to a higher rate of speed when traffic permits.
Then disaster strikes. The vehicle starts to wobble. The truck driver cannot brake or steer away from the problem fast enough to stop it. Then, a rollover accident hits, leaving disaster in its wake.
Distracted drivers pose problems on nearly every road in the United States at some point in time. Texas law prohibits sending and receiving electronic messages of any kind (text, email, etc.) while driving. In school zones, drivers cannot use cell phones at all—nor can drivers with learner’s permits who remain within the first six months of their driving experience.
Nevertheless, some drivers may choose to use those devices.
In addition, cell phone use does not offer the only potent distraction behind the wheel, especially for truck drivers. Many truck drivers grow increasingly comfortable behind the wheel. They may feel that those distractions that pose serious trouble to other drivers do not offer nearly as much of a challenge to them. After all, they feel comfortable with the truck, with the route, and with their ability to control their vehicles.
Unfortunately, even a moment’s distraction can create a serious hazard. The driver looks away long enough to check a device, fiddle with the controls on the vehicle, or even unwrap and try to eat a burger. He might look down as mustard drops into his lap, annoyed by the fact that he now has to shuffle around and find a napkin. He might even need to program a GPS or check his coordinates to make sure he has properly programmed it to begin with.
Then, he hits a sharp turn. He might oversteer, or overcorrect after realizing that he has missed that sharp turn. He might miss his turn on the road. Suddenly, he feels the trailer teetering behind him—and within moments, he may end up involved in a serious rollover collision.
Ignoring Traffic Signals and Signs
Posted traffic signs, especially in construction zones, help guide big truck drivers and the drivers of passenger vehicles through traffic safely. Ignoring those signs, from blasting through a red light to trying to go the wrong way through construction, can significantly raise the risk of a collision. Sometimes, the big truck driver may then have to steer more sharply to avoid a collision, which could ultimately cause the trailer or the truck itself to tip.
5. Weather Conditions
Houston, when compared to the rest of the United States, usually has relatively mild weather. Truck drivers moving through the Houston area will generally face only around 90 days of precipitation per year. However, on very rainy days, Houston truck drivers may face additional and even unexpected challenges.
With the recent change in weather patterns, Houston also saw several days of heavy snow in one recent year. Since the city, in general, sees so little snow, it does not have the infrastructure in place that northern truck drivers expect, including snowplows, salt, and convenient street maintenance that can decrease the risk of icy roads.
In poor weather conditions, big truck rollover accidents become much more likely. On slick roads, big trucks may have a hard time holding to the road. The tires may slip off the pavement, especially in areas with sharp drop-offs. As drivers move through that area, they may struggle to hold their vehicles on the road, resulting in serious accidents, including rollover accidents.
6. Road Debris
In some cases, big trucks can go over hazards on the road that other vehicles can ignore. Big trucks have much larger tires, much greater mass, and much fewer worries over minor problems in the road.
In other cases, however, road debris can pose a serious hazard.
As traffic increases across Houston, road debris increases, as well. Some items fall off the back of trucks, including garbage trucks, dump trucks, and flatbeds. Other items may end up on the road as drivers throw items out the window or dump them by the side of the road. Dangerous debris can cause immense accident potential.
Sometimes, that debris can cause tire blowouts, which could unbalance a big truck enough to cause a rollover accident. Big truck tires blow out with a great deal of force that can pose a danger to everything around them.
Other times, that debris may pull the vehicle off course just long enough for the trailer to start to tip—and once the trailer starts to go, the rest of the truck will quickly follow. Big truck drivers may also attempt to maneuver around debris, only to discover that the maneuver took them too close to the side of the road or a sharp drop-off, which can result in a rollover accident.
7. Inadequate Driver Training
Experienced truck drivers may know how to gauge turns successfully, avoid rollover accidents, and reduce the risk of serious collisions as they move through the area. Inexperienced truck drivers, on the other hand, may not know what it feels like when a trailer starts to rock dangerously or how to recover the truck once it starts to tip.
Unfortunately, many drivers do not receive adequate training before they take their first loads out on their own—or even after. Some drivers learn everything they know, beyond the basics, on the job. With many industries, including the trucking industry, struggling to bring in adequate employees, many trucking companies choose to send out drivers without offering them any more training than they need to receive their CDL. As a result, drivers lack the experience and skill necessary to prevent a rollover collision.
Did you suffer serious injuries in a Houston big truck rollover accident? A Houston truck accident attorney can help you understand your rights and aid in your claim.