The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) estimates that large trucks get into more than 450,000 traffic accidents across the nation each year. Flatbed truck accidents comprise a portion of this total because they are among the most dangerous trucks on the road. Large trucks already pose a greater risk for drivers because of the impact their massive weight and size causes, but the risk of accident and injury from a flatbed truck accident is even worse.
Below we provide information about flatbed trucks, their dangerous cargo, causes of flatbed truck accidents, and a discussion about who might be financially liable after a flatbed truck accident. Understanding flatbed trucks and their dangers can help you avoid causing a truck accident or falling victim to a negligent flatbed truck driver or trucking company.
All About Flatbed Trucks
A flatbed truck is a vehicle with a flat trailer bed without sides or a roof. The forgiving cargo area allows trucking companies to haul oversized loads and cargo with an abnormal shape. Most flatbed trucks are 48 feet long, which is a little shorter than the length of most semi-trucks—53 feet.
Some flatbed trucks have trailers that are directly connected to the cab, so they do not move on a hitch like a tractor-trailer. Other flatbeds connect to a hitch and have specific pivot points. Without cargo, most flatbed trucks weigh approximately 30,000 pounds but can legally weigh up to 80,000 pounds fully loaded, making them dangerous to other motorists when accidents occur.
Flatbed Trucks Carry Dangerous Loads
The openness of a flatbed truck makes even the safest cargo dangerous if an accident occurs. At the very least, the large items carried on flatbeds obstruct the truck driver’s rear-view sightlines. Load spillage can not only lead to injuries but also death for nearby motorists.
Examples of common freight found on a flatbed truck include:
- Heavy equipment. Businesses and farms that sell or use heavy machinery transport items via flatbed truck. Sometimes equipment is in one piece, like a tractor. In other cases, like commercial jets, companies break down the machinery and transport smaller parts.
- Building materials. Many types of building materials are too big for a semi-trailer, so companies must transport them by flatbed truck. Examples include lumber, scaffolding, and metal beams.
- Super sacks. Agricultural companies and farmers use flatbed trailers to haul super sacks, which are industrial strength fabric bags that typically contain grains, nuts, seeds, sand, and fertilizer.
- Trash and debris. Construction, renovation, and other projects create large amounts of trash and debris, some of which will not fit in garbage trucks, dump trucks, or dumpsters. Flatbed trucks haul these items away from work sites.
- Tire bales. Auto repair shops and others dump tires in special areas or leave them in parking lots. Some companies collect old tires, break them down, compress them, and bale them the way farmers bale hay. Flatbed trucks haul the bales throughout the country to businesses that reuse them for other things like retaining walls.
- Logs and trees. Flatbed trucks carry trees and logs that are on their way to a paper mill or sawmill. Landscapers also haul full-sized trees to work sites with flatbed trucks. When logs and trees are not securely tied down, they can cause dangerous multi-vehicle accidents if they spill onto a road.
Flatbed Truck Accidents Occur for Many Reasons
The biggest danger of flatbed trucks is the potential for spilled cargo because of its open design, which does not protect other vehicles on the road when an accident occurs. Some common causes of flatbed truck accidents include:
Various devices secure different types of cargo on flatbed trucks. If truck drivers or those loading the truck do not use the right device or improperly secure cargo for transport, motorists who share the road are in danger of accident and injury if the load comes loose and spills.
Federal law prohibits truckers from using cell phones while driving unless they use a hands-free device, but some drivers do not comply. Other distractions that can lead to a flatbed truck accident include drinking, eating, adjusting the radio, programming a GPS, reaching for something on the floor, and watching an event outside the truck.
Commercial drivers who operate flatbed trucks face random drug and alcohol tests to enforce a zero-tolerance rule for drugs and a legal alcohol limit of 0.04 blood alcohol content (BAC). Drugs and alcohol impair drivers’ ability to control their trucks, which can be deadly especially when they are carrying a top-heavy load.
Truckers are notorious for their demanding schedules and long shifts, which can lead to drowsy driving or driver fatigue. Drivers who don’t get the rest they need also suffer from impairment, making it difficult to control their truck and to react to other drivers on the road. The FMSCA reports that drivers who go without 18 hours of sleep have the same level of impairment as a person who has a blood alcohol level of 0.08. Additionally, falling asleep at the wheel can lead to dangerous and deadly head-on collisions and rollovers.
Multiple Parties Can Have Liability for a Flatbed Truck Accident
It’s common to look to the truck driver for fault after a flatbed truck accident, but liability is not always that simple. Trucking companies often share liability or are fully liable for a flatbed truck accident.
Some actions a trucking company might take that could make it a defendant in a flatbed truck accident claim include:
- Overloading a truck and forcing the driver to take the load;
- Improper maintenance of tie-down devices;
- Improper training of truck drivers, warehouse employees, and others who load and secure cargo;
- Failure to inspect and maintain trucks;
- Failure to train driver who to handle a flatbed truck;
- Failure to enforce hours of service regulations; and
- Forcing drivers to operate outside of hours of service regulations.
If you suffer injuries in a flatbed truck accident, contact a truck accident attorney who can identify who has a liability to you for your injuries and losses.