There are several Texas highways that allow speed limits of up to 85 miles per hour. Some roadways may have double speed limits posted, such as 75 miles per hour for passenger vehicles and 65 miles per hour for semi-trailer trucks. A heavier vehicle is harder to stop and harder to control. And a heavier vehicle, such as a semi-trailer truck, is more likely to cause catastrophic injuries in an accident.
Texas Transportation Rules §545.351 states that no one should drive at a speed that is more than “reasonable and prudent under the circumstances.” Thus, even if the speed limit on a road is 85 miles per hour, it’s not always safe—or legal—to drive that fast. The rule also states that it is the responsibility of the driver to control their speed in order to “avoid colliding with another person or vehicle that is on or entering the highway in compliance with law.”
Why Speeding Semi-Trailer Trucks Are More Dangerous
All speeding vehicles are dangerous, but speeding semi-trailer trucks are much more dangerous than the average car. Semi-trailer trucks tend to vary in length from 50 to 80 feet long, depending on the configuration of the cab and the length of the trailer. And a semi-trailer truck can weigh as much as 80,000 pounds fully loaded, or even more if it has an overweight permit. That’s about 40 tons.
On top of taking a long distance to stop all weight—up to 40 percent longer than an average vehicle—a trucker can’t just slam on the brakes without the risk of losing control of their trailer. Because of this, it is more difficult for a semi-trailer truck to avoid obstacles in its path.
Between January 1, 2019, and June 11, 2019, seven semi-trailer trucks were involved in speeding accidents in Texas. The previous year, there were eight speeding accidents involving semi-trailer trucks.
Control of the Vehicle
When a driver speeds, it is harder for them to control their vehicle. Add up to 40 tons of weight and a long trailer or tandem trailer, and it becomes even more difficult to control the vehicle. A semi-trailer truck driver needs more time to react to road conditions, which means that the slower the trucker drives, the safer they will be on the road.
Add bad weather conditions and the scenario becomes even more hazardous. Anyone who has been on the highway on a rainy, foggy day knows that many vehicles, including semi-trailer trucks, fly by. It’s a wonder that they stay on the road, since they are probably hydroplaning. Just one minor mistake could cause that truck to wreck, and it could take several vehicles with it. If the speed limit is 70 miles per hour on a good day, legally the speed limit is considerably lower on a bad weather day since drivers must drive at a speed that takes the conditions into consideration and is “reasonable and prudent under the circumstances.” When drivers can’t see 50 feet in front of them and it’s raining to beat the band, 70 miles per hour isn’t safe for anyone, especially semi-trailer trucks.
Truck tires are speed rated. If a trucker travels faster than tire speed rating, they risk blowouts or separated tires. Many truckers use recaps because they are not as expensive as brand new tires. A recap is a used tire with new tread added to it. When you see those pieces of tire on the highway, they are usually chunks of tread from a recap that came off because the trucker was speeding, the recap was old, or the trucker didn’t do regular maintenance on their tires. Each tire is marked with a DOT number, size, speed rating, and other information. It is up to the trucker to know the speed rating on their truck’s tires.
Jackknife and Rollover Risk
Because of the nature of semi-trailer trucks, they are at high risk of jackknifing—when the cab of the semi-trailer truck comes to a quick stop and the trailer does not, so the trailer swings around to face the opposite direction from the cab. The faster a trucker drives, the higher the risk that their semi-trailer truck will jackknife if they need to come to a sudden stop.
Additionally, because of how tall most semi-trailer trucks are, they are prone to tip over in certain conditions. Roll-overs often happen in high winds, or if a trucker takes a curve too quickly, such as on exit and entrance ramps to highways. Although truckers should know how fast they are able to go around sharp curves, if they are speeding it is sometimes impossible for them to slow down quickly enough before they hit the sharpest part of the curve.
Road and Weather Conditions
Unless there is a secondary speed limit posted, truckers may travel at the same speed as passenger vehicles. However, in certain circumstances a trucker could be charged with driving too fast for conditions even if they are going the speed limit. The types of conditions that might reduce the legal speed limit can include:
- High winds
- Sharp curves
- Steep hills
- Construction zones
- Uneven pavement
- Obstacles in the road
- Dense traffic
- Slow traffic
- Other road hazards and conditions
Because truckers are held to a schedule with delivery deadlines, it can be tempting for them to speed to make that deadline. However, speeding truckers risk the lives of not only themselves but of everyone around them. Speeding on a dry road is dangerous, but inclement weather or obstacles in the road make it even more dangerous, and truckers don’t always drive slowly enough to stop in time to avoid a collision.
Electronic Logs and Hours of Service
Laws and industry rules usually only allow truckers to drive for a certain number of hours before they are required to stop for several hours. In most cases, truckers are required to take a 10-hour break for every 11 hours of driving or 14 hours of on-duty time. These times, and the vehicle’s speed, are often recorded on an electronic logging device (ELD) installed in the semi-trailer truck. If a trucker doesn’t make it to their destination within the number of hours they are allowed to drive, their job might be at risk. If the driver was instructed to get the load delivered on time no matter what they had to do, they sometimes take the chance of speeding to make that delivery.
If a semi-trailer truck is involved in an accident and the police or prosecutors find that the driver involved was following instructions to “get the load there no matter what,” the driver, dispatcher, owner of the truck and trucking company could all be held liable for damages to any other vehicles, property, or people that were damaged or injured in the accident.
ELDs are not currently required for truckers who drive only within Texas, but they will be as of December 2019. This means plenty of drivers are able to “cheat the system” and log more hours or speed to get a load delivered on time. Once the ELD mandate goes into effect, speeding violations may decrease. However, not every trucker will reduce their speed or stop trying to fudge their hours. Even with ELDs on board, truckers may still try to make deadlines by speeding. However, if their logs are ever inspected, they could face hefty fines.
Injuries in Trucking Accidents
Because semi-trailer trucks are big and heavy, injuries resulting from accidents in which they are involved are often catastrophic. In addition to physical injuries, some accident victims may experience psychological symptoms, including post traumatic stress disorder, because of the seriousness of the accident.
After an accident, witnesses or anyone involved should first call 9-1-1 to report the accident to police and summon an ambulance if necessary. Truck accident victims should always seek medical attention, even if they don’t believe they are injured. Some injuries show up hours or even days later. Drivers should also report the accident to their insurance companies as soon as possible. And, especially after a serious accident, it’s best to hire a truck accident attorney.
Truck accident victims who choose to work with an attorney often get up to three times more compensation than when they settle with the other driver’s insurance company on their own, without legal representation. Insurance companies are in business to make a profit. They settle for the least amount possible, which means that victims may not get future medical bills, future lost wages, or punitive damages, even if they should. An attorney can argue for a fair settlement, and if the insurance company will not offer a fair settlement, the attorney can take the case to trial.
Trucking insurance companies are required to pay damages to truck accident victims based on their injuries and the circumstances of the accident. These damages may include:
- Medical costs: This may include compensation for any medical costs for injuries related to the accident.
- Future medical costs: Depending on the type and/or severity of the victim’s injuries, they may need additional surgery, additional follow-ups or physical, occupational or psychological therapy. Future medical costs may be estimated to cover out-of-pocket costs the victim may continue to incur for injuries related to the accident.
- Lost wages: This type of damages is paid when a victim is not able to work due to injuries sustained in the crash.
- Future lost wages: This type of damages is paid when a victim is suffering from long-term or permanent injuries sustained in the crash and is not able to go back to work or is forced to take a job that pays less than the work they normally do because they can no longer do their former job.
- Property damage: This is paid out to repair or replace property that was damaged or destroyed in the accident.
- Loss of companionship: If a victim’s injuries preclude them from taking part in activities they would normally enjoy with their family as a result of the accident, they may be compensated for loss of companionship.
- Loss of consortium: A victim may receive compensation if the accident deprived them the ability to have a physical relationship with their spouse.
- Pain and suffering: If the victim’s injuries cause undue pain and suffering for a long period of time they may be entitled to compensation for pain and suffering.
- Loss of use: If injuries sustained in an accident caused the victim to lose a limb or use of a limb, they may be entitled to loss of use damages.
If the truck driver is at fault for the accident, and a court finds that the truck driver was grossly negligent, victims may be entitled to punitive damages in addition to the damages described above.
A court may award punitive damages if the truck driver was driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or was distracted while driving. A court may also impose punitive damages for “gross negligence” if the driver and other employees for the trucking company testify that the company or dispatcher frequently instructs drivers to get a load delivered on time “no matter what you have to do,” and speeding was a factor in the accident.
Because of the size and weight of semi-trailer trucks, truck accident victims often do not survive their catastrophic injuries. The family members of a victim who was killed in a truck accident may be able to file a wrongful death lawsuit. While a lawsuit cannot truly compensate a victim’s family for their death, it can help them get by when their family member’s death leaves them with a heavy financial burden. A victim’s family may be entitled to damages for:
- Lost wages
- Lost future wages
- Medical costs while their loved one was in the hospital or otherwise being treated
- Property damage
- Loss of companionship
- Loss of consortium
- Pain and suffering
- Punitive damages
Contact the Law Offices of George Salinas
If you were in an accident with a semi-trailer truck near San Antonio, contact the Law Offices of George Salinas at (210) 225-0909 for a free consultation.