Bad weather can increase the risk of a crash for any size vehicle. However, for an 18-wheeler and other big-rig trucks, the danger is greater. You would think the size and weight of these vehicles make them more stable in rain, snow or windy weather, but these and other weather conditions pose a crash threat in surprising ways.
For instance, if a truck driver is already traveling too fast for the weather and suddenly encounters icy roads, he or she will not be able to stop the vehicle in time. Unlike a smaller vehicle, if a truck skids and loses control, it is likely to hit multiple vehicles across more than one lane.
Below, Anderson & Cummings discuss some of the bad weather conditions that make big rig trucks harder to control.
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What Weather Conditions Pose the Highest Risk for Semi-Trucks?
In Fort Worth, just like many other cities in Texas, we get all kinds of weather throughout the year. Ice, sleet and snow, for example, are expected during winter months, but you might also see heavy rain.
Here are some of the most dangerous weather conditions for trucks and why they increase the risk of a big rig crash:
Heavy Winds, Crosswinds and Windstorms
Heavy crosswinds or any weather where windstorms are gusting at speeds of 34 mph and higher are extremely dangerous for trucks. Violent wind gusts are often unpredictable and create a significant crash risk for trucks. The reason for this is that 18-wheelers, big rigs and other commercial vehicles have a higher center of gravity. This factor makes them more likely to tip over any time there are strong winds. These are also prime conditions for a rollover crash. Any vehicles traveling around the truck could be involved in the crash and occupants could be severely injured.
Snow, Sleet and Ice
From heavy snowfall to black ice and everything in between, driving during these road conditions is not recommended for smaller vehicles, let alone a heavy commercial vehicle. Big rigs and semi-trucks, even when driving slower than the posted speed limits, will likely have difficulty maintaining traction and could easily lose control.
Heavy rains mix with the oil and asphalt on highways. This mixture can cause the tires of even heavy-duty semi-trucks to lose traction and hydroplane. The oily mix could cause an 18-wheeler to skid even without hitting a big pool of water on the road. Unfortunately, the combination of losing control on weight roads with the sheer weight and size of a semi-truck is a recipe for a multi-crash disaster. According to a recent study by the American Meteorological Society, the chance of a fatal crash occurring increases by a whopping 34 percent when driving during any type of precipitation.
Fog, Dust or Smoke
Sometimes weather and other conditions may significantly impact visibility. During heavy fog, for instance, a truck driver may not be able to tell if he or she has drifted into another lane of traffic. This could easily lead to a sideswipe crash or even a dangerous head-on collision if the truck veers into oncoming traffic lanes.
Are There Laws About How Truckers Should Drive Big Rigs in Bad Weather?
There are federal laws charging truck drivers to operate their semi-trucks and other commercial vehicles with extreme caution under hazardous weather conditions. In fact, Article 392.14 of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSR) states this caution must be exercised in any situation that affects either visibility or traction, such as:
The FMCSR clearly place responsibility for the safe operation of the big rig on the driver. However, some drivers may cave to pressure from the truck owner or trucking company to drive despite poor weather conditions. They may fear being fired if they refuse to drive despite their concerns about the weather. The challenge, too, is the lack of any clear process for determining whether the weather conditions are “too bad” or hazardous to drive in or not.
Can Truck Drivers Be Fired for Refusing to Drive in Bad Weather?
Under the Surface Transportation Assistance Act (STAA), an employer is prohibited from firing or even disciplining a driver who refuses to drive a semi-truck due to concerns about the weather. A truck driver, according to the STAA, can refuse to drive a big rig when he has a “reasonable apprehension” of the potential for serious harm to himself or others on the road.
How Can I Avoid Being Hit By a Big Rig Due to Bad Weather?
Drivers of smaller vehicles should take certain precautions anytime they are driving around or near 18-wheelers. With that in mind, here are some recommendations for driving more safely around semi-trucks or any type of commercial vehicle, regardless of the weather:
- Avoid a truck’s blind spots: Because trucks are bigger, they have larger blind spots and more of them. However, to properly avoid them, it is important to first understand where a truck’s blind spots are located. In bad weather, this is especially critical, because the weight of these large, heavy commercial vehicles means they cannot react quickly.
- Do not cut in front of a truck: One of a truck’s blind spots is directly in front. If you cut a commercial vehicle off, they will not be able to slow down fast enough to avoid hitting you. In icy or rainy weather, they are more likely to skid and lose control of the truck, hitting your vehicle and possibly others nearby as well.
- Never pass a truck on the right: Not only is it another blind spot, but passing any vehicle on the right is also against the law. If you happen to pass when a truck is about to make a turn, it is also likely that the truck will swing right and could end up hitting you. Even in dry weather, these vehicles cannot make quick corrections the way a small passenger car can. In icy or wet weather, it could lead to a catastrophic crash. In foggy weather, the driver is unlikely to see you at all, even if you have your lights on.
- Do not drive between two trucks: In the event the truck behind you hits your vehicle, you do not want to rear-end the truck in front of you. The outcome would most likely be fatal, especially when weather conditions increase the risk of a crash.
- Avoid driving near trucks at all: When it is not possible to avoid driving on the road with trucks, put more distance between your vehicle and theirs. Drive two lanes over whenever possible. A truck making a turn in icy or wet weather, especially if they take the turn too fast, could jackknife or roll over, catching you and your vehicle in the crash.
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