The Dangers of Empty 18-Wheelers

The Dangers of Empty 18-WheelersWhen most of us think of large trucks, we see them pulling massive trailers filled with cargo. However, 18-wheelers are often between pick-up points, meaning they are either deadheading (pulling an empty trailer) or bobtailing (aren’t pulling a trailer at all). Although many assume these circumstances are safer than operating a fully-loaded truck, the opposite can be true.

Big-rigs are designed to transport large cargo; however, when they are pulling an empty trailer, they still have all the speed and power necessary to pull heavy loads, but are missing the added weight to hold them back and allow drivers to maintain control.

What dangers do empty 18-wheelers pose?

Empty 18-wheelers, like any large vehicles, can pose several dangers on the road, including:

  • Reduced stability: When an 18-wheeler is empty, it carries less weight, which can affect its stability, especially in adverse weather conditions like high winds or icy roads. Empty trailers may sway more easily, increasing the risk of rollovers or loss of control.
  • Longer stopping distances: Compared to loaded trucks, empty trucks have less traction on the road, which results in longer stopping distances. If the driver is unable to stop in time, this can lead to rear-end collisions, especially in situations where sudden braking is necessary.
  • Increased vulnerability to wind: During high winds, a fully-loaded trailer is properly weighted down, making it harder for them to drift. Empty trailers have a larger surface area and are more susceptible to being pushed around by strong crosswinds, making it challenging for drivers to maintain control, particularly on highways or open roads.
  • Greater risk of jackknifing: Jackknifing occurs when the trailer swings out to one side of the truck cab, often resulting in a loss of control. Empty trailers are more prone to jackknifing because there is less weight to keep them aligned with the truck cab, especially during sudden maneuvers or braking.
  • Reduced visibility: Empty trailers may be more difficult for other drivers to see, especially if they are traveling behind the truck. This can increase the risk of rear-end collisions or sideswipes, particularly when the truck is changing lanes or making turns.
  • Driver inexperience. Truck drivers are often only trained how to drive when a truck is fully loaded, not when deadheading or bobtailing. For example, while they may know how to properly slow down or stop a fully-loaded truck, braking when a trailer is empty or absent is an entirely different experience.
  • Potential for speeding: Some drivers may be tempted to drive empty trucks at higher speeds, thinking they can handle the vehicle more easily without a heavy load. However, this can increase the risk of accidents, especially if the driver encounters unexpected hazards or road conditions. Drivers between deliveries may also be encouraged by their employers to rush to the next pick-up point by exceeding the speed limit.
  • Imbalanced weight distribution: Empty trailers can cause an imbalance in weight distribution between the truck and the trailer, which can affect handling and maneuverability. If not properly addressed, this imbalance may result in uneven tire wear, suspension issues, or mechanical failures.

While empty 18-wheelers may seem less challenging to operate than loaded trucks, they still require careful attention from drivers to mitigate the risks associated with their operation. Proper training, adherence to safety regulations, and awareness of road conditions are essential to minimize the dangers associated with empty 18-wheelers.

What about trucks that are carrying improperly secured loads?

Improperly secured loads can have significant adverse effects on truck safety, posing risks to both the driver of the truck and other road users. Here’s how:

  • Cargo shift: When cargo is not properly secured, it can shift during transit. This sudden movement can destabilize the truck, making it difficult for the driver to maintain control. Cargo shifting can also cause the truck to sway or tip over, especially during sharp turns or sudden braking maneuvers.
  • Chance for rollovers: Improperly secured loads can raise the truck’s center of gravity, increasing the likelihood of rollover accidents, particularly when combined with factors like high speeds or uneven road surfaces. Rollovers are among the most dangerous types of truck accidents, often resulting in severe injuries or fatalities.
  • Spillage potential: If cargo is not adequately secured, it may spill onto the roadway, creating hazards for other vehicles. Spilled cargo can obstruct traffic, cause vehicles to swerve or collide, and even lead to secondary accidents. Hazardous materials or debris from spilled cargo can also pose environmental and health risks.
  • Braking performance: Improperly secured loads can affect the truck’s braking performance by shifting weight distribution or causing cargo to shift forward during braking. This can increase stopping distances and make it more challenging for the driver to bring the vehicle to a halt safely, raising the risk of rear-end collisions or other accidents.
  • Damage to cargo and equipment: Inadequately secured loads can cause damage to the cargo itself as well as to the truck’s equipment and infrastructure. Cargo that shifts or falls during transit may be damaged or destroyed, resulting in financial losses for the trucking company or its customers. Additionally, improperly secured loads can cause damage to the truck’s trailer, tie-down equipment, or other components.

Ensuring that cargo is properly secured is essential for truck safety and the safety of all road users. Proper training, compliance with cargo securement regulations, regular equipment inspections, and effective load planning are critical measures for preventing accidents and promoting safe operations in the trucking industry.

Empty or improperly loaded trucks can makes Texas roadways extremely dangerous. At the Law Offices of Pat Maloney, we’ve secured millions of dollars for commercial vehicle crash victims. If you or a loved one has been seriously injured in a truck accident, put our experience and skills to work for you. To get started, fill out our contact form or call us schedule a free consultation with a San Antonio truck accident attorney today.