Heavy Vehicle Stopping Distances

Nov 24

In order for a tractor-trailer, or semi-truck, to avoid an accident, the driver has to begin braking much earlier than a passenger vehicle. In fact, a truck driver traveling at normal highway speeds can take almost 200 yards, or the equivalent of two football fields, to completely stop a fully-loaded “big rig.”

This assumes that a trucker is driving in ideal conditions. Far too often, truck drivers have to operate during bad weather or road conditions in order to make it to their destinations on time. In such circumstances, truck accidents are bound to happen.

If you have suffered injuries in a truck collision, you need the attorneys at Blackburn Romey to review your case and apprise you of your rights.


Size and Weight Differences Between Trucks and Cars

The sheer mass of a truck creates dire consequences when involved in a crash. 

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has listed the following facts about tractor-trailers:

  • Trucks are 20 to 30 times heavier than passenger cars;
  • The size and weight of a truck increase difficulties for truck drivers to accelerate, brake, and maneuver; and
  • Trucks take more time to gain speed going uphill and accelerate faster going downhill. 

A fully-loaded tractor-trailer may weigh up to 80,000 pounds, compared to a passenger vehicle weighing around 4,100 pounds. Considering the size and weight difference between the two vehicles, a collision is bound to be disastrous.

The FMCSA calculates that while a normal passenger vehicle traveling at 65 miles per hour would take 316 feet to stop, a cargo-loaded tractor-trailer traveling at the same speed would take 525 feet to come to a complete stop.

Given these figures, truck drivers have less control when having to stop quickly. Nonetheless, it is an operator’s responsibility to take the necessary precautions to prevent an accident.


Why Do Truck Drivers Fail to Brake in Time?

Truck drivers may fail to brake in time and collide with another vehicle for any of the following reasons:

  • Negligence: the truck driver failed to use reasonable care while operating their truck;
  • Poor traveling conditions: hazardous or slippery road conditions caused the truck driver to lose traction while braking, causing an even longer stopping distance;
  • Driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol: truck drivers may be mentally impaired while operating their trucks;
  • Fatigue: a truck driver may be suffering from inadequate sleep, preventing them from giving their full attention to driving; and
  • Brake failure: a tractor-trailer’s brakes can become overheated, misaligned, or not able to bear the weight from the trailer being overloaded. Additionally, brakes can be poorly maintained, contributing to an accident. 

As a truck driver is traveling downhill, they should be downshifting into a lower gear instead of stepping on their brakes. This prevents the braking system from getting burned out. An experienced driver may not realize to what degree they are riding their brakes. 


Truck Driver Regulations

In order to prevent truckers from driving while fatigued, the FMCSA has stipulated the number of hours drivers can be behind the wheel. These regulations are known as the Hours of Service (HOS) regulations. 

The Hours of Service regulations require that truck drivers account for their time, which they record in a logbook. Truck drivers have to designate their time as being spent either “driving,” “on-duty” (carrying out work duties, but not driving), “off-duty,” or in the “sleeper berth.”

Regarding truck drivers that are only carrying cargo (and not passengers), drivers are restricted from driving more than 60 hours in 7 consecutive days or 70 hours in 8 consecutive days. However, if a trucker has been off-duty for 10 consecutive hours, they are permitted to be “on-duty” for 14 hours, limiting them to 11 hours of driving time.

There are specific requirements for how long the driver must spend in the “sleeper berth.” Although the mandatory 10 hours off-duty do not need to be consecutive, a trucker must have at least 7 hours uninterruptedly in the sleeper-berth.

The HOS regulations also make a provision for adverse driving conditions. The trucker is given an extra two hours of time when driving in less-than-ideal conditions, extending their 11 hours of driving time to 13 hours, or 14 hours of driving time to 16 hours.

The FMCSA has established these regulations in order to mitigate driver fatigue. Sadly, the time constraints in delivering shipments cause drivers to speed to their destinations in order to beat out the clock.


Crash Statistics

Statistics indicate that 192.4 per 1,000 occupants are injured when the driver speeds in truck accidents. Regarding passenger vehicles, only 171.3 per 1,000 occupants were injured. 

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) released its own 2020 CrashStats Report. The national data showed that 4,965 people were killed in collisions involving large trucks. According to their findings, 4,842 large trucks were part of crashes that caused injuries and fatalities. 


Is the Truck Driver Always at Fault in a Collision?

The circumstances of an accident determine which party will bear responsibility. 

For example, if a truck driver was sleepy behind the wheel or was driving recklessly, a claim could be brought against the truck driver or their employer.

Comparatively, if the accident was a result of faulty brakes, the truck manufacturer or maintenance company would be held liable for the resulting accident.

It is always in your best interest to discuss the details of your accident with a truck and tractor-trailer accident lawyer. A truck and tractor-trailer accident lawyer will conduct an investigation to gather evidence relevant to your case.


Speak with Indiana Truck and Tractor Trailer Accident Lawyers

The longer you wait to discuss your case with a skilled attorney, the greater the chance of valuable evidence being lost. The truck and tractor-trailer accident lawyers at Blackburn Romey have decades of experience helping accident victims such as yourself. 

We know what it takes to negotiate with insurance companies and when it is time to consider litigation. Contact us today to schedule your free consultation.

Tom Blackburn

Blackburn Romey founding partner Tom Blackburn graduated with honors receiving a degree from Indiana University at the Robert H. McKinney School of Law. Initiating his legal career in 1977, he has been active in practicing law and currently serves as a member of the Indiana State Bar Association on the Ethics and Advertising Committees, the American Bar Association, the American Association for Justice, as a board member at the Indiana Trial Lawyers Association, and as an appointed member of the Executive Committee for the State of Indiana for the National Trial Lawyers Association.

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This page has been written, edited, and reviewed by a team of legal writers following our comprehensive editorial guidelines. This page was approved by Founding Partner, Tom Blackburn, who has more than 47 years of legal experience, including over 39 years specializing as a personal injury attorney.