Large trucks crisscross the Albany area regularly. Semi-trucks, in particular, roll through Albany on I-90, I-87, and I-787, on their way to deliver cargo to businesses and consumers throughout the United States and Canada. Many of those trucks also serve Albany-area manufacturers and retailers.
All that semi-truck traffic has its benefits for the Capital Region. It means industry and commerce are healthy. Unfortunately, it also has its drawbacks. Increasing volumes of semi-trucks on Albany-area roads inevitably means increasing volumes of accidents involving those same trucks, which result in increased harm to Albany residents and visitors.
In this blog post, we explore the topic of semi-trucks (a.k.a. tractor-trailers) in Albany. We look at some statistics involving semi-truck accidents, the risks of sharing the road with semi-trucks, and how an experienced attorney can provide for victims of semi truck accidents.
Albany Semi-Truck Accident Statistics
Let’s start by quantifying the dangers Albany drivers face when it comes to semi-trucks.
According to the University at Albany’s Institute for Traffic Safety Management & Research (ITSMR), which tracks New York State motor vehicle accident data, the Capital Region sees hundreds of large truck accidents every year, and the numbers are on the rise. Of those crashes, a significant percentage involves semi-trucks getting into collisions with other (usually smaller) vehicles. Semi-trucks also get into accidents on their own, such as when they leave the road surface and roll over.
About one-in-five large truck accidents in the Albany area caused serious injuries or fatalities, and the vast majority of the victims either occupied smaller vehicles in collisions with trucks or were cyclists or pedestrians. In other words, the data show that when a semi-truck crashes in Albany, innocent motorists and bystanders, and not truck drivers, tend to bear the brunt of the harm.
What Makes Semi-trucks Dangerous?
It is no secret that semi-trucks differ from ordinary passenger vehicles. What some drivers do not recognize, however, is just how much those differences make semis far more dangerous to the road-using public than any car, pickup, or SUV ever could be. Here are just some of the factors that make semi-trucks so hazardous.
They Are Large, Complicated Vehicles
A semi-truck typically consists of two basic components: a tractor truck that is purpose-built to tow a trailer on an articulating hitch, and the trailer itself. The whole rig commonly measures about fifty feet long, although an alternative configuration in which a tractor truck pulls two smaller “pup” trailers can measure over seventy feet long. Semi-trucks’ other dimensions are equally outsized: a clearance height of over thirteen feet, and a lane-gobbling width of about eight-and-a-half feet. A fully loaded semi-truck can weigh about 80,000 pounds.
A complex assemblage of mechanical, hydraulic, and electrical systems makes it possible for semi-trucks to steer, brake, and otherwise operate under control on Albany roads. But a semi-truck cannot (yet) drive itself. It also needs a skilled, alert, well-trained driver at the wheel. Any malfunction of semi-truck systems, or lapse by the driver, can lead to an accident.
They Are Relatively Unstable
Compared to other vehicles on the road, semi-trucks have narrow wheel-bases relative to their height. This, combined with the fact that they carry cargo which itself is susceptible to shifting, making them somewhat unstable.
A semi-truck can careen out of control, or tip-over, in a surprisingly large number of scenarios that would not pose much (if any) risk to a smaller vehicle, including:
- While sharp turns or curves at relatively low speeds
- While driving in windy conditions
- When its wheels momentarily leave the road surface onto a soft shoulder
- When it makes any quick maneuver (such as swerving to avoid a road hazard)
They Have Large Blind Spots
All four sides of a semi-truck feature large blind spots:
- Approximately 20 feet (2-3 car lengths) in front of the cab
- Approximately 200 feet (more than 1/2 of a football field) behind the trailer
- Approximately one lane-width on its left, running the length of the trailer
- Approximately two lane-widths on its right, running the length of the entire semi-truck (tractor and trailer combined)
Smaller vehicles driving in any of these blind spots are, for all intents and purposes, invisible to a semi-truck driver unless they can see them in their mirrors or via an onboard camera. That is why, as a rule of thumb, drivers of smaller vehicles should always move through a semi-truck’s blind spot as quickly as possible, and assume that if they cannot see the driver’s eyes in the truck’s mirror, then the driver cannot see them.
Their Drivers May Lack The Necessary Training and Experience
For years now, the trucking industry has struggled with a severe labor shortage. Semi-truck drivers are in increasingly short supply for two reasons. First, a growing economy means a rising demand for trucking services. Second, despite that increasing demand, the trucking industry has not done a good job of recruiting new hires, particularly among younger drivers and women.
This labor shortage has made it increasingly likely that inexperienced or untrained drivers will end up behind the wheel of a truck they cannot handle. Trucking companies have incentives to cut corners on training, lower their standards for hiring, and send drivers out on the road without proper license endorsements or know-how gained from hours on the road.
Their Drivers Are Tired
Fewer drivers and higher demand mean longer hours, more miles, and tighter deadlines for the drivers who do take the wheel of semi-trucks in the Albany area. Truckers work irregular hours dictated by customer schedules. And, because the average age of truckers skews older, as a group they are in relatively poor health.
Any one of those factors could lead to an over-tired trucker climbing into a cab. In combination, they more-or-less guarantee that a significant percentage of drivers operate semi-trucks while dangerously fatigued regularly. Federal and state hours-of-service regulations aim to curb the worst hazards of drowsy driving among semi-truck drivers, but they cannot cure the problem. At any given moment, Albany motorists will inevitably share the road with a semi-truck driver suffering fatigue-induced impairments to their driving abilities, including slowed reaction times, poor judgment of speed and distance, and brain fog.
Common Semi-Truck Accidents in Albany
The risk factors above increase the risk of any of the following types of semi-truck accidents on Albany roadways.
Lane Change Accidents
Improper lane changes and failures to yield the right of way cause many Capital Region semi-truck accidents, according to ITSMR. That is not surprising. It is only a matter of time before a semi-truck with large blind spots, operated by a tired, inexperienced driver, merges into an adjacent lane directly into the path or on top of a smaller vehicle.
As we described above, the unique physical characteristics of a semi-truck—narrow wheel-base, high height, shifting cargo, etc.—make it especially susceptible to tipping over. Rollovers commonly happen on the interstates passing through Albany when truckers try to navigate sharp curves or exit ramps at unsafe speeds, allow their semi-trailers to drift off the road surface onto the shoulder, or drive in strong crosswinds.
A jackknife accident occurs when a semi-truck’s tractor and trailer fold against each other like the blade of a pocket knife. Jackknifes commonly occur when the weight and momentum of a heavy, fully loaded trailer overwhelm the brakes of the tractor. The semi-truck skids out of control, coming to rest only when friction halts its progress, it hits another vehicle or a roadside object, or it rolls over.
It takes skill and practice to back up a semi-truck. An articulated hitch is all that physically connects the tractor to the trailer. That hitch makes pulling a trailer relatively simple. But it complicates backing up because it forces the truck driver to contend with the physics using the hitch to push the much larger trailer and navigate using only their mirrors. Backup accidents frequently involve a truck rolling over vehicles, objects, or people hiding in the trailer’s large rear blind spot.
Rear-end crashes account for the largest number of accidents that occur every year on Albany roads. While these accidents can have a reputation as minor “fender benders” when they happen between passenger vehicles, a rear-end collision involving a semi-truck carries an extremely high risk of causing severe injuries and fatalities. If a semi-truck rear-ends a smaller vehicle, it will likely crush it. If a smaller vehicle rear-ends a semi-truck trailer, it risks getting wedged beneath it or having its roof sheared off. In either event, there is nothing minor about a rear-end crash involving a semi.
Legal Help for Albany Semi-Truck Accident Victims
Any semi-truck accident on an Albany-area roadway has the potential to cause severe physical, emotional, and financial pain for accident victims and their families. Crashes involving semi-trucks commonly involve widespread destruction, multiple victims, severe injuries, and fatalities.
Those accidents also commonly happen because of the unreasonably dangerous decisions and actions of someone other than the injured or deceased victims. Under New York law, those parties will face legal liability to injured victims and grieving families for the damages they have suffered.
The job of an experienced Albany semi-truck accident attorney is to hold those at-fault parties legally and financially accountable for the harm they caused. That job typically involves two core tasks, described below.
Investigating the Accident and Identifying At-Fault Parties
Semi-truck accident lawyers in Albany frequently engage in the complex, fact-intensive task of investigating exactly how a semi-truck accident happened. One central goal of that investigation is to gather evidence sufficient to prove that one or more parties owe damages to the victims under New York law.
Identifying those parties is not always simple. Skilled lawyers know to let the evidence guide their analysis, so that they are assured of targeting every individual, business, institution, or organization possibly accountable for their clients’ injuries and losses.
Those parties could include, for example:
- A semi-truck driver who, out of inexperience, inattention, or negligence, made a deadly mistake behind the wheel that caused a crash on an Albany road.
- A semi-truck fleet company that failed to maintain its trucks in a safe condition, leading to an equipment failure that triggered a crash.
- A trailer or cargo owner who failed to load and secure cargo appropriately, resulting in a loss of control and a preventable accident.
- A truck equipment manufacturer that produced and sold goods that did not function as required under normal operating conditions, leading to a crash.
- Another motorist whose dangerous actions behind the wheel lead to a dangerous semi-truck accident.
- A local government agency that failed to maintain Albany-area roads in a sufficiently safe condition for semis to operate on them.
And, this is just a sampling of the parties who could owe damages for a semi-truck accident in Albany. Skilled lawyers understand that sometimes the least-expected party may owe, and have the ability to pay, the most significant damages in a semi-truck accident case.
Pursuing Maximum Damages for Semi-truck Accident Injuries
Semi-truck accident lawyers in Albany may pursue a variety of legal strategies to secure compensation for their clients. Every case differs, as does the amount and types of compensation their efforts may yield.
In general, however, attorneys for semi-truck accident victims can often obtain payment for their clients’:
- Medical treatments necessary to address semi-truck crash-related injuries
- Other expenses that would not have occurred were it not for the accident
- Lost wages and income resulting from missing work or becoming disabled
- Pain, suffering, loss of enjoyment of life, and other difficulties that flowed from the semi-truck accident
Lawyers may also have the ability to obtain an award of punitive damages for their client if the party at fault for an Albany semi-truck accident engaged in particularly outrageous or extreme misconduct.
Did you or a loved one suffer injuries in an Albany semi-truck accident? If so, you may recover significant financial compensation. To learn more, contact a skilled Albany semi-truck accident injury lawyer today for a free consultation.
Mr. Finkelstein is the Managing Partner of Finkelstein & Partners, LLP. He has become a noted consumer activist through his representation of injured individuals against corporate wrongdoers and irresponsible parties.
An accomplished litigator, Mr. Finkelstein has represented Plaintiffs in wrongful death and catastrophic personal injury cases. He has successfully handled dozens of multi-million dollar cases.