As a crossroads of commerce, Albany and its environs see lots of truck traffic. Tractor-trailers traverse the Capital Region headed east into New England, west toward Canada, and south to New York City. Drive any stretch of I-87, I-90, and I-787 in and around Albany, and you will likely share the road with numerous big rigs.
Increasing volumes of tractor-trailers on area roads serve as a hopeful indicator of the rebounding Capital Region economy. Unfortunately, the more big rigs we see on Albany area roads, the more large truck accidents we’re bound to witness as well, and the more injuries and fatalities that will accompany these accidents.
Albany drivers who share the road with tractor-trailers can lower their accident risk by getting familiar with the following basic information about big rigs and the accidents they can cause.
The Data on Tractor-Trailer Accidents in Albany
Large truck accidents continue to rise in the greater Albany area. According to the University at Albany’s Institute for Traffic Safety Management & Research (ITSMR), in the most recent three years for which finalized data is available, Albany County witnessed 396, 465, and 528 large truck crashes, respectively. The bulk of those accidents happened on weekdays between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. and happened consistently all year round. About 85 percent involved multi-vehicle accidents, while the remaining 15 percent involved the truck alone.
Roughly 20 percent of the large truck accidents in Albany County over those years resulted in fatalities or injuries. The harm caused by those crashes, however, fell disproportionately on drivers and passengers in vehicles other than the truck, and pedestrians and cyclists. In each reporting year, well over three-quarters (77 percent, 79 percent, and 84 percent, respectively) of the victims of large truck accidents in Albany County were not truck drivers.
Tractor-Trailer Accident Risk Factors
Numerous risk factors play a role in making tractor-trailers accident-prone. Let’s take a look at a few of the most prominent ones.
Vehicle Size and Complexity
Tractor-trailers are large, complex machines—far more so than your average passenger vehicle. Tractor-trailers consist of two components: a tractor truck, and a trailer attached to the tractor by an articulating hitch. In the most common configuration, the tractor truck pulls one trailer measuring just over 50 feet. Sometimes, however, the tractor truck pulls two shorter trailers in tandem. In either configuration, the entire rig typically measures between 70 and 80 feet in length. Tractor-trailers are also tall, (a little over 13 feet, on average), wide (about 8.5 feet), and heavy (up to 80,000 pounds fully loaded).
To manage the significant forces involved in starting, stopping, and steering such a big, heavy vehicle, tractor-trailers rely on complex mechanical, hydraulic, and electronic systems, and on the skills of the driver who sits behind the wheel. Each of those systems and skills represents a potential point of failure that, at the wrong moment, can trigger a cascade of consequences leading to an accident.
The size, shape, and weight of a tractor-trailer also make it relatively top-heavy and more susceptible than smaller vehicles to adverse weather conditions.
Add to that the possibility that a load of cargo in the trailer may shift in transit, and you have a vehicle that can tip over in a variety of scenarios, such as when:
- Entering a sharp curve or highway on/off ramp too fast.
- Driving in high crosswinds.
- Straying too close to a soft or uneven road shoulder.
- Taking evasive action to avoid a sudden road hazard.
Tractor-trailers have notoriously large blind spots on all four sides. A blind spot extends about 20 feet in front of the cab, as much as 200 feet behind the trailer, about one lane-width to the driver’s left, extending half of the length of the big rig, and about two lane-widths to the driver’s right, extending the entire length of the trailer. Any of these blind spots may extend far enough to hide a passenger vehicle from the trucker’s view.
Truckers rely on mirrors and, increasingly, cameras and other electronic warning systems to monitor blind spots. It’s not an easy task. A tractor-trailer driver’s moment of inattention can result in losing track of smaller vehicles, increasing the risk of an accident when the truck changes lanes.
The trucking industry continues to face a long-running labor shortage. Even as the U.S. economy continues to rebound and demand for trucking grows, the trucking industry has struggled to recruit new drivers. The median age of a truck driver is 46, well above the national median for adults in the workforce, and the median age for drivers in training is 35. Fewer than one in ten drivers is female.
The result? New tractor-trailer drivers who do enter the workforce get pressed into service immediately, and oftentimes end up behind the wheel of trucks they lack sufficient experience to drive safely. It takes years of on-the-road training for drivers to know how to handle the diverse challenges that can confront a trucker, from heavy traffic to adverse weather conditions. Accidents tend to happen when truckers do not know how to respond when they encounter difficulties while driving a tractor-trailer.
The combination of high demand for trucking services and a labor shortage also translates into tiring working conditions for tractor-trailer drivers. They have more miles to cover, on tighter schedules, than ever before. To meet deadlines, truck drivers may choose to drive late into the night. It’s also an older workforce that’s in relatively poor health, which complicates things further.
Hours-of-service regulations limit the total number of hours that truckers can spend behind the wheel at a stretch without a break, and the maximum hours of driving in 24 hours, but even those rules cannot prevent drivers from getting dangerously fatigued behind the wheel. A tired trucker suffers from severe impairments of his driving abilities, akin to feeling intoxicated. Truckers may feel less alert and more prone to errors. Fatigued drivers may struggle to respond appropriately to road hazards and may even fall asleep at the wheel.
Types of Albany Tractor Trailer Accidents
Tractor-trailers crash in and around Albany in numerous ways. Below, we discuss some of the most common scenarios.
Lane Change/Merge Accidents
With their large blind spots and limited maneuverability, tractor-trailers risk getting into accidents when they collide with other vehicles while merging or changing lanes. According to ITSMR data, police cite improper lane change and failure to yield the right of way as leading contributing factors in many Albany-area large truck accidents.
One aspect of these accidents that makes them particularly dangerous is that smaller vehicles can get trapped underneath or run over by a trailer when a tractor-trailer merges into their travel lane.
Due to their high center of gravity, tractor-trailers can tip over in a variety of scenarios (listed above). A truck that rolls can cause extensive damage. It may crush a smaller vehicle causing serious injuries and fatalities. It may also injure or kill the truck driver. A rollover can also lead to a tractor-trailer spilling its cargo, which in turn can cause secondary accidents.
One danger particular to tractor-trailers is the possibility of the tractor and trailer folding against each other, like the blade of a pocket knife. These jackknife accidents often happen when the weight of a fully-loaded trailer overwhelms the tractor in front of it, pushing the tractor sideways. A jackknifed tractor-trailer may spin out of control. The rig will continue sliding sideways until it collides with other vehicles or roadside features (like guardrails or bridge abutment), rolls over, or comes to rest through the friction of its tires with the pavement.
Backing up in a truck can prove difficult, as anyone who has ever towed a boat or an RV knows. To back up safely, truckers must master the skill of knowing the correct pressure to exert on the trailer hitch to make the trailer move backward in a particular direction while using only their mirrors for visual guidance. Lots of accidents involving tractor-trailers occur when the trailer collides with a vehicle, object, or person the driver cannot see in the truck’s large rear blind spot.
Rear-end collisions constitute the most common motor vehicle accident on U.S. roads, and that includes crashes involving tractor-trailers. Any rear-end accident involving a tractor-trailer holds the potential to cause devastating damage and injuries. A car that rear-ends a truck trailer can get wedged beneath it, with the impact crushing the windshield and roof. A truck that rear-ends any vehicle will often simply demolish it, due to the huge disparity in the mass of a truck compared to everyone else on the road.
How Lawyers Help Albany Tractor-Trailer Accident Victims
No matter how a tractor-trailer accident happens in Albany, it almost always takes a heavy physical, personal, and financial toll on those involved. Like the trucks themselves, tractor-trailer accidents have an outsized impact. They frequently cause more harm, to more victims, costing more money, and involving more parties with potential liability, than ordinary car accidents. That devastation becomes all the more tragic when (as is often the case) the accident could have been avoided.
In the aftermath of an Albany tractor-trailer accident, victims frequently need advice about how to protect their rights. A skilled truck accident injury lawyer can help. Through determined investigation, analysis, and advocacy, a lawyer can make sure that big rig accident victims in the Capital Region hold the parties at fault accountable, and get the money they need to pay for their care, recover from their injuries, and rebuild their lives.
Identifying Who Bears Liability for Your Accident
One significant job for lawyers who represent Albany tractor-trailer accident victims involves identifying the party or parties who should face legal and financial accountability to victims for the crash. Numerous parties have a commercial interest in and hands-on involvement with a tractor-trailer and its contents.
Skilled lawyers understand that any of those parties might bear liability for an accident.
- Truck drivers can make mistakes behind the wheel that cause a crash, making the drivers (and their insurance companies) financially responsible for the harm that results.
- Trucking companies (a.k.a. fleet owners) can face liability for a crash if they employed the driver, or if their failure to maintain trucks in safe condition led to an accident.
- Trailer and cargo owners may owe damages to victims if a poorly maintained trailer or dangerously unsecured cargo influenced the cause of the crash.
- Tractor truck and trailer manufacturers could bear liability for an accident if their products contained defects that contributed to the root cause of an accident.
That list only includes the parties who have an interest in the truck itself. Still, other parties could also have legal and financial liability for an Albany truck crash, like other motorists, their employers, and the manufacturers of their vehicles; and municipal road agencies that must design, build, and maintain local roads to ensure the safety of truck drivers and the rest of the driving public.
Tractor-trailer accident lawyers pursue legal actions on behalf of injured victims seeking compensation from any of the parties above (or anyone else) that may have liability for a crash.
The money damages that an attorney can often secure for victims may include payment for:
- Medical care to treat a crash-related injury and any other health complications it causes.
- The cost of services, property repair, and other miscellaneous needs the victims wouldn’t have had but for the crash.
- Lost wages and income resulting from victims missing work or becoming disabled.
- Pain and suffering, and other life challenges endured by accident victims.
In addition, in the case of an Albany truck accident caused by someone’s extremely reckless or intentionally harmful conduct, lawyers may also secure a court order directing the at-fault parties to pay punitive damages to the victims.
If you or a loved one suffered harm in an Albany tractor-trailer accident, make it a priority to speak with a lawyer who can handle these and other tasks on your behalf. The sooner you contact an experienced Albany truck accident injury attorney, the better your chances of securing maximum compensation for your damages.
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.