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Commercial Trucks & Highways: High Speed Hazards, Increased Risks

By: Allan M. Siegel

The DC metro area, like many major U.S. cities, depends on a complex system of highways and interstates that form connections between Washington, DC and the surrounding areas. Though many local residents may travel the Capital Beltway (Interstate 495), Interstate 66, I-295, and other local thoroughfares on a regular if not daily basis, most of them tend to forget about the significant risks which exist on these high-speed roadways and interchanges– especially when it comes to commercial trucks and tractor-trailers.

If you are a resident of DC, Virginia, or Maryland, it is likely your experiences with commercial trucks and local highways are shaped by traffic nightmares, backups, and heavy congestion, which are often caused by incidents or serious accidents involving commercial trucks. In fact, one fatal truck accident on the Woodrow Wilson Bridge earlier this year resulted in hours of traffic delays, turning half-mile or 20-minute commutes into hours-long ordeals.

Though heavy traffic may be common in the DC region, ranked among the worst in the country and the nation in terms of traffic congestion, incidents and wrecks involving large commercial vehicles tend to have a disastrous effect on our roadways. While there may be many factors at play behind this, a large part of this has to do with both the severity and scope of truck accidents, as well as the multitude of headaches and potential hazards they can create.

Tractor-Trailer Highway Hazards

While commercial tractor-trailers pose public safety hazards anywhere they operate, whether it’s a low-speed surface street or a private parking lot, those hazards are exacerbated on highways. Here are a few examples of tractor-trailer highway hazards:

  • Higher speeds – Driving speed is a major factor in auto accidents, both in terms of how it can increase the severity of a wreck and how speed itself can increase risks of being involved in a crash. In the District of Columbia, speed limits for both cars and commercial trucks are capped at 55mph, and in Maryland and Virginia at 65mph and 65-70mph, respectively. Higher speeds, especially as trucks can weigh tens of thousands of pounds and are difficult to quickly stop and steer, increase the potential for devastating outcomes simply as a matter of physics.
  • Cargo hazards – Tractor-trailers are designed for the primary purpose of carrying cargo, and while trucks themselves pose substantial safety risks, so can the cargo they carry. This is especially true if trucking companies and truckers fail to abide by federal trucking regulations for cargo securement or weight limitations, as improperly secured or overloaded cargo can compromise a truck’s performance and a trucker’s ability to safely control their rig. Unsecured cargo can also pose tremendous risks for highway drivers, including falling cargo that may strike passenger vehicles or create hazards on the highway which lead to accidents.
  • Multi-vehicle wrecks – Multi-vehicle accidents, or pileups, are a significant risk on highways, where more vehicles and higher speeds make for a dangerous and sometimes deadly combination. Commercial trucks further increase risks for significant pileups, especially when they cause major collisions, lose cargo across the road, jackknife, or roll over across multiple traffic lanes.
  • Infrastructure damage – Though it may be less of an “immediate” hazard to highway travelers, damage to infrastructure caused by tractor-trailers is a significant concern. As the largest vehicles on the road, trucks take a toll on our infrastructure, including roads, bridges, and other highway components. Over time, or as the result of accidents or damage caused by fallen cargo, these roadway defects, including potholes and broken roads, can pose hazards that increase crash risks.
  • Victims – Perhaps the most pressing hazard posed by commercial trucks is their overwhelming potential to harm victims. Trucks are generally at their peak level in terms of potential safety hazards when they travel highways, and it is not uncommon for highway tractor-trailer accidents to result in catastrophic injuries or wrongful death. Some of the largest and most devastating trucking wrecks in history have occurred on highways.

Chaikin, Sherman, Cammarata & Siegel, P.C.: Fighting for Truck Accident Victims

Chaikin, Sherman, Cammarata & Siegel, P.C. is a nationally recognized personal injury law firm that leverages the insight award-winning attorneys to fight for injured victims and families, including those who have suffered as a result of preventable accidents involving large trucks and other commercial vehicles. If you have questions about a truck accident anywhere in the District of Columbia, Virginia, or Maryland, our team is here to protect your rights and explore your options for recovering needed compensation. Call (202) 644-8303 or contact us online to speak with an attorney.