When Sharing the Road with a Tractor Trailer Doesn’t Work Out


If you drive in the United States, it is inevitable that you share your road with tractor trailers. A recent analysis of the nation’s semi-trucks in a national magazine estimated that about 1.9 million tractors (the portion of the truck with the driver and engine) are on U.S. highways, with nearly three times that many trailers in use across the country. When driving on interstate highways in some locations at certain hours, it often appears that big rigs outnumber cars. And while their size is impressive and often intimidating, a real danger to you, your passengers and your vehicle, should a collision with a tractor trailer occur, is what you can’t easily see – the weight.

The Science of Sharing the Highway with Big Rigs

A scientist might define the act of keeping a moving vehicle under control in terms of kinetic energy. The energy of an object in motion, kinetic energy is sometimes measured in terms of weight time speed. Naturally enough, this means that a heavy object has more kinetic energy than a lighter object – even if both are traveling at the same speed. As a comparison, consider a modern minivan – about 17 feet long, with a maximum rated weight of about 6,000 pounds. Now take a look at a semi-truck barreling down the same interstate as the minivan. The maximum standard trailer length is 53 feet, and the total overall tractor-trailer combination may be 80 feet or more. The top weight generally allowed on interstate highways in the U.S. is 80,000 pounds (though some states allow significantly heavier trucks on non-interstate thoroughfares). 

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The daunting size and weight difference between a loaded semi-truck and that minivan packed with kids on the way to ball practice is startling, no matter how you compare them. The tractor-trailer’s engine alone may weigh as much as that entire loaded little team hauler. At 80 feet long and 40 tons, the combined tractor-trailer weighs in at an average of 1,000 pounds for every linear foot – a mere six feet of it weighs as much as the loaded, 17-foot minivan. 

In the Blink of an Eye – The Forces of Physics that Govern a Collision with a Semi-Truck

The compared kinetic energy – that force of physics that must be completely dissipated before moving vehicles come to a stop if a collision occurs – reveals just how much of a winner the truck is likely to be in the unfortunate contest. If the minivan has slowed for traffic to, say, 40 miles per hour, and is struck by a semi-truck still charging forward at 70, the tractor trailer will be carrying more than 23 times as much energy as that vanload of ball players. Hopefully the trucker will have some warning and react appropriately. If the driver isn’t sleepy or distracted, and if the truck is in good repair, the semi’s brakes may dissipate some of that kinetic force before the collision occurs. The rest of that merciless energy will be absorbed by the structure of the minivan – and everyone in it. The chances of the smaller vehicle’s occupants suffering serious injuries, including some that may not be immediately apparent, are significant. 

There is also likely to be another major difference between the big rig and the minivan if such a mishap occurs – the corporation owning the truck will employ a lawyer with highly specialized experience, whose mission is minimizing the trucking company’s legal and financial responsibility for the consequences of the collision.

If You or Someone You Care About Has Suffered a Collision Involving a Semi-Truck

Many fortunate private motorists may share the road for years without having an accident involving a tractor-trailer. However, if you have been a driver or passenger in a vehicle that was struck by a big, understanding your legal rights – and the truck company’s obligations – could make a life-changing difference in the quality of your health in the days, months and years that follow. If you have questions for an attorney with specialized knowledge of tractor trailer accidents, or need help understanding the rights of victims of such events, click http://www.bolingriceatlanta.com/tractor-trailer-accidents/ for more information.