Do Semi-Trucks Often Cause Rear-End Accidents?

rear end

Rear-end collisions are the most common type of traffic accident, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), accounting for nearly 30 percent of total accidents. 

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) reports that between 2015 and 2017, there were 4,237 accidents involving semi-trucks, resulting in 3,896 fatalities. Twenty percent of those truck accidents were rear-end collisions. 

Fully loaded commercial tractor-trailer trucks can weigh up to 80,000 pounds. When these behemoths rear-end a passenger car, the force of impact is massive and causes an incredible degree of damage and personal injury, almost always resulting in permanently disabling injuries and fatalities to those in the passenger vehicle. 

The same forces that destroy the smaller vehicles and injure the occupants generally always protect the truck driver. Accidents resulting in the death of the truck driver account for only two percent of semi-truck related fatalities each year.

What Are Some Common Causes for Rear-End Collisions with Semi-Trucks?

Rear-end collisions are the most common accident involving large commercial trucks, and although there are numerous causes, the following are some of the most common: 

  • Longer braking distance. If traveling at 65 miles per hour, most newer model passenger vehicles can come to a complete stop in less than 70 feet. Because of their sheer size and weight, a semi traveling at 65 miles per hour can come to a complete stop in 500 feet, roughly eight times the distance of passenger cars. Fully loaded trucks and those with double or triple trailers require an even longer distance, making braking distance the number one reason semis are prone to rear-end collisions more than any other vehicle. A sudden accident ahead, or cars darting in front of them at intersections and deceleration ramps, typically creates an inevitable crash because the driver has nowhere to go to get out of the way and not ample time to stop the rig before striking other vehicles. 
  • Speeding. Going over the speed limit exacerbates the braking distance mentioned above. The faster the truck is traveling, the more distance the driver needs to bring it to a complete stop. The 500 feet of stopping length doubles and triples exponentially the faster the truck is traveling, reducing the driver’s reaction time as well. Speed is a significant factor in many rear-end collisions involving semis.
  • Distracted driving. Operating a vehicle while distracted is one of the most common causes of accidents, and the cause of 85 percent of rear-end collisions. Using a cell phone, fiddling with onboard technology systems and radios, eating, applying makeup, playing with children or pets, arguing with passengers, and many more distractions, can cause an accident in a split second. Truck drivers need to be some of the most alert motorists on the road, paying close attention to who and what is around all four sides of the truck at all times. Cell phone use in the interstate trucking industry is regulated by the federal government and limits drivers to utilize hands-free phones, but drivers have been known to break the rules. Drivers engaging in other activities that take their eyes off the road could cause a devastating and catastrophic accident in a matter of seconds.
  • Drowsy driving. Getting behind the wheel while sleep-deprived is considered to be just as dangerous as drunk driving and, in fact, can actually impair drivers even more than alcohol if more than 20 hours have passed since sleeping. Commercial truck driving is a profession that at times requires drivers to be awake for awfully long periods of time to meet schedules and deadlines. This can present a deadly situation for other motorists. Sleep deprivation reduces focus, reaction time, split-second decision making, and causes drivers to drift over lanes or nod off, which has disastrous consequences if that driver is behind the wheel of a semi.
  • Impaired driver. No truck driver should ever get behind the wheel after consuming alcohol or illegal substances, but drunk driving situations do happen. Long-distance drivers are known to sometimes take over-the-counter medications to help them stay awake for long periods; however, such medications can also impair drivers as well.

Are the Truck Drivers Always Responsible in Rear-End Collisions?

Laws regarding which driver is at-fault in rear-end collisions vary from state to state, and liability in accidents involving semis can vary case-to-case. There are, however, some overall liability situations that generally apply in every state involving commercial trucks that may result in more than one party responsible for the accident, which may include:

  • Driver. If the driver failed to stop the truck before colliding into another vehicle, they may be individually responsible.
  • Truck driver’s employer. The responsibility is most often on the employer who owns the truck and has financial and legal responsibility of the driver’s actions.
  • Truck owner. In some cases, a truck is owned by someone other than the employer or the driver. If so, the owner may be responsible if they are negligent by not maintaining the vehicle properly or discern or provide adequate training of the driver.
  • Manufacturer. If a defective system or part on the truck failed, causing the driver to be unable to stop, responsibility may fall on the manufacturer.
  • Government agency or contractor.  If either entity failed to warn drivers of dangerous road conditions, or fix them, the agency or contractor may be responsible if these conditions led to a collision.

In Maryland, fault is typically on the trailing vehicle striking the one in front, but that is not always the case. Fault varies by case, but Maryland law states the driver liable for causing a rear-end collision by not following traffic laws is negligent, whichever vehicle that person is operating. 

One example would be if a driver fails to signal and stops suddenly, causing the car behind to crash into them, the liability would be on the driver of the front car if the second car was following at a reasonable distance. 

However, Maryland uses a contributory negligence standard to determine who is liable in rear-ed collisions. Contributory negligence means that if either driver contributed to the accident, however minor, both would be deemed negligent and unable to sue the other for damages or injuries. 

For instance, using the above example, if the second car strikes the first car for following too closely, both drivers would be held responsible under Maryland law. Examples of the negligence on the front car could include reversing without warning, the car has no functioning brake lights or turn signals, stops suddenly, or turns without signaling. 

What Types of Injuries Are Common in Rear-End Collisions Involving Semi-Trucks?

Rear-end collisions between semi-trucks and passenger cars almost always end with extensive property damage and severe injuries, and fatalities in many cases. Surviving occupants often have life-changing injuries resulting in permanent disabilities and soaring medical bills. Common injuries include:

  • Spine and neck injuries. The force of a semi hitting a smaller passenger car is massive and sends a violent jolt through the car, and the bodies of its occupants. The body absorbs the extreme force and becomes contorted in unnatural positions that frequently cause extensive injury to the spine and neck, often fractured vertebrae. This type of collision often renders people paralyzed when these bone fragments become lodged in the spine.
  • Traumatic brain injury. Impact with such extreme force can cause extensive trauma to the brain. The human brain is protected in the skull, floating in a layer of cerebrospinal fluid that protects the brain from minor impact. The impact in a semi collision is so great that the brain can slam against the skull so violently it can tear; become disformed; and often results in permanent damage to the brain, blood vessels, and nerves. Traumatic brain injury can also alter a person’s personality and impulse control, motor functions, loss of sensation and senses, difficulty with reasoning, cognitive function, loss of memory, and cause ongoing lifelong complications.
  • Soft tissue injuries. The massive force of the collision can cause severe damage to the body’s soft tissues. Severe muscle, ligament, and tendon damage usually requires surgeries to repair and will likely result in lifetime disabilities or limits to range of motion, and lead to chronic pain. Damage to the soft tissues can lead to further damage to the internal organs that the soft tissues surround and protect.

Baltimore Truck Accident Lawyers at LeViness, Tolzman & Hamilton Advocate for Clients Injured in Rear-End Collisions with Semi-Trucks

In Maryland, if you contributed even one percent to a rear-end collision with a semi-truck, you cannot receive compensation. In these types of cases, it is crucial you have legal representation. The experienced Baltimore truck accident lawyers at LeViness, Tolzman & Hamilton can help to hold liable parties accountable for injuries and damages. Call us today at 800-547-4LAW (4529) or contact us online to schedule a free consultation.

Our offices are conveniently located in BaltimoreGlen Burnie, and Prince George’s County, where we represent clients throughout Maryland, including those in Anne Arundel CountyCarroll CountyHarford CountyHoward CountyMontgomery CountyPrince George’s CountyQueen Anne’s CountyMaryland’s Western CountiesSouthern Maryland and the Eastern Shore, as well as the communities of CatonsvilleEssexHalethorpeMiddle RiverRosedale, Gwynn OakBrooklandvilleDundalkPikesvilleParkvilleNottinghamWindsor MillLuthervilleTimoniumSparrows PointRidgewood, and Elkridge.