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According to the Department of Transportation (DOT), millions of commercial trucks (about 4.3 percent of all highway vehicles) move goods over the national transportation network each year. This volume of commercial vehicles presents a problem for motorists who must share congested highways with those trucks, which are variously referred to as big rigs, semis, semi-trailer trucks, tractor trailers or 18-wheelers.

The threat of death or injury posed by trucking accidents is staggering. According to the California Vehicle Code, the average big rig traveling on California roads can weigh up to 80,000 lbs. and can be as much as 75 feet long, while the average passenger vehicle weighs only 4,000 lbs. This difference in weight and size causes a significant safety concern for motorists traveling upon California’s roads, and especially on freeways with high volumes of trucks.

Vehicle passengers are especially vulnerable to catastrophic injury in semi truck accidents. Data from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety  (2010) showed that passenger vehicle occupants were far more likely to die in accidents with large trucks than the occupants of those trucks. Occupants of passenger vehicles accounted for a shocking 97 percent of all deaths in accidents involving a passenger vehicle and a large truck on U.S. roads, research concluded.

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California Truck Crashes

In 2010, California was the second most dangerous state to drive in, with 2,715 fatal traffic accidents in that year alone. Out of those fatal crashes, 235 were crashes involving a commercial truck according to data from the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA). This means that nearly nine percent of all fatal highway crashes in California involved at least one big rig.

This data parallels national statistics. According to a study currently being conducted by Kansas State University civil engineers, one in 10 fatal crashes in the U.S. has involved a large truck. “In 2009 the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration recorded that one out of every 10 traffic fatalities in the U.S. was a result from collisions involving large trucks," researchers noted. "When you consider that between 30,000 to 35,000 people die each year in all motor vehicle crashes, it's a pretty significant issue," researchers said.

Southern California and Truck Safety

California is home to a very large and complex market for freight movement, which consists of large commercial big rigs traversing the many highways as they transport goods.

Southern California has the second largest metropolitan area in the country. This area, called the Los Angeles Metropolitan region, consists of six counties (Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, Imperial and Ventura counties) and is home to roughly 16.5 million people.

The nation’s largest container port complex lies within the Los Angeles Metropolitan region, as well as an important cargo center and numerous major regional distribution centers. The highways in this region, particularly Interstate 5 and Interstate 710, are incredibly busy and dangerous for motorists when it comes to 18-wheeler accidents. According to a DOT freight study, “in 2000, on a 27-mile stretch of the I-710 Freeway, trucks were involved in over 31 percent of its 2,250 reported accidents.”

Southern California also shares a border with Mexico, making it a very important gateway for international trade (with more than 37 percent of the nation’s import duties being collected in the region). The city of San Diego, which is home to 1.3 million people and 23 state routes, is a hub for commercial truck travel.

Due to its heavy trade profile and the staggering number of commercial trucks moving tons of cargo within the state’s many highways, California is home to a huge number of the nation’s fatal commercial tractor trailer accidents. Unfortunately, many California truck companies tend to prioritize profits over safety. Improper maintenance or poor repair work, and careless and reckless driving, including truck driver fatigue, are just some of the many causes of fatal California truck crashes.

What Causes a California Commercial Truck Accident?

Large trucks can pose numerous hazards as they operate on California’s many roads. Due to their weight and size, trucks take significantly longer to stop than a passenger vehicle (up to 40 percent more distance is needed for a large truck to stop than a small passenger vehicle). This handicap has led to many catastrophic rear-end accidents, especially if the commercial truck is speeding or following a smaller vehicle too closely (“tailgating”).

Large trucks also have substantial blind spots called “no zones” located to the rear, sides, and front of the semi, where a truck driver can be completely unaware of a car traveling mere feet from its tractor or trailer. When a big rig makes an improper lane change, for example, and fails to see a car due to a blind spot, a fatal crash can occur.
According to the NHTSA, the following categories of moving violations committed by drivers of commercial motor vehicles are the leading causes of potentially deadly truck accidents:

  • Reckless Driving and Speeding (combined with heavy cargo)
  • Improper Turning
  • Driving While Impaired (DWI)
  • Parking on the Shoulder
  • Violating Other Commercial Motor Vehicle Laws
  • Stopping at Railroad Grade Crossings
  • Overloading/Improper Loading of Cargo (this can cause semis to roll over or jackknife)

Another cause of deadly big rig crashes is driver fatigue. Although there are legal limits related to the number of hours a commercial driver may operate without rest (i.e., no more than 60 hours in seven consecutive days), some drivers feel intense pressure from their employers to move cargo to its destination while under deadlines. When truck drivers and trucking companies bypass these regulations in order to make more money, they put California motorists at risk.

If you have been injured or a loved one has been killed in a crash involving a big rig in California, it is important to contact an experienced California truck accident attorney to represent your best interests. You and your loved ones may be entitled to compensation, including medical expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering, and/or the loss of comfort, care, guidance, advice, counsel and companionship.

The legal process of litigating against a truck company is complex and not geared for the inexperienced attorney. It is imperative that you choose legal counsel wisely, as litigation can be complicated and involve multiple jurisdictions and choice of law issues. The California truck accident lawyers at Baum, Hedlund, Aristei & Goldman are here to help you navigate the legal process and to obtain justice and to maximize compensation for you and your family.

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