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The Causes of Semi-Truck Rollovers

Semi-truck rollover accidents are frequently caused by improper loading, poorly maintained roads, unsafe driving behaviors, driver error, and a lack of stability control equipment. Rollovers account for roughly 3% of all large vehicle crashes, yet they are responsible for causing more than half the deaths to truck drivers or the vehicle's occupants. Moreover, should the semi-truck topple over a passenger vehicle or pedestrian, there is every likelihood that the rollover will cause serious injuries or fatalities. In 2012, there were 112 single-vehicle, and 40 multiple-vehicle rollover...

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Semi-truck rollover accidents are frequently caused by improper loading, poorly maintained roads, unsafe driving behaviors, driver error, and a lack of stability control equipment. Rollovers account for roughly 3% of all large vehicle crashes, yet they are responsible for causing more than half the deaths to truck drivers or the vehicle's occupants. Moreover, should the semi-truck topple over a passenger vehicle or pedestrian, there is every likelihood that the rollover will cause serious injuries or fatalities.

In 2012, there were 112 single-vehicle, and 40 multiple-vehicle rollover accidents involving large trucks that caused fatalities. In total, there were nearly 4,000 single-vehicle semi-truck rollover accidents reported nationwide. This makes single-vehicle semi-truck rollovers the third most common large vehicle accident.

Improper loading is a common cause of semi-truck rollovers. If a trailer is loaded so that it is top-heavy, it significantly alters the vehicle's center of gravity. This can cause the truck to become unstable as it travels down the road. This can cause it to roll when it is caught by a gust of wind, turns a corner, or simply attempts to change lanes. This problem can also occur if the vehicle is loaded in excess of the legal limit.

A truck can rollover even if it is not overloaded. Trucks that transport liquids such as gasoline, oxygen, or other materials in liquid form can easily rollover when the vehicle turns or changes lanes quickly. When a vehicle makes these motions, it causes the liquid inside to shift. If the shift is strong enough it can topple the vehicle with no warning. These types of rollovers typically occur when the tank is less than full as this gives the liquid more range of motion which can increase the force it can exert as it shifts.

Liquid shifting is a frequently cited cause of truck rollovers in Tennessee. Most recently, a truck carrying molten aluminum toppled in Mt. Pleasant. The semi-truck turned on its side at the intersection of Highway 243 and Highway 43, causing the hot aluminum to spill out and set fire to the landscape. The fire also caused significant damage to the road surface. This accident occurred just weeks after a series of rollover accidents on I-40. Those accidents are believed to have been caused by a sharp turn in the road and inadequate signage warning drivers that they need to reduce speed when making the turn.

Driver error is also a significant cause of semi-truck rollover accidents. Trucks can rollover when a driver overcorrects during a turn, or deliberately makes a sharp corner that exceeds the vehicle's safe turning radius. Further, a driver who is speeding will also have to contend with the additional momentum created by the speed.

The faster the semi-truck is traveling, the greater the likelihood that the semi-truck will rollover as the vehicle navigates the road. At higher speeds, even slight changes in direction can cause the vehicle to become unbalanced and topple. When a semi-truck is traveling at 60 mph, it travels 90 feet every second; at these speeds it can take an 80,000 semi-truck more than 500 feet to come to a stop. Should the driver need to swerve to avoid an obstruction, the vehicle can topple as it attempts to slow down.

Poorly maintained roads can also cause a semi-truck to topple over. Potholes, "wash boarding," or soft surfaces can cause the vehicle to veer off course and tip over. Should a semi-truck pull over to effect repairs, a soft shoulder can give way unexpectedly and cause the vehicle to fall on its side. Even older roads that were not designed to handle today's larger semi-trucks can pose a significant risk of rollover if a vehicle attempts to navigate a turn that is designed for a much smaller truck.

While stability control systems can help reduce the risk of rollover, only 70% of new semi-trucks are equipped with this technology. Moreover, many older trucks have not been upgraded to include these systems. This means that while technology is available to reduce the potential for a semi-truck rollover, many drivers continue to drive without the protection they need to prevent an accident.

Assigning liability for a rollover crash depends on what caused the crash. If the crash is caused by poorly maintained roads, the city or state may be held liable for the accident. If the crash was caused by driver negligence, then the driver or their employer may be held accountable. Finally, if the vehicle was improperly loaded, or improperly secured, the individuals who loaded the vehicle, or the company they work for may be responsible. When a semi-truck rolls over, there are potentially many parties at fault. As such, a semi-truck accident attorney will need to fully investigate the chain of events that caused the rollover in order to determine who is liable for the accident.

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