Winter is a difficult time for truck drivers. With intense snowstorms, hours of darkness, and pressure around the holidays, crashes tend to increase (and be deadlier) around this time of year. To understand the kinds of challenges truckers face and how it might affect your next drive, we need to look at the top causes of winter truck accidents.
The Holiday Rush
Truck drivers are always under a lot of stress to deliver cargo on time, but that pressure increases with the holiday rush. From Nov-Dec, the average truck driver is putting in longer hours than they normally would. That, in turn, means more truck drivers experiencing sleeping disorders or even falling asleep at the wheel.
Not only do more hours behind the wheel statistically increase the risk of a crash, but truck drivers increasingly find themselves pushed to the point of exhaustion to get their deliveries in on time. With the ongoing truck driver shortage, a number of truck drivers feel pressured to either put in more hours than they are comfortable with or even go beyond their hours-of-service (HoS) limits to ensure shipments arrive on schedule
Holiday pressure isn’t the only factor. Winter is a difficult time all around for professional drivers, not just because of the weather, but because the days are much shorter around the Winter Solstice (Dec 21). Less daylight can mean visibility is limited to the headlights alone.
This is a big problem. In general, about 50% of all car accidents occur in the dark and that number (naturally) increases toward the end of the year. Not only are crashes in the dark more likely, but they’re also typically about 4x more fatal than crashes that occur during the day.
Additionally, the end of the year marks deer season and these animals are most active in the twilight hours. Deer are unpredictable and although semi-trucks are enormous machines, hitting a deer can cause truck drivers to lose control or even jacknife, especially on snow-covered roads.
According to the Federal Highway Administration, about 1-in-5 U.S. car crashes are directly caused by bad weather, with the majority of those incidents (about 75%) being due to snow and ice. The same applies for trucks.
If a truck’s wheels don’t have enough grip on the road, the whole vehicle will start to drift. While this is frightening for any driver, it can be catastrophic for semi-trucks due to their size and weight. If the truck starts to drift, the driver needs to stay calm and act quickly or else risk sliding into traffic.
Likewise, if the rear of the trailer drifts independently of the cab, it will cause the vehicle to fishtail. These events are extremely dangerous because they can hit drivers anywhere around the cab. If the truck driver does not regain control, the trailer could swipe across lanes or result in a jackknife.
As we discussed previously, semi-trucks are vulnerable to getting knocked over in powerful winds. If the trailer is empty or has improper weight distribution, a sharp gust of wind can send the trailer fishtailing (regardless of whether the road is wet) or could even knock the truck on its side.
Yet the pressure of tight hours combined with the holiday rush makes some drivers take the risk and drive against the wind even when it is unsafe to do so. If you ever see a truck driving in strong winds that nudge your car out of its lane, make sure you give them a wide berth and increase your following distance. If another strong gust of wind comes along, staying back just might save you from a catastrophic accident.
If you’d like to discuss the impact of your crash with an experienced truck accident attorney, don’t hesitate to call upon Maring Williams Law Office. Our firm serves injured parties across North Dakota, Minnesota, and Montana. Send us an email or call us today at (701) 402-6644 for a free consultation.