Driving through aggressive rain, snow, sleet, or fog isn’t just challenging—it can be downright scary. Limited visibility and the daunting possibility of hydroplaning or otherwise being involved in an accident increase dramatically in adverse weather conditions. That’s why we always recommend drivers weigh their options carefully in the face of a storm or other questionable weather scenarios, trucking accidents in bad weather can be especially frightening.
While it’s not technically illegal for the driver of an average car to be driving through stressful elements (unless otherwise noted by road signage or traffic warnings), it is illegal for many semi-trucks, tractor trailers, and other large commercial vehicles to make the same decision. Decades ago, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) put into effect a particular piece of federal legislation to define such circumstances:
“Section 392.14 Hazardous conditions; extreme caution. Extreme caution in the operation of a commercial motor vehicle shall be exercised when hazardous conditions, such as those caused by snow, ice, sleet, fog, mist, rain, dust, or smoke, adversely affect visibility or traction. Speed shall be reduced when such conditions exist. If conditions become sufficiently dangerous, the operation of the commercial motor vehicle shall be discontinued and shall not be resumed until the commercial motor vehicle can be safely operated. Whenever compliance with the foregoing provisions of this rule increases hazard to passengers, the commercial motor vehicle may be operated to the nearest point at which the safety of passengers is assured.”
These lines of legalese may seem confusing, but to a Missouri trucking accident lawyer, they mean all the difference in helping trucking accident victims. If you’ve been involved in an accident with a semi-truck or other commercial vehicle that happened in adverse weather conditions, it’s important to understand how that truck driver may have been in the wrong, and the compensation you deserve because of it.
Common Trucking Accidents in Bad Weather
Though federal regulations say truck drivers must exercise extreme caution in dangerous weather conditions, such drivers do not always have the luxury of skipping the trip or taking an alternate route. They have strict deadlines to adhere to, meaning that even in a storm, you’re likely to encounter these trucks on the road. But if they don’t adjust their driving accordingly, it can lead to severe accidents caused by:
- Semi-trucks are top-heavy, meaning their chance of tipping over is more likely in high-force winds. If they tip too far, a big-rig can roll over and crush the cars around it.
- Rain and snow. Hydroplaning, or when tires lose traction and slip freely on the road, is one of the most dangerous scenarios to encounter when it comes to semi-trucks. Rain, snow, and ice can all make the road slippery, and if a semi-truck loses control, it becomes like an 80,000-pound battering ram on the road.
- Fog and smoke. Though fog and smoke may not directly physically affect the maneuverability of a semi-truck, they can be incredibly dangerous because they reduce visibility on the road. Heavy rain and snow can have the same effect. When visibility is reduced, it can lead to driving mistakes on the part of the truck driver, and can also make it difficult for other cars on the road to see them.
Such adverse weather conditions can lead to trucks colliding directly with cars in front of them, swerving and sliding to hit cars or other structures around them, and can even lead to decreased visibility that causes other cars to misjudge the position and distance of the semi-truck. But if the truck is driving in bad weather without heeding certain additional safety restrictions and laws, it may not be the car driver’s fault for instigating the accident.
How Semi-Trucks Should Drive in Bad Weather
The Missouri Commercial Driver License Manual (CDL) is a guideline of strict rules and regulations that trucking companies and their drivers must follow when operating their commercial vehicles. In order to become a legally licensed commercial truck driver, a person must pass a driving safety and operations test that is based on the CDL. So of course, the CDL goes into extensive detail about driving in bad weather, and the appropriate actions to take when doing so.
When it comes to driving semi-trucks in questionable weather, there’s an entire section in the CDL on how to do so safely. Per article 392.14, it’s very clear that the driver is the one responsible for using “extreme caution” in these scenarios. And there are specific guidelines for how to do that.
Namely, the manual details how it will take these trucks longer to brake and stop on slippery surfaces, like on a road with rain, ice, or snow. Wet surfaces can double the stopping distance for nearly all types of vehicles, but semi-trucks are specifically required to:
- Reduce their speed by about one-third on wet roads.
- Reduce their speed by half or more on packed snow.
- Reduce their speed to a crawl and stop driving altogether (when safe) on ice.
Semi-trucks are also equipped with a valuable tool for helping them slow their rigs down without putting wear and tear on their regular service brakes. The Jake Brake—also called an engine brake—is an engine compression release brake that can help a driver control their speed better and make their regular braking system last longer.
By taking their foot off the gas and flipping a specific switch in the cabin, the driver starts a chain reaction of drag on the engine’s crankshaft, slowing the vehicle without causing extra friction to the service brakes. When used correctly, it can be helpful on downhill sections of road or to simply slow down from high—but controlled—speeds.
In situations when a semi-truck is slipping and sliding over a wet road, however, hitting the Jake Brake is never recommended, because it’s not designed for this purpose. It’s meant to be used only when travelling at a consistent, controlled speed, to release strain on the regular braking system. So if a truck driver who causes an accident tries to defend themselves by stating they deployed their Jake Brake, they may very likely still be found at fault.
The Devastating Effects of Semi-Truck Accidents
Thanks to the sheer size and weight advantage they have over other vehicles, commercial semi-trucks are the most dangerous vehicles on the road. They’re exponentially bigger and heavier than sedans, SUVs, and even many other trucks. In a crash scenario, they’re likely going to cause much more damage than they suffer, as well as protect the driver in the cabin better. But heavy damage to the car they crashed with often means the people inside that car suffer severe injuries.
Collisions between regular cars and semi-trucks have been known to cause lacerations, broken bones, internal bleeding, spinal cord injuries, traumatic brain injuries, and wrongful death in the drivers and passengers of the smaller vehicle. With so much weight and force behind the semi-truck, it’s rare when the victims of the crash walk away without injury or damage.
In one very real-world example, on I-635 near Kansas City, MO spring snow was falling heavy on the highway as people made their morning commutes. Peppered among the traffic were semis and big-rigs on their way to make deliveries. One such semi was not following proper driving safety protocols for navigating the unexpectedly wet and snowy roads. The result was it hydroplaning out of control around a curve, toppling over, and colliding with several cars before crushing another one altogether. The woman inside that car was killed.
If you are injured due to a semi-truck driving recklessly—especially in adverse weather—you may have the option to sue the driver for damages, much as the family of the deceased victim above did. With the right semi-truck accident lawyer, you could receive compensation for:
- Medical bills, including ambulance transportation, emergency room services, hospital stays, surgeries and medical procedures, tests, prescriptions, and therapy.
- Lost wages if your injuries prevent you from working for an extended period of time or permanently disable you from working.
- Pain and suffering, which can include physical pain and emotional suffering like depression and anxiety.
But taking successful legal action against trucking companies can be notoriously difficult. Make sure you have a great truck injury lawyer in your corner fighting for you.