Even though truck accidents in Washington, D.C. are far more dangerous than regular car accidents, trucking companies and their employees seem to not take them very seriously. Instead of focusing on making sure that their vehicles make it safely to their destinations, many trucking corporations try fitting as much cargo as they can into the truck, even though overloaded trucks are dangerous to drive and can cause a truck accident.
The Problem of Overloaded Trucks
When compared to how truckers drive, the issue of how a truck is loaded might seem like a silly problem. However, flatbed trucks and even tractor trailers need to be loaded in specific ways. If they are not, they become dangerous to drive because they are unsteady or because the cargo is prone to shift.
The problem of an overloaded truck is especially obvious when the truck has a flatbed trailer, with the cargo open for all to see. If a flatbed truck is overloaded, the cargo on the back is obviously only barely contained or controlled, and the fact that it is only tenuously tied down is clear to everyone else on the roadway. Material that is poorly tied down can fly off when the truck hits the highway and starts picking up speed, throwing loose objects in the way of drivers behind the truck, which can cause an accident. Even a slight bump in the road from a pothole or other minor road hazard can loosen poorly-tied cargo and send it into the path of others on the road.
While the dangers of an overloaded flatbed trailer are clear, the dangers of an enclosed tractor trailer are just as severe; just because the cargo is inside and will not end up on the roadway does not mean that an overloaded truck is safe. In fact, overloaded tractor trailers have a higher risk of a serious cargo shift. This alters the weight distribution in the trailer without warning. If this happens at the wrong time or the trucker is not expecting it, it can make the trucker lose control of the vehicle and send the whole truck into another lane on the highway where it can cause a severe truck accident. Even if the trucker manages to prevent an accident immediately after a cargo shift, the redistributed weight in the back of the truck can make it handle improperly and can make it impossible to avoid a crash, down the road. Finally, a cargo shift in an overloaded truck that sends weight from one side of the trailer to the other can lead to a jackknife accident if the trucker needs to use their brakes suddenly. With more weight on one side of the vehicle than on the other, hitting the brakes slows down the light side faster than the heavy side. This can send the trailer into a jackknife or can even make it tip over to the side.
Overloaded trucks can lead to these other driving problems on the road, but are also dangerous, in and of themselves. Overloaded trucks are heavier than those that are properly loaded, making them more difficult to slow down or stop. Therefore, truck drivers need to pay more attention to the road ahead of them and need to react to potential hazards even sooner than they would have to, otherwise. If they do not, then they will find themselves unable to bring their overloaded truck to a complete stop before hitting someone or something in front of them, simply because of the extra weight in their trailer. The extra weight even makes trucks more dangerous on hills. It is far more difficult to drive downhill when your truck is overloaded with cargo. Going up a steep hill, on the other hand, comes with the chance of overheating your engine or blowing out a tire from the extra weight.
None of these risks are small or rare, either. According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), an estimated 7% of truck accidents happen because the cargo in the truck either shifted or was improperly secured.
The Gross Combined Weight Rating
Because overloaded trucks are so dangerous, truck manufacturers – the companies that actually produce the tractor trailers that you see on the roads of the District of Columbia – calculate how much weight a certain vehicle can safely handle, and make a note of it on the truck's plate. This calculation looks at the truck's tires, chassis, radiator, axles, engine, and transmission. The result is the Gross Combined Weight Rating (GCWR), or the maximum weight that the truck can handle safely, in either the truck, itself or any trailers attached to it. Federal regulations prohibit a truck from going anywhere with cargo that surpasses the GCWR on its plate, and truckers are supposed to pull over at any open weigh stations that they pass on the highway to get their truck's weight checked.
Incentive to Overload Trucks
Unfortunately, trucking companies make a profit by getting cargo from one place to another. If they can pack more cargo onto a truck, they stand to make more money with a single delivery or can cut down on the expenses associated with sending multiple trucks to do what one overloaded truck could do. Overloading trucks, then, is a savvy business move, even though it puts other drivers in harm's way. It is almost guaranteed that numerous trucking companies in D.C. take that risk every day.
Washington, D.C. Truck Accident Lawyers at Gilman & Bedigian
Truck accidents are some of the most severe crashes on the roads of Washington, D.C. Trucks regularly weigh up to 80,000 pounds, but those that are overloaded can easily weigh even more.
If you or someone that you love has been hit by one of these vehicles, you need legal assistance. By hiring us to represent you in court, you can rest assured that we will fight for your legal rights and interests. Contact us online or call our law office at (800) 529-6162 for a free consultation.