Personal Injury Lawyers Jonesboro, Arkansas

Breaking Down the Causes of Truck Rollover Accidents

When a tractor-trailer rolls over, negligence is usually to blame

Heavy trucks play a vital role in our economy, but they can also present significant hazards to other road users. Some of the most devastating truck wrecks on our roads are rollovers. When a heavy truck rolls over, it’s not just the driver in danger; it’s everyone else on the road. That’s why preventing rollovers should be a top priority for truck drivers and trucking companies.

Unfortunately, that’s not always the case in practice. Too often, trucking companies put profits ahead of safety, and the consequences can be catastrophic. That’s why holding them accountable is so important, and that’s why motorists and truckers alike need to understand the causes of truck rollover accidents.

Understanding the physics of a truck rollover

All vehicle rollovers, including semi-truck rollovers, can be divided into two categories: tripped and untripped.

  • A tripped rollover is caused by contact with an obstruction in the road, like a curb, ditch, or guardrail. The sideways impact destabilizes the vehicle, causing it to tip over.
  • An untripped rollover, meanwhile, is caused by the forces that affect a truck during a turn: centrifugal force, centripetal force, and gravity. When the centrifugal and centripetal forces are strong enough to overcome gravity, usually because the truck is taking a curve too quickly, the vehicle starts to roll over.

While tripped rollovers are most common in smaller vehicles like pickup trucks and SUVs, many heavy truck accidents are untripped rollovers. That essentially means it’s forces inside the truck that lead to the rollover wreck.

The top cause of truck rollovers is driver error

According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), more than 78% of truck rollover accidents – approximately four out of five – involve driver error. That means the vast majority of rollovers could be prevented by attentive, defensive driving by truckers.

Types of driver errors that can lead to rollover crashes include:

  • Taking Curves Too Fast: When a trucker drives at an unsafe speed while navigating a curve, the force of inertia pushing the trailer outward can become greater than the force of gravity pulling it downward. This commonly occurs on off-ramps and on-ramps.
  • Driver Fatigue and Falling Asleep at the Wheel: Fatigued drivers have longer reaction times than well-rested drivers. A tired trucker may not notice an obstacle or another vehicle until the last moment, forcing them to swerve to avoid it.
  • Distracted Driving: Like tired drivers, distracted truckers may overlook obstructions until the last moment, then swerve to avoid them, leading to a potential rollover.
  • Drunk Driving: In addition to causing inattentiveness and poor reaction time, driving under the influence impairs judgment. Truckers who are under the influence of alcohol or drugs may make reckless decisions behind the wheel.
  • Driving Too Fast for Conditions: High winds and severe weather can make a truck unstable and cause a loss of traction with the ground, both of which increase the risk of a deadly rollover. Truckers need to slow down and drive defensively in inclement weather.

Sometimes, these dangerous driving behaviors are due to inexperience and poor training. Others are the result of the trucking company putting excessive pressure on the driver to make deliveries on short timetables and work through mandatory rest breaks. Either way, the result is the same: a rollover that can cause devastating and even fatal injuries.

Other rollovers are caused by defects in the truck itself

A smaller but still significant number of rollovers are caused by issues not directly related to the driver’s actions behind the wheel, including:

  • Improper Cargo Loading: To help the truck maintain stability, the cargo must be properly loaded and balanced. If the load isn’t balanced, then the truck may be more at risk of tipping over when rounding a curve or avoiding an obstacle. Such a rollover may be the responsibility of the company that loaded the truck in addition to the driver and trucking company.
  • Sloshing: Tanker trucks can be particularly vulnerable to rollovers because the liquid cargo naturally moves around inside the tank. Sloshing cargo seriously increases the risk that the truck will tip over.
  • Poor Maintenance: Maintenance problems can lead to brake failures and tire blowouts, which in turn can cause the driver to lose control of the truck.

Often, a rollover is caused by a combination of factors; for example, improper loading may make a truck less stable, and when the truck driver navigates a curve at an unsafe speed, that could be the proverbial straw that breaks the camel’s back. That’s one reason why it’s so important to conduct a thorough investigation to determine what happened and why.

How an attorney can investigate a truck rollover accident

Evidence plays a critical role in any injury case, especially a high-stakes truck accident case. When rollovers occur, a lot of this evidence is in the truck itself. For instance, the truck’s electronic control module (ECM), also known as the black box, contains information on the truck’s speed and direction of travel. This may indicate whether the trucker was going too fast for the conditions or driving recklessly around a curve.

It's also important to investigate the truck driver to see how their behavior may have caused the crash. This may involve looking at hiring and supervision records as well as the hours of service (HOS) log, which contains information on mandatory rest breaks. It may involve talking to witnesses who saw the driver and may be able to testify that they appeared tired or under the influence. The truck driver’s own comments about the accident can also be important evidence.

In addition, your truck accident attorney should investigate the truck itself, including records concerning its maintenance and cargo loading. These records may shed light on physical and mechanical factors that could have contributed to the rollover.

The key is to start an investigation quickly. Much of this evidence is the trucking company’s property, and they can destroy it if an attorney doesn’t intervene quickly. Other types of evidence can simply disappear on their own: witnesses forget what they saw, and physical evidence from the scene is washed away by weather. The sooner you talk to an experienced truck accident attorney, the more effectively they can protect your rights.

Contact an experienced Arkansas truck accident lawyer today

In the aftermath of a semi-truck rollover wreck, it’s normal to be confused and overwhelmed. That’s why you need someone on your side who knows what to do next. It’s best to talk to an experienced truck accident lawyer as soon as possible—before you say anything to the trucking company or their insurance company. Our firm can deal with them on your behalf while you focus on getting better.

If you’ve been injured or lost a loved one in a truck rollover accident, get an experienced legal team on your side right away. Contact McDaniel Law Firm, PLC in Jonesboro, Arkansas, today for a free, confidential consultation.

Click here to download a printable PDF of this article, “Breaking Down the Causes of Truck Rollover Accidents.”

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