In the United States, there are numerous laws that regulate the amount of weight a large truck can carry, how the weight is distributed, and the way a large truck load is secured. Large trucks that are not loaded correctly or are loaded too heavily are not just in violation of federal and state laws, they are highly unsafe for truck drivers, other motorists, pedestrians, and bicyclists. Improper truck loading is one of the leading causes of large truck-related accidents in the United States. Sometimes these crashes result in property damage only. In other cases, victims are severely injured, permanently disabled, or even killed.
What Makes Improper Truck Loading So Dangerous?
When large truck loads are unbalanced, overweight or not secured properly it significantly raises the risk of a crash for a variety of reasons. Truck drivers are more likely to lose control, large trucks are more likely to rollover, mechanical equipment is at a higher risk of malfunctioning, and cargo can even shift or fall completely free from the vehicle.
The Dangers of Overloaded Trucks
In Illinois, large trucks with a single axle have a weight limit of 20,000 pounds. For semi-trailers, the gross vehicle weight limit in Illinois is 80,000 pounds. Additionally, the state places a weight limitation of 32,000 pounds on the tandem axle of trucks in Illinois. These weight limits are in place to preserve the safety of large trucks in transit, and when they are violated, there can be serious, and sometimes catastrophic consequences.
- Too much weight can cause premature wear and tear on the vehicle’s brakes and can significantly interfere with the braking performance of a large truck. And since overloaded trucks require an increased braking distance, drivers will often misjudge their ability to stop.
- Because additional weight can cause truck tires to run hotter than normal, an overloaded truck can increase the risk for unexpected tire failure that could result in the loss of control and cause an accident.
- The extra vehicle weight can be much more difficult to maneuver around curves and turns, raising the risk of a large truck rollover.
Unbalanced Loads Pose Serious Risks for Large Truck Accidents
Even when the total weight of a large truck’s cargo is within regulation, it can be distributed in such a way that there is too much weight placed on one or more axles or not enough on another. If too much weight, for instance, is placed on a rear axle, the front axle may not have enough weight to make adequate contact with the driving surface. This can cause unnecessary wear and tear on the truck’s tires, suspension, and other components which could result in premature equipment failure. Additionally, the driving characteristics of the truck are affected, which could cause the driver to lose control more easily.
Improperly Secured Loads Cause Accidents Too
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) regulates the way large truck cargo is secured. These rules apply to the way load securement equipment is used, when and where it must be used, and the type of equipment required. When large truck freight is not properly secured, cargo can shift unexpectedly, causing the driver to lose control of his or her truck and increasing the risk of a rollover accident. In some situations, cargo has even come completely loose from large trucks, spilling into the roadway and posing a serious risk to other motorists, pedestrians, and cyclists.
Improperly secured cargo isn’t just a risk to those who share the roads with large trucks, however. When a truck’s freight is not adequately secured, it puts loaders, unloaders and even innocent bystanders in danger. During the loading or unloading process, shifting freight can cause trucks to roll over. And when improperly secured cargo comes loose, it can rain down on nearby truck drivers, cargo handlers and others in the vicinity resulting in serious injuries or even death.
Who is Liable for Damages Caused By Improperly Loaded Trucks?
When large trucks are overweight, or loads are not balanced correctly or adequately secured and an accident occurs, the damages can be extensive. Deciding who is liable for those damages, however, may not be as simple as it might initially seem. Victims and their families who suffer injuries and other damages due to the improper loading of a large truck may be entitled to receive compensation from a number of entities. Direct liability might fall on the person or people who were involved with cargo loading in some cases, but while a truck driver, cargo handler(s) or a combination of both actually loaded the freight, trucking companies and others may be able to be held liable in a couple of ways as well.
- Through indirect liability such as respondeat superior or vicarious liability
- Through direct liability such as negligent supervision or negligent entrustment