Trucking is an essential part of the United States economy, and tractor-trailers carry billions of tons of cargo across the U.S. every year. Unfortunately, the demand for tight delivery schedules, increased consumer purchasing, online ordering, and many other factors pressure trucking companies into overloading some of their trucks to meet demand.
This has the unfortunate consequence of leading to serious truck accidents, as overweight or overloaded trucks are more dangerous than properly loaded trucks for many reasons.
One of the biggest dangers of overweight trucks is the impact on braking time and distance. Tractor-trailers require much more time and space to come to a complete stop than smaller passenger vehicles. An overloaded or overweight truck may move down an incline much faster than the driver expects and require much more time and room to slow down. If a truck driver cannot compensate for sudden shifts in momentum, accidents are very likely.
An overloaded truck’s systems may not be able to handle the weight under less-than-ideal driving conditions. Too much weight or a sharp turn may put too much pressure on a tire and blow it out. Axles may snap, or a trailer may not be able to stay upright during a sharp turn at even moderate speeds.
When distributors and trucking companies overload their trucks, they place added stress on the vehicle’s systems. The brakes need to work harder to slow the vehicle down, the engine needs to work harder to bring the vehicle up to speed, and the tires and axles need to be able to support the load. An improperly balanced load can put extra stress on one axle and lead to equipment failures, breakdowns, and even rollover accidents.
An overloaded truck will likely have insufficient security in place for the cargo in the trailer. This can lead to weight shifts during transit. It’s also possible to lose products from damage due to crushing and falling inside the trailer while traveling. A trucking company that overloads a truck may believe they are being efficient, but they are actually risking more of their products and profit losses if the truck gets into an accident.
Most large trucks must visit weighing stations during their routes to ensure their vehicles meet the appropriate weight requirements. Generally, no tractor-trailer should weigh more than 80,000 pounds, aside from a few exceptions reserved for interstate trucks. A truck driver who visits a weigh station may not lighten the vehicle’s load if the truck is overweight.
If a trucking company negligently overloaded a truck and the truck causes an accident, the company will likely bear liability for the resulting damages. In some cases, a truck driver may not know that a picked-up trailer has been overloaded until well into a journey. This puts the driver at risk, and the party responsible for loading the truck would face liability for the driver’s injuries and damages in the event of an accident as well as damages to other drivers.
Trucking companies have a responsibility to keep accurate logs of truck trips, cargo loads, vehicle weights, and maintenance. Truck drivers have a duty of care to drive responsibly. The parties that load tractor-trailers must meet all applicable weight and safety requirements for every shipment, regardless of pressure to meet delivery schedules and other deadlines.
When a trucking accident happens due to an overloaded truck, anyone injured may have grounds for a civil action against the driver, trucking company, truck’s owner, or any entity in the supply chain responsible for loading the truck. An injured driver should contact an experienced personal injury attorney to discuss the legal options available after an overloaded truck accident.