Proposed truck length increases will endanger North Carolina drivers

A federal proposal to allow larger double tractor-trailers in North Carolina and other states could increase the risk of catastrophic accidents.

In 2013, large trucks were involved in a reported 9,775 accidents in North Carolina, including 2,880 injury crashes and 122 crashes that resulted in at least one death, according to the North Carolina Department of Transportation. Due to the massive weight and size of these vehicles, other road users often suffer the worst outcomes in large truck accidents. Unfortunately, a proposed change to federal trucking regulations could leave passenger vehicle drivers in Asheville even more vulnerable to these catastrophic crashes.

Bigger rigs

The Express-News reports that federal lawmakers are considering a transportation bill that would require every state to allow longer double tractor-trailers on their roads. Currently, most states only allow trucks to pull double trailers that are each 28 feet long, which creates a total vehicle length of 66 feet. The bill would require states to permit "twin-33s," or trailers that are each 33 feet long and produce a total vehicle length of 85 feet.

Proponents contend that this change would reduce truck traffic, thereby improving safety, but critics worry that it could have the opposite effect. Longer trucks are more difficult for other drivers to merge with or pass, and they create greater visibility issues. These vehicles are also harder to maneuver and control. As an example, data from the U.S. Department of Transportation shows that twin-33s require 22 more feet to stop and even more distance to change lanes. All of these issues will make accidents more likely.

Dangerous impacts

An increased risk of truck accidents is an especially alarming prospect, given recent patterns in truck accident fatalities. While deaths from passenger vehicle accidents have fallen across the U.S., serious truck accidents have increased, as the following figures from USA Today illustrate:

  • From 2009 to 2013, reported injuries from large truck crashes rose 28 percent, while fatalities increased 17 percent.
  • On average, 100,000 injuries occur each year in large truck accidents.
  • Each year, an average of 4,000 people lose their lives in these crashes.

In light of the serious threat that truck accidents already present, safety advocates in North Carolina have opposed the proposed increase in truck length. According to Fox News, groups such as the North Carolina Troopers Association and Truck Safety Coalition have cited concerns about the instability of larger rigs and the detrimental effects on local infrastructure. Still, the outcome at the federal level remains to be seen.

Legal accountability

Regardless of whether the transportation bill succeeds, severe large truck crashes will likely remain a serious issue in North Carolina, if past statistics are any indicator. Fortunately, the victims of these accidents may be able to recover compensation for their losses if they can show that their injuries resulted directly from a truck driver's negligent actions or those of the trucking company. A truck accident attorney can provide further advice on assessing fault in a trucking accident and pursuing all available compensation.