Truck drivers perform an important role for nations across the globe. In Canada, approximately 90% of all consumer products and foodstuffs are shipped via truck; in the U.S., the industry directly contributes about 5% to the gross domestic product (GDP) every year.
Unfortunately, truckers also face dangers unique to their profession; from health problems that result from sitting for 12 hours at a time to lack of sleep, big rig haulers encounter several issues specific to the fact that they’re constantly on the road. One of the most severe risks comes from the vehicle itself. Between the years 1971 and 2015, workplace fatalities fell by an incredible 80%. However, truck drivers still face major health risks on the job.
A Heavy Burden
Although truck drivers face accidents as a result of hit and runs (which the National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration estimates occur about once every 43 seconds) when breakdowns happen on highways, the main concern is caused by the size of big rigs. Long-haul trucks and their contents can weigh around 80,000 pounds; that kind of weight can be hard to slow down should an emergency arise. For comparison, if a vehicle and a tractor-trailer are both driving at 40 mph and start braking at the same moment, the tractor-trailer will travel 45 feet further before coming to a complete stop.
Eulalio Diaz learned how true this fact was when he got into an accident in Union City, New Jersey. He was driving a garbage truck, which weighs around 51,000 pounds, yet he still found himself standing on the breaks in an attempt to slow the hulking vehicle down.
“It was terrible,” he said. “It wouldn’t stop. It would not stop the truck.”
The vehicle plowed through cars, a clock tower, and a fence. Finally, it tumbled over an overpass and down onto the highway below. Though he and his partner were injured in the crash (he suffered a concussion, a broken arm, and three broken ribs), no one else was hurt.
Research has revealed that one of the contributing factors in big rig accidents is speed. Most tires on those trucks are not meant to handle maximum constant speeds over 75 mph, but truckers across the country are exceeding that limit. The drivers aren’t inherently responsible for this trend; 16 states have truck speeds equal to or greater than 75 miles per hour, and four all the way to 80 mph.
“65 mph versus 75 mph operating speed — the stopping distance is significantly different,” said Dave Osiecki, executive vice president of the American Trucking Association (ATA).
Approximately 475,000 crashes involving large trucks were reported by police in 2016. As long as truck drivers watch their speed, they’ll be able to significantly lower their likelihood of getting into a crash as a result of a sudden event.