Beware Traveling Behind Tractor-Trailers: Rear-End Accidents Often Deadly

Typically, we feel most at risk of an accident with a large truck while passing a tractor-trailer, or when a big rig is coming up fast from behind.

However, our Atlanta trucking accident attorneys know a significant number of serious and fatal accidents involving tractor-trailers result from a motorist slamming into a truck from behind. Traveling behind a truck often blocks the view of traffic, as well as traffic signals. A truck’s large size also makes it difficult to determine how quickly it is slowing. 1192523_truck.jpg
And the risk to motorists is often exacerbated by poorly designed underride guards. These guards are meant to keep a passenger vehicle from traveling beneath a trailer. When they fail, even most 5-star crash tested vehicles perform poorly — leading to decapitation risks for motor-vehicle occupants.

A report released in 2011 by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found these guards often fail even in low-speed accidents — particularly when a vehicle strikes at an angle. Guards that meet Canada’s more rigorous safety standards did better, but still too often failed to keep a passenger vehicle from traveling beneath the rear of a trailer.

It’s a critical safety issue because more than 70 percent of all fatality victims in accidents involving large trucks are the occupants of passenger vehicles. Unfortunately, underride safety issues are not new. IIHS has been reporting on the risks since the 1970s, but so far federal regulators have failed to act.

In a recent study of 115 crashes involving passenger vehicles striking tractor-trailers in the rear, only 22 percent experienced no underride. In 23 of 28 fatal accident cases examined, severe or catastrophic underride damage was present in 23 of the crashes.

The U.S. Department of Transportation estimates nearly 500 motorists are killed each year and more than 5,000 are injured after rear-ending a large commercial truck. In some cases, these guards are missing. But in many cases the guards simply fail to perform as designed. In still other cases, the guards do not extend across the entire rear of the trailer, making crashes at an angle particularly deadly.

Consulting a law firm experienced in handling Georgia trucking accidents is vital in the wake of such a crash. Typically, a motorist who causes a rear-end crash is found at fault. So a thorough review of the facts and circumstances surrounding your accident will be critical. Proving an underride guard was defective may permit you to collect damages from a trucking company, which might otherwise be unavailable for a motorist found at fault in an accident.

And, when following a tractor-trailer, remember to do so at a safe distance. If you cannot see a truck driver’s side mirrors, he cannot see you. Riding far enough behind a truck to still see traffic signals and intersection traffic is one way to help prevent these devastating accidents.


About Richard Hendrix

Richard W. Hendrix is a former state and federal prosecutor who has more than 30 years of experience in complex civil and criminal litigation. He has also served as a mediator in Alternative Dispute Resolutions (ADR).

Since joining Finch McCranie in 1985, Mr. Hendrix has built an extensive litigation practice focusing on wrongful death and serious personal injury cases as well as federal white collar criminal defense cases. He has successfully represented injured parties in personal injury cases throughout the state of Georgia. Mr. Hendrix has also effectively defended business and individuals, including a former US Congressman, against indictments and grand jury investigations. In 2006 and 2008-2012, he was selected to Georgia Super Lawyers.

He is admitted to practice in Georgia and South Carolina. Mr. Hendrix is licensed to appear before the United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia and the District of South Carolina as well as the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, Fifth Circuit, and Eleventh Circuit.

From 1979-1985, Mr. Hendrix served as an Assistant United States Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia. He was also Associate Independent Counsel for the investigation of the Department of Housing and Urban Development from 1991-1992.

Mr. Hendrix graduated with cum laude honors from Davidson College and he received his law degree from Emory University. Since 1992, Mr. Hendrix has been an Adjunct Professor of Litigation at Georgia State University College of Law. He is also a Master of the Bench with the Lamar American Inn of Court where he works to enhance the professional, ethics and skills of the legal community.

Mr. Hendrix has also authored numerous articles including: “High Speed Police Chases and Injured Innocent By-Standers,” The Verdict (Summer, 2015) “Tolling the Statute of Limitations in Tort Cases for Victims of a Crime,” The Verdict (Fall, 2007); “A Refresher On the Federal Tort Claims Act,” The Verdict (Winter, 1999); “Rule 16 and the Jencks Act: A Need for Legal Reform,” Calendar Call (Winter, 1996); “Corporate Criminal Liability: The Need for Effective Compliance Programs,” South Carolina Lawyer (March/April, 1993); “Crossing State Lines in Wrongful Death Actions: Traps for the Unwary,” The Verdict (Fall, 1990); and “White Collar Crime: New Tools for Prosecution,” The Atlanta Lawyer (Summer, 1986)