Are empty trucks more dangerous than full ones? It doesn’t seem to make sense. After all, you’d think that trucks transporting tens of thousands of pounds in cargo would be the ones carrying the most risk for other drivers on the roads, not the ones with empty trailers.
But stopping a loaded trailer and an empty trailer are two very different situations. Believe it or not, stopping a fully-loaded trailer is easier to do and is more stable, because an empty trailer is not as well-balanced as a properly loaded truck. A lack of balance and stability, especially at high speeds, can create driving havoc.
Deadheading—Not Following That Sixties Band
Deadheading is the industry term for driving an empty trailer. It’s usually done to get a trailer back to home base where it is urgently needed, and deadheading sometimes happens in a situation where the driver must “turn and burn” (turn around and immediately return). Time is money, and the trucking company may need the empty trailer ASAP so that it can be loaded and put on the road again within hours. However, companies do not especially like to deadhead, because they prefer to carry freight that will pay the expenses of the trailer’s trip. Hauling an empty trailer costs them money.
Nighttime driving, when the driver is less than fresh, can be one problem associated with the need to deadhead. One study done in Western Australia discovered that, if over half of a driver’s on-the-road time occurred between midnight and 6 a.m., they were four times more likely to suffer a crash.
But nighttime fatigue is not the only cause of deadheading accidents. Because deadheading is not done routinely, drivers have less experience handling empty trailers and anticipating their quirks. When an emergency arises, they may not know how to deal with the differences involved in handling an empty trailer. Drivers need special training to operate empty trailers, and they often do not get it.
Other Deadheading Risk Factors
The same study found that an empty trailer is more likely to be a victim of wind, which makes it sway back and forth and increases the chances of an accident due to the trailer’s toppling over. Because stability is compromised more when the trailer is empty, even a mild wind can result in a devastating accident. The more weight in the trailer, the harder it is for winds to push it around.
A truck’s brakes can also impact the handling of an empty trailer. Truck brakes are designed to work when the trailer is fully-loaded, so if the driver slams on his brakes with an empty trailer, the wheels can lock and jackknifing can occur. Experienced drivers may be able to deal with emergency situations, but a new driver, or one who rarely deadheads, is more likely to encounter deadly problems.
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Truck accidents can be complex, both because of the large amounts of money that may be involved due to the seriousness of the accident and because of the potential for multiple defendants. It is important to consult with a qualified truck accident lawyer to make sure your rights are protected.