The average semi-truck you see barreling down the highway at speeds of 70 mph or more could weigh as much as 40 tons, fully loaded. If the trucker has a permit to carry more than the federally mandated weight limit, it could weigh even more. The sheer size and weight of semi-trucks pose enough of a danger, but when you consider how the cargo is loaded inside that trailer, it could be even more of a danger. That is because when a load is not secured properly or is not evenly distributed throughout the trailer, it can affect the driver’s ability to control and stop the truck, putting motorists at risk of a catastrophic and deadly truck crash.
Federal Regulations Regarding Truck Cargo
Federal law sets the maximum gross weight of a semi-truck at 80,000 pounds. The average cab and trailer weigh about 32,000 together, so a truck may carry up to 48,000 pounds of cargo. However, there are further regulations regarding maximum weight per axle, so the 80,000-pound maximum applies to a five-axle truck. If a truck has more axles and is granted a special permit, the company can load more than 48,000 pounds.
More important to safety than the amount of weight in the trailer of a semi-truck is how the load is distributed and secured. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration enforces strict rules about how cargo must be secured—including specific procedures for certain types of cargo, such as logs, metal coils, and paper rolls. The general rule for securement of cargo is as follows: “Cargo must be firmly immobilized or secured on or within a vehicle by structures of adequate strength, dunnage (loose materials used to support and protect cargo) or dunnage bags (inflatable bags intended to fill space between articles of cargo or between cargo and the wall of the vehicle), shoring bars, tiedowns or a combination of these.” Trucks are inspected along the highway for securement and weight violations, but these checks are random and sporadic, so it is entirely possible for a truck to cross the country with an unsecured load or more weight than is allowed by law.
The Dangers of Shifting Loads
There are many risks associated with improperly or overloaded cargo, including the following:
Emergency handling capability reduced.
Truck braking systems are designed to function under specific conditions. When the truck is heavier than the brakes are designed to handle, the driver will not be able to stop the truck in the distance he is expecting.
High tire failure rates.
Truck tires are problematic in the best of circumstances. When they are consistently overloaded, or some tires are supporting more weight than others, they can heat up and blow out, causing the driver to lose control of the truck.
Increased risk of rollover.
When cargo is piled high in a trailer or on a flatbed, the truck’s center of gravity shifts upward, increasing the chance of a rollover accident. When a load is not properly secured, it can shift while making a sudden turn or lane change and cause the truck to roll over.
Decreased driver control.
Too much weight and shifting cargo will have an effect on the driver’s ability to steer and control the truck. Like the brakes, the steering system is designed with certain balance and weight limits in mind and when these are exceeded, the truck will not handle well.
Even when a truck is not overloaded, if the cargo is not evenly distributed among the axles, the driving characteristics of the truck are altered and it can become difficult to maneuver and stop.
Who Is Liable for Your Crash?
If you were involved in an accident with a semi-truck, the first thing you should do is find an experienced truck accident attorney. If the truck was overloaded or cargo was improperly secured, there may be more than one liable party. If the driver loaded the truck, he could be liable, but it is more likely that a supplier or manufacturer loaded the truck or that the trucking company allowed a heavier payload than is legal.
Have You Been Injured In A Truck Accident?
If you've been injured in a tractor trailer accident you need to speak with an experienced truck accident attorney as soon as possible. Please contact us online or call our Kansas City office directly at 816.471.5111 to schedule your free consultation.