While the winters in Phoenix are not as extreme as they are in the Northeast or Midwest, the cold weather can still create dangerous conditions for truck drivers and other motorists on the road. It’s not just careless truck drivers that should be held liable for winter truck accidents. The trucking companies that hire the drivers and maintain the trucks may also be responsible if they fail to winterize their vehicles and fail to ensure the truck driver understands the rules for safe driving when it’s cold, wet, and stormy.
Cold weather creates a number of driving problems. The cold means the roads may become icy and treacherous. Windshield wipers may not work because they’re frozen. Truck engines may not start or may stall while in operation, especially if antifreeze isn’t at proper levels. Wintry weather means the crews that load and unload the trucks need more time to move the cargo because of cold fingers, freezing hands, and frosty ears and heads. This added time creates more pressure on a truck driver to move faster to meet strict delivery deadlines.
The wind, which often is brisker in the winter, can cause a truck’s cargo to shift, making the trailer unstable. Visibility may be reduced, even if just flurries are whirling about. Falling leaves are more likely to flutter along windshields. Just getting into the truck may be a problem due to frozen or iced-over locks. Heavy winds can even push 18-wheelers and semis around in traffic, as many of these vehicles are also tall and narrow.
Trucks need much more time and distance to stop. When the weather is cold, truck drivers need even more time to come to a full stop because their vehicle’s brakes may lock. The roads are more likely to have potholes that can’t be repaired until the spring.
Driving when the roads have slush, snow, or sleet
While Southern Arizona doesn’t see a lot of snow, Northern Arizona is another story – as anyone who has driven near semi-trucks on I-40 in the winter can attest. Wet roads during winter become even more treacherous because the snowflakes, slush, frozen puddles, and sleet make it hard for tires to grab the road. In climates where it’s snowy all year long, trucking companies and truck drivers equip their trucks with tires and chains. However, here in Arizona, a snowstorm or squall is apt to be extremely dangerous because trucks tend to use the same tires year-round.
Often, the most dangerous wintry driving time is when the temperature is right at the freezing point, because part of the road will be icy and part of the road will be wet – making it very difficult to control the truck. When the snow and slush met, a thin layer of ice (called black ice) can form on the road which drivers can’t see – they just have to anticipate the black ice is there and slow down or get off the road.
How can Phoenix trucking companies prevent winter accidents?
Trucking companies and fleet owners should ensure their drivers are properly trained. This means more than just checking to see that the driver has a valid commercial driver’s license (CDL). The companies involved in the shipment should:
- Review the schedule and delivery times to ensure that the driver can complete the shipment without speeding and without driver fatigue. The trucking companies and drivers should both understand safe driving protocols when it’s wintertime – especially if the driver has no or limited experience driving in cold weather. These protocols include longer stopping distances, less lane-shifting, securing the cargo even tighter, and other safety measures. Drivers are required to keep logs (usually electronic logs) to keep track of when they are driving their trucks and when they are resting.
- Properly winterize the truck for cold weather driving. This means the trucking company and driver should:
- Prepare an emergency kit. The kit should include first aid, extra blankets, a flashlight with batteries, gloves, bottled water and canned food, hats, boots, a snow shovel, flares, extra coolant, extra engine oil, extra washer fluid, tire chains, and other items.
- Check the battery. Cold weather can quickly drain a battery. A load test should be conducted. The wiring should also be examined.
- Check the fuel filter and water separator. The fuel filter should be replaced if necessary. The water separator should be checked daily because “water is a common contaminant in diesel fuel and can shorten an engine’s life.”
- Fuel additives should be used:
- “Diesel fuel contains paraffin, a wax, which crystallizes at freezing temperatures. This causes the water in the fuel to emulsify and the fuel becomes slushy and gel-like. The fuel cannot pass through the fuel filter and the problem only gets worse when temperatures continue to drop. This gelling of fuel can lead to rough vehicle operation and in some cases, engine failure.”
Other parts of the truck that should be checked include:
- The cooling system.
- The warmth of the engine.
- The air dryer.
- The windshield wipers and windshield wiper fluid.
- The tire pressure and inflation level. Chains may be required when driving in other states.
Who is liable for my winter truck accident?
Different trucking companies may be liable for a trucking accident at any time of the year. The owners of the trucks are generally liable for any negligence by their drivers. Other parties that may be liable for a trucking accident include:
- The trucking company that requested the delivery
- The trucking company that is receiving the delivery
- The broker that arranged the shipment by matching a truck and a driver with the companies requesting or needing the delivery
- Truck maintenance and repair companies
Trucking companies have a duty to ensure their truck is loaded properly and that the truck driver operates their rig safely. The trucking companies also must comply with federal and Arizona truck safety regulations such as the FMCSA’s hours of service rules and OSHA’s truck loading and unloading rules.
At Plattner Verderame, P.C., our truck accident lawyers represent victims and families when truck accidents happen in winter and all other seasons. We work with truck industry professionals who understand why truck accidents happen in winter and what steps should have been taken to prevent them. We demand compensation for the liable truck drivers and trucking companies for all your economic and personal damages. To discuss your right to file a truck accident claim, call our offices in Phoenix or Tempe or fill out our contact form today to speak with a skilled Phoenix personal injury attorney.
I have been active in leadership in the Arizona Association for Justice (lawyers who represent injured folks, and formerly known as the Arizona Trial Lawyers Association) since 1985. I served as President in 1991. I was an active participant in battles to protect the Arizona Constitution from the insurance industry and big business interests in 1986, 1990 and 1994.
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