Speeding Michigan Semi-Trucks Can Be Deadly

Semi truck on highway

A recent accident on U.S. 23 involving an 18-wheeler and eight passenger vehicles is a sobering reminder of the horrific damage and catastrophic injuries that speeding Michigan semi-trucks can cause.

According to reports, the truck driver allegedly caused the nine-vehicle pileup on April 23, 2017. A preliminary investigation showed the driver failed to stop his 2015 Freightliner semi-truck as he approached passenger vehicles that were stopped in a construction area on southbound U.S. 23. Two people in the passenger vehicles died in the collision, while another person who was critically injured died several days later. The truck driver reportedly suffered only minor injuries, was taken to the Livingston County Jail and could be charged with a moving violation causing death.

It is not known whether the 2015 Freightliner was speeding at the time of the Michigan semi-truck accident, whether the operator was somehow distracted while driving or whether he was perhaps suffering from driver fatigue. However, one thing is clear: the 62-year-old truck driver was unable to stop in time to avoid colliding with the vehicles in front of him, demonstrating just how dangerous and deadly large commercial vehicles can be on the roadways.

The unfortunate tragedy can serve as a lesson that all motorists need to be cautious when driving around large trucks. It is also a reminder to truck drivers that they need to always be mindful of their speed and stopping distances.

Speeding Michigan Semi-Trucks & Stopping Distances

Semi-trucks take, on average, about 40 percent longer to come to a complete stop than passenger vehicles. A passenger vehicle generally takes about 316 feet to stop completely after the driver recognizes the need to stop. A semi-truck, on the other hand, takes about 525 feet before it comes to a complete stop after the driver recognizes the need to stop.

To calculate the stopping distance of a vehicle, including large commercial vehicles like semi-trucks, various factors must be considered.

  • Reaction Distance — The operator of a passenger vehicle typically takes 1.5 seconds to perceive a dangerous situation and apply the brakes. The reaction time is about the same for the average truck driver.
  • Braking Distance — Braking distance is how far a truck travels after the brakes are applied. At 55 mph on dry pavement with a good set of brakes, it can take a heavy vehicle, like a semi-truck, as much as 4 seconds and about 390 feet to completely stop.
  • Vehicle Weight — It usually takes a semi-truck longer to stop once the brakes are applied because of the truck’s heavy weight. Passenger vehicles and small trucks have an average weight of 5,000 pounds, while a semi-truck can weigh as much as 80,000 pounds. From the time a driver perceives an impending danger, it takes a passenger vehicle about 124 feet to come to a stop when traveling 40 mph. In comparison, it takes a semi-truck traveling 40 mph about 169 feet to stop, from the time the truck driver perceives the danger.
  • Speed — The faster a vehicle is traveling, the longer it will take for the vehicle to completely stop. A passenger vehicle traveling 65 mph will take about 316 feet to stop from the awareness point. A semi-truck takes about 525 feet at 65 mph before coming to a complete stop.
  • Height and Perception — Due to their elevated position inside the semi-truck, it is possible for truck drivers to see impending dangers sooner and, when they do, they can take steps to either avoid or minimize the danger. On the other hand, when semi-trucks are traveling too closely to other vehicles, the truck drivers cannot necessarily see the potential dangers in front of them and will have less time to react.
  • Other Variables — Numerous other factors also affect the stopping distance of semi trucks, including weather, road conditions, the truck’s tire treads and the manner in which the brakes are applied.

Caution: do not confuse stopping distance with braking distance. Braking distance is the measurement of how far a vehicle travels after the brakes are applied. But before the brakes can be applied, the driver has to first perceive the hazard and then react — that is, put his or her foot on the brake pedal.

Speeding Michigan Semi-Trucks: The Dangers

Every year, thousands of semi-trucks are involved in crashes on the roadways in Michigan and across the United States. In Michigan, nearly 12,000 heavy trucks and buses, including semi-trucks, were involved in accidents during 2015.

The inherent danger of speeding Michigan semi-trucks is their sheer size, which makes them more difficult to maneuver and stop. It doesn’t matter how heavy a traditional passenger vehicle may be, in the event of an accident, a passenger vehicle is no match for a semi-truck.

Semi-truck drivers are supposed to understand how their vehicle’s speed, weight and proximity to other cars on the highway affects the vehicles around them. Truck drivers are also expected to know exactly how long it takes their vehicle to stop. And while truck drivers should always pay close attention to their speeds, sometimes they do not because of their strict delivery schedules and a perceived need to travel as many miles as possible in a day.

Meanwhile, there is some good news when it comes to semi-trucks and their speed:

  • Many large trucks now have data recorders that track their speed. The data recorder can be recovered and analyzed to see if speed was a factor in an accident. In fact, data recorders are considered a deterrent to speeding Michigan semi-trucks because drivers can be held accountable for their behavior, even if there was no accident at all.
  • Federal agencies have suggested that large trucks with a gross weight of more than 26,000 pounds be equipped with a speed-limiting device that forcibly caps how fast they can travel. To date, the proposal has not been implemented.

If you or a loved one has been injured in a collision involving a large commercial vehicle, our Michigan semi-truck accident attorneys can help. With more than six decades of experience, our Lansing personal injury lawyers and Grand Rapids personal injury attorneys will explain the compensation to which you may be entitled, including trucking accident benefits under the Michigan no-fault system.