The video was startling. It shows the inside of a bus. Passengers are calmly sitting while the bus driver waits at a red light. Without warning, one side of the bus crumples as a truck crashes into it. Passengers are sent flying around the bus. Several of them suffer bad injuries. In any situation, it’s really startling to see a person fly through the air after an impact. It’s traumatic just watching this video knowing what these passengers are about to endure.
Yes, Huntsville equips its bus fleet with interior cameras. What happened in this crash? Since the camera only shows the bus interior, I’ll tell you what happened. The bus driver was properly sitting at an intersection along Bob Wallace Avenue waiting on a green light. Suddenly, a large and fully loaded dump truck crashed into a small pick-up truck at the intersection. That crash toppled the dump truck to its side and sent it sliding along the wet road right into the stopped bus. Of course, both the pick-up and dump truck drivers claimed the other one was at fault.
A search of recent local headlines shows that serious dump truck accidents are a frequent occurrence. A November headline from WHNT reads “1 Dead After Dump Truck Crashes At Quarry” about another Huntsville accident. An August article on a local CBS affiliate discusses a fatal dump truck crash in Cullman County. An October headline from WAAY discusses an overturned dump truck accident on Highway 72 in Madison County. I could continue with many more recent accidents.
If you’ve traveled along Bob Wallace, you regularly see dump trucks. Usually, they are driving pretty fast. At least, I think so. I’ve written several past articles about commercial trucks and the reasons they are dangerous. What makes dump trucks especially dangerous?
Dump Trucks Are Especially Vulnerable To Overturning
Naturally, any truck with a large heavy load creates a risk of overturning. In my past articles, I’ve written about the risk of large commercial trucks overturning when a driver tries to stop or turn sharply. Driver error creates a risk of tipping. Truck loads create a risk of tipping.
But, the issue is often magnified with dump trucks. Why are dump trucks especially at risk of tipping? The truck may be over the weight limit. Also, many dump trucks are not loaded properly. Think of the weight difference if a load of gravel or dirt is piled more to one side or the other. The truck load may also shift (and can do so easily). That heavy load (often dirt, sand or rock) can easily shift when the truck quickly slows or sharply turns sending a huge amount of force in one direction. A dump truck load can quickly become unbalanced.
Poor maintenance is also an issue with tipping. Many dump trucks are poorly maintained. Their tires are poorly pressurized. Their suspension system may be worn.
Dump Trucks Are Difficult To Stop
Weight and maintenance are big issues in stopping distance. I mentioned both in the prior section. I’ve written several articles about commercial truck stopping distances.
Dump trucks often run a circuit. Pick-up a load. Drop-off a load. Return. That means the truck alternates between being unloaded and fully loaded. A fully loaded truck can take a tremendous amount of distance to stop. You often have a driver making the same circuit in a hurry and alternating between loads. This creates stopping distance issues.
As for maintenance, I’ll just leave you with a brief statement. In my past dump truck cases, maintenance has been a key issue. In these accident cases our inspectors regularly report back to us about the poor condition of a dump truck’s tires and brakes. After reading so many poor maintenance reports, I get nervous in the lane next to any dump truck.
Dump Truck Drivers Often Lack Experience
I’ll give you an example from another dump truck accident case we worked in Madison County. In that case, we obtained the truck driver’s personnel file in discovery. Yes, the driver had a CDL (commercial drivers license). But, he only obtained that CDL a couple weeks before taking a job as a dump truck driver. In his deposition, he admitted the CDL training did not involve dump trucks. And, he had never driven a dump truck before being hired. After his hiring, the dump truck company never even provided any driving course related to dump trucks. Instead, the company simply had him shadow another driver for 2 hours to learn the route. That’s it. Within just a few months, that driver crashed his loaded dump truck into our client’s vehicle. No real experience. No real training before hauling a loaded dump truck on the highway near your family members and friends.
Dump trucks are very different from other commercial trucks. Too often, dump truck companies hire drivers and almost immediately put them behind the wheel hauling heavy loads on the road. That lack of training puts all of us at risk.
Dump Truck Drivers Are Pushed And Overworked
I mentioned training in the last section. Often, the danger is multiplied because dump truck drivers are pushed to work. Pushed! Time is essential. In my case involving the dump truck that struck a city bus on Bob Wallace, the truck driver drove 10.5 hours per day (driving 60-70 hours per week). Every single day, he drove almost the same route multiple times in a hurry to quickly transport loads. That driver had numerous health issues and was placed into a working environment where he spent far too much time driving through heavy traffic. He was pushed. He was overworked. Because of that, the drivers and passengers in cars around him were in danger.
Dump Trucks Are Often In Bad Condition
In many truck crash cases, vehicle maintenance is an issue. It’s even more of an issue to explore with dump trucks. Dump trucks often operate in less than ideal conditions to pick-up and drop-off loads. Those conditions create issues with the truck’s suspension, tires and brakes. The constant use. The heavy loads. The starting and stopping in city traffic. Those all create issues which require regular maintenance. Yet, many dump truck companies fail to monitor the condition of their trucks. Many dump truck companies fail to take their vehicles out of service long enough to maintain them properly.
Too often, dump trucks are poorly maintained and their drivers are pushed to the extreme. This creates a danger for all other drivers around them on our roads.