How to Prove a Semi-Truck was Speeding at the Time of an Accident

Truckers need to drive within the speed limits. Big rig speeding accidents can be fatal.

Key Points:

  • The weight and size of trucks makes them difficult to maneuver and slow to stop
  • Their size and weight also makes the potential damages much worse than a collision with a passenger vehicle
  • Discovering who is at fault in a truck-related accident could involve not just the truck driver, but also the trucking company, the manufacturer and others
  • Gathering evidence to prove that a truck was speeding can be challenging
  • Trucking companies usually have highly effective legal teams to defend truck accidents – getting compensated can be difficult

The Federal Motor Carrier’s Safety Administration (FMCSA) reveals a startling fact: speeding 18-wheelers have become a critical concern on Atlanta’s bustling highways. This alarming trend is fueled by the dense flow of trucks, relentless traffic jams, and the intense pressure on drivers to meet deadlines. Motorists navigating these roads must remain vigilant. Recognizing the peril of these speeding giants, it’s crucial to keep a safe distance to ensure one’s safety at all times.

Is it Possible for a Semi Truck to be Speeding?

Semi-trucks, equipped with powerful engines, can achieve high speeds even when loaded to their maximum weight of 80,000 pounds. Although there are speed limits in place for safety, some drivers choose to ignore these rules, endangering both themselves and others on the road.

The risk of speeding is particularly high for semi-trucks because of their large size and limited maneuverability, which makes them hard to control at fast speeds, especially during sudden maneuvers or emergencies. Additionally, their significant weight, whether they are fully loaded or not, increases the distance needed to slow down or stop. This can be dangerous because it means speeding trucks may not be able to react quickly enough in urgent situations, often leading to accidents.

How Fast Can Big Rigs Really Travel?

For clarity, when you envision a vehicle speeding, you might picture sports cars racing at speeds over 100 miles per hour, designed for such velocities. However, with 18-wheelers, the scenario changes significantly. While these massive trucks typically don’t reach 90 miles per hour, it’s crucial to understand that even speeds over 70 miles per hour can be deadly. When these large trucks collide with smaller vehicles, the consequences can be catastrophic. Furthermore, driving at lower speeds can significantly reduce the risk of accidents, making it safer for everyone on the road.

Big rigs, also known as semi-trucks, can reach speeds in two main categories:

  • Top speed: Most semi-trucks are capable of reaching somewhere between 70 mph and 80 mph or even higher.
  • Governed speed: This is the preset maximum speed that the truck can go, set by the trucking company through a governor device. It’s often lower than the top speed for safety and fuel efficiency reasons. A typical governed speed for semi-trucks is around 65 mph to 75 mph.

While driver error is the leading cause of trucking accidents, speeding is often one of those errors and a particularly dangerous factor. Mistakes at high speeds can be even more catastrophic, contributing to roughly a quarter of all such accidents.

What are Common Reasons Truckers Exceed the Speed Limits?

Truck drivers don’t always have lead foots, they have reasons for their actions. Unlike regular car drivers, truckers are on the job. They face strict deadlines, transport goods over vast distances, spend long hours on the road, and their income depends on timely deliveries. Recognizing these pressures can help explain why a trucker might be speeding, providing crucial context in situations where speed is a factor.

In spite of the well-known dangers of speeding, truck drivers may exceed speed limits for a number of reasons:

Time pressure is a major factor. Tight delivery schedules and unexpected delays can create a strong incentive to speed, especially when drivers are pressured to meet deadlines or avoid penalties.

Per-mile payment the is the system under which some drivers are paid. When a driver is paid by the mile, it may encourage them to drive faster to cover more ground and increase their earnings.

Fatigue is another big problem. Long hours, irregular sleep schedules, and the pressure to reach destinations quickly can lead to driver exhaustion, which significantly hinders reaction time, making speeding even more dangerous.

Company culture can also play a role. Trucking companies that prioritize speed and efficiency over safety can create an environment where drivers feel pressured to meet unrealistic expectations, even if it means breaking the speed limit.

The industry is working to address these issues through stricter regulations, improved working conditions for drivers, and the development of new technologies that help reduce speeding and prioritize safety.

Questions You Can Ask a Trucker to Identify if they Were Speeding

  • Were your running late for a delivery?
  • How do you get paid? By mile, by load, or by the hour?
  • When were they expecting you?
  • How fast do you believe you were going?
  • What was the speed limit?
  • Does your employer pressure you to be on time?

Do Semi Trucks Have Different Speed Limits They Have to Obey?

In Georgia, semi-trucks generally follow the same speed limits as passenger vehicles on most roads.

  • Rural Interstate Highways: Both cars and semi-trucks can travel at a maximum speed of 70 mph on these highways.
    • Urban Interstate Highways and Divided Highways with Multiple Lanes: The speed limit drops to 65 mph for both vehicles on these roads.
    • Other Roads: On undivided highways, state routes, and county roads, the maximum speed limit is typically 55 mph for both cars and semi-trucks.

These are the maximum speeds. Truck drivers should always prioritize safety and adjust their speed based on factors like road conditions, weather, and traffic. There might also be specific posted speed limits that differ from these on certain stretches of road, for example, in construction zones. Georgia does not have separate speed limits for trucks during nighttime hours.

Why is it Extremely Dangerous for an 18 Wheeler to be Speeding?

Because 18-Wheelers have their own set of physical  characteristics, they are especially vulnerable to the dangers of speeding.

  • Increased Stopping Distance: Due to their weight (often exceeding 80,000 lbs), semi-trucks require a significantly longer distance than a car to come to a complete stop. Speeding drastically increases this stopping distance, making it much harder for the driver to avoid a collision if there’s a sudden hazard.
  • Reduced Maneuverability: Semi-trucks have a larger turning radius and are less maneuverable than cars, especially at high speeds. This makes it difficult for them to navigate curves, avoid obstacles, or react quickly to changing traffic conditions, increasing the risk of accidents.
  • Rollover Risk: Taking sharp turns or sudden maneuvers at high speeds can cause the truck’s center of gravity to shift, creating a higher risk of rollovers. This can be catastrophic, causing severe injuries or fatalities to occupants of other vehicles.
  • Tire Failure: Speeding significantly increase the risk of tire failure in commercial trucks. The high speeds put greater stress on the tires, causing them to heat up more. This heat buildup weakens the tire and can lead to blowouts or tread separation. These failures can cause the truck driver to lose control, potentially resulting in devastating accidents for themselves and others on the road.
  • Cargo Shifting: The cargo inside a trailer is secured, but not immovable. When a truck speeds up, stops suddenly, or swerves, the cargo can experience significant inertia and shift violently within the trailer. This can cause the trailer to become unbalanced or even break loose from the cab, creating a hazardous situations for other vehicles on the road.
  • Driver Fatigue and Reduced Reaction Time: Speeding often coincides with other risky behaviors like driving for extended periods without breaks. This can lead to driver fatigue and slower reaction times, further compounding the dangers mentioned above.

Speeding semi-truck accidents pose a terrifying threat on the road due to their weight and size. The consequences can be catastrophic for everyone in proximity to a speeding  18-wheeler, leading to:

  • Chain Reaction Crashes: A speeding semi-truck is far more likely to cause a pileup than a car. Their size and momentum can easily trigger a chain reaction, impacting multiple vehicles and causing widespread damage.
    • Severe Injuries and Fatalities: The force of a collision with a speeding semi-truck is far greater than with a car. This can result in devastating injuries or even fatalities for the occupants of other vehicles involved in the accident.
    • Infrastructure Damage: Speeding semi-trucks can cause significant damage to guardrails, bridges, and other roadside infrastructure when they’re involved in an accident.

These dangers are compounded by the cargo these trucks carry. At high speeds, even securely fastened cargo becomes a major hazard.

  • Increased Risk of Loose Cargo: Speed significantly increases the force acting on cargo inside a trailer. This puts extra stress on the straps, ropes, or other restraints, raising the risk of breakage or loosening and allowing cargo to become dislodged.
    • Shifting Cargo and Secondary Accidents: Sudden maneuvers like stops, swerves, or sharp turns at high speeds can cause even securely fastened cargo to shift violently within the trailer. This shifting can overload or break the restraints, leading to cargo flying off and causing further problems:
    • Debris on the Road: Scattered debris from a speeding truck can create a hazard for other vehicles, causing flat tires, loss of control, or even secondary accidents as drivers swerve to avoid it.
    • Large and Heavy Objects: If large or heavy objects fall off a truck, the danger is even greater. They could cause severe damage to other vehicles they collide with or even penetrate car windshields or roofs, leading to serious injuries or fatalities.

Speeding with a semi-truck is a gamble with devastating consequences.

Is Speeding More Common for Big Rigs off of Major Highways?

Unfortunately, there isn’t widely available data to definitively compare speeding rates between major highways and other roads specifically for big rigs. It’s difficult to say definitively whether speeding is more common for big rigs off of major highways.

Major Highways often have the highest speed limits for trucks. However, the heavy traffic congestion on major highways might incentivize speeding to make up for lost time.

Truck drivers may be more cautious on unfamiliar or winding rural roads, reducing speeding instances. But, because speed limits are generally lower on non-highway roads, exceeding them might happen more frequently, even though the raw speed is lower. Additionally, the presence of law enforcement might be lower on rural roads, potentially creating a perception of less risk for speeding truck drivers.

Overall, speeding is a danger for big rigs no matter where they travel. 

What Methods Are used by Truck Accident Lawyers to Prove Speeding?

Following an accident with a semi-truck, lawyers may use several types of electronic data that is often available to aid investigators and can potentially be used as evidence.

Event Data Recorders (EDRs), sometimes nicknamed “black boxes” like those in airplanes, play a crucial role in accident investigation for semi-trucks. These devices capture a wealth of information about the vehicle’s operation in the moments leading up to and during a crash. This data can include vehicle speed, engine RPM, brake application, seatbelt use, airbag deployment, vehicle direction, and timestamps for each of these events.

The Engine Control Module (ECM): This is eessentially the truck’s engine computer, plays a vital role in accident reconstruction. It continuously records data on engine performance, including details like engine speed, malfunction codes, and throttle position. This information can be critical in understanding the engine’s state and actions leading up to a crash.

GPS Data: Modern semi-trucks are often equipped with GPS tracking systems that act like a real-time diary of the vehicle’s movements throughout the day. This data provides a valuable record of the truck’s route history, including variations in speed and timestamps for specific locations. This information can be crucial for accident investigators in piecing together the events leading up to a crash.

In-cab Communication Systems: These systems are used by some trucking companies, offer a window into driver behavior and potential pressures. These systems track driver location and, in some cases, record conversations with dispatchers. By analyzing communication patterns, investigators might identify signs of driver fatigue. Additionally, the content of conversations could reveal pressure from dispatchers to speed up or meet unrealistic deadlines, potentially contributing factors in an accident.

Video Recordings: Forward-facing dash cameras are becoming increasingly common in commercial vehicles. If operational, they can provide crucial video evidence of the accident and the moments leading up to it.

Electronic data can be crucial for accident investigations as it provides objective information about the truck’s performance and the driver’s actions leading up to the crash. By analyzing this data alongside other evidence like witness testimonies and physical evidence from the scene, a clearer picture of the accident events can be established.

What Evidence on the Road Can Provide Evidence of Speeding?

Evidence on the road itself can provide clues about a semi-truck’s speed before an accident, but it’s not always definitive. Here are some signs to look for:

Skid Marks: Skid marks left at an accident scene can provide clues about the vehicle’s speed and the driver’s actions before impact. The length of the skid marks is one indicator, with longer marks generally suggesting the brakes were applied over a greater distance, which could be due to a higher initial speed. It’s important to remember that factors like road surface (wet, dry, gravel) and weather conditions (rain,fog, or snow) can also influence how far a vehicle skids when the brakes are applied.

Debris Scatter: The pattern in which debris is spread can reveal important details about the collision. A wider debris scatter pattern, for example, might indicate a more forceful impact, potentially from a higher speed collision.

Damage to Fixed Objects: The severity of damage to adjacent objects such guardrails, fences, or signs hit by the truck could be a sign of high impact velocity.

Accident Reconstruction: Accident reconstruction experts use a scientific approach to analyze evidence and determine how a semi-truck accident happened. Their goal is to establish a timeline of events, identify contributing factors, and potentially pinpoint fault.

Experts in this field may be retained to analyze all available evidence, including road markings, debris patterns, and damage severity to create an accurate picture of the accident, including potential speeding. They do this by examining the following key components of the accident:

  • Scene Examination: This involves meticulously examining the accident scene, measuring skid marks, debris scatter patterns, and photographing damage to vehicles and surrounding objects.
  • Vehicle Inspection: A thorough inspection of the semi-truck is conducted to assess damage, malfunction indicators (brake failure warnings etc.), and EDR (Event Data Recorder) data retrieval (like speed, braking data).
  • Reviewing Reports: Police reports, witness statements, and any truck driver logs  are reviewed for relevant details.

          Reconstruction Techniques:

  • Physics Principles: Experts apply the laws of motion, momentum, and energy transfer to analyze the crash and estimate the pre-crash speeds of the vehicles.
    • Computer Simulations: Sophisticated software can recreate the accident scenario in a virtual environment, considering factors like vehicle weight, road conditions, and driver actions. This help visualize the crash sequence and validate their analysis.

Accident reconstruction experts work to discover what happened in the moments leading up to a crash. This involves establishing a detailed timeline of events, including the positions of the vehicles, their speeds, and any maneuvers they made before the collision.

Surveillance Cameras: Increasingly prevalent, surveillance cameras can be useful in proving speeding trucks, but their effectiveness depends on location and quality. Ideally, they capture suspected speeding zones and provide details like license plates and vehicle type. Limitations include obscured views, night vision issues, tampering, and less precise speed measurements compared to police radar/laser guns.

Camera footage is often combined with other evidence like witness testimony, accident reconstruction, or truck EDR data for a stronger case. While valuable, cameras are typically used as supporting evidence alongside other methods to determine speeding conclusively.

Overall Damage: If a truck involved in an accident was speeding, it is possible that the damage to the vehicles involved may be more evident. However, it is important to note that the extent of damage is influenced by various factors beyond just speed. The severity of the collision, the type of impact, and the objects struck can also impact the visible damage. Additionally, the structural characteristics of the vehicles involved, such as their age, weight, and build, can affect how they absorb and exhibit the forces of the impact. Therefore, while speeding can contribute to increased damage, it is not always a definitive indicator, and a comprehensive assessment of the accident scene and expert evaluation may be necessary to determine the role of speed.

How Can a Witness Help to Prove Speeding?

Witnesses are crucial in proving a semi-truck was speeding in an accident. Their observations hold value in the following ways:

  • Direct Observation of Speed: Clear statements estimating the truck’s speed or comparing it to other vehicles provide valuable information.
  • Observed Driving Behavior: Witnessing reckless maneuvers or hearing a loud engine noise indicates potential excessive speed.
  • Credibility and Details: Credibility is strengthened by clear, consistent, and confident statements. Specifics about the location further support their testimony.

Witness testimony is used as supporting evidence alongside skid marks, accident reconstruction analysis, or the truck’s EDR data to strengthen the case. Police reports incorporate witness statements for investigation purposes.

Can Proving that an 18 Wheeler Was Speeding Win You More Compensation?

In a lawsuit over a trucking accident, proving that an 18-wheeler was speeding can potentially strengthen your case and increase the likelihood of obtaining more compensation. However, it’s important to note that the outcome of a lawsuit depends on various factors.

Negligence: Speeding is considered a form of negligence, as it involves a driver exceeding the posted speed limit or driving too fast for the given conditions. To establish liability and seek compensation, you must demonstrate that the truck driver breached their duty of care by speeding, and this breach directly caused the accident and resulting damages.

Increased Liability: By proving that the truck driver was speeding, you can argue that their actions contributed to the severity of the accident and the resulting injuries or property damage. This can bolster your claim for compensation by attributing a higher degree of liability to the truck driver or their employer.

Comparative Negligence:  The State of Georgia applies a modified comparative negligence standard known as the “50 percent bar rule.” Under this rule, an injured party can still recover damages as long as their percentage of fault is not greater than 50 percent. However, if the injured party is found to be 50 percent or more at fault for the accident, they are barred from recovering any damages.

Evidence: To prove that the 18-wheeler was speeding, you need to gather and present compelling evidence. This can include eyewitness testimonies, accident reconstruction analyses, data from the truck’s onboard systems (such as a black box or GPS), surveillance footage, police reports, and any other relevant documentation that supports your claim.

Consulting with a qualified attorney experienced in trucking accident cases to evaluate the specific details of your situation. They can help build a strong case, navigate legal complexities, and pursue the maximum compensation possible based on the circumstances surrounding the accident.

What are Punitive Damages and Can They be Useful in my Claim?

In cases where the truck driver’s conduct is deemed particularly reckless or egregious, proving that they were speeding can be an important if you are seeking punitive damages. Punitive damages are intended to punish the defendant for their actions and deter similar behavior in the future. However, the availability and criteria for awarding punitive damages vary across jurisdictions, and specific legal standards must be met to qualify for such damages.

In Georgia, punitive damages in truck accident cases can be awarded only under circumstances. Here are some key points to understand:

Standard for Punitive Damages: To be eligible for punitive damages in Georgia, the plaintiff must show that the defendant’s actions involved willful misconduct, malice, fraud, wantonness, oppression, or conscious indifference to consequences. Mere negligence or ordinary carelessness is not sufficient to warrant punitive damages.

Clear and Convincing Evidence: Georgia law requires that the plaintiff prove their entitlement to punitive damages by clear and convincing evidence. This is a higher evidentiary standard than the usual preponderance of the evidence standard applied to other types of damages. Clear and convincing evidence means that the evidence presented must be highly and substantially more probable to be true than not.

Cap on Punitive Damages: Georgia law imposes a cap on punitive damages. The cap is set at $250,000. However, there are exceptions to the cap. If the defendant acted with specific intent to cause harm or if the defendant was under the influence of drugs or alcohol, the cap does not apply, and punitive damages can potentially exceed $250,000.

Determination of Punitive Damages: If the plaintiff meets the legal standards and establishes their entitlement to punitive damages, the jury is responsible for determining the amount of punitive damages to be awarded. The jury considers various factors, such as the defendant’s financial resources, the reprehensibility of their conduct, the harm caused to the plaintiff, and any other relevant circumstances.

In Georgia, the court has the authority to review and potentially reduce the amount of punitive damages awarded by the jury if the court deems it excessive or unconstitutional. The court considers whether the punitive damages are reasonably related to the defendant’s misconduct and whether they serve the intended purposes of punishment and deterrence.

What Challenges Come Into Play When Trying to Prove an 18-Wheeler was Speeding?

When pursuing a claim for an accident involving a commercial truck, plaintiffs often face several primary challenges. These challenges can arise due to the unique nature of trucking accidents and the complexities involved in holding trucking companies and their drivers accountable. Here are some of the main obstacles that plaintiffs may encounter:

Severeity of Injuries and Damages: Trucking accidents can result in catastrophic injuries and extensive property damage due to the size and weight of commercial trucks. As a result, the damages sought by plaintiffs in these cases tend to be substantial. However, obtaining fair compensation for such damages can be challenging, as defendants and their insurance companies may vigorously dispute liability and the extent of the injuries and financial losses.

Complex Liability Issues: Determining liability in trucking accidents can be complex. Multiple parties may be involved, including the truck driver, the trucking company, maintenance contractors, cargo loaders, and vehicle and parts manufacturers. Identifying which parties are responsible for the accident and the extent of their liability requires a thorough investigation and analysis of evidence, such as driver logs, maintenance records, and company policies. This complexity can make it more difficult to establish a clear and straightforward case of negligence.

Adverse Insurance Company Tactics: Trucking companies almost always have robust insurance coverage and experienced insurance adjusters who are well-versed in handling accident claims. Insurance companies may employ various tactics to minimize their liability and payouts, such as attempting to shift blame onto the plaintiff or downplaying the severity of injuries. They may also try to pressure plaintiffs into accepting low settlement offers. Dealing with these tactics may require the assistance of a skilled attorney who can negotiate on behalf of the plaintiff and protect their interests.

Compliance with Federal Regulations: The trucking industry is regulated by numerous federal and state laws. These regulations govern various aspects, including driver qualifications, hours of service, vehicle maintenance, and cargo securement. Proving that the trucking company or driver violated these regulations and that the violation contributed to the accident often requires expert analysis, access to relevant records, and a deep understanding of the applicable regulations.

Resources and Legal Defense: Trucking companies and their insurers typically have substantial resources and legal teams dedicated to defending against claims. They may employ skilled defense attorneys who specialize in trucking litigation. This can create an imbalance of power, making it crucial for plaintiffs to have competent legal representation to level the playing field and effectively counter the defense’s strategies.

Overcoming these challenges requires a proactive and comprehensive approach to building a strong case. Victims may find that seeking assistance from an experienced personal injury attorney with expertise in trucking accidents can significantly enhance the plaintiff’s chances of success. An established law firm has the resources to navigate the complexities, gather evidence, engage experts, negotiate with insurance companies, and advocate for fair compensation on behalf of the injured party.

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