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By Jim Adler September 11, 2015

The lumbering leviathans known as 18-wheelers, big rigs, semi trucks, tractor-trailers or diesel trucks are dangerous enough due to their size and weight. But they can become even more deadly when trucks are overloaded or have unsecured loads.

There are an estimated 2-3 million 18-wheelers on our roads that can weigh up to 80,000 pounds, an intimidating size for a car driver whose vehicle weighs a small fraction of that. Much of a big rig’s weight is located on the trailer and this weight may be distributed in any number of ways. Variable loads of different cargos, which also are loaded differently, can present a complex array of interconnecting factors that may combine to a fatal crash.

Big Rig Fatalities

Big rig fatalities have risen for several years, according to the National Highways Traffic Safety Administration. In 2013, just fewer than 4,000 Americans died in crashes with tractor-trailers. Semi truck accidents often are at least partly attributable to overloaded trucks or unsecured loads.

Why are Overloaded Trucks Dangerous?

Overloaded trucks are dangerous for a variety of reasons, including the fact that some large cargos are loaded improperly. A cargo of cars, boulders or heavy logs, for instance, could be loaded in a way that is unsecured in the trailer. If the unsecured load suddenly shifted on the road, it could cause the big rig to veer off-course and crash.

An unsecured load suddenly shifting in transit on a flatbed truck or tractor trailer can cause a rollover accident — a crash which can be catastrophic for nearby vehicles.

In addition, some tractor-trailers with unsecured loads actually lose their cargo, spilling onto a roadway and causing additional crashes for other drivers. This can happen independently of an initial crash or as an after-effect of a crash.

When debris from an overloaded truck falls on a roadway, other vehicles may swerve to avoid it and, in the process, crash into each other or into the big rig. Vehicles also may slam into the spilled cargo, and that crash can cause injuries.

Some falling loads can strike vehicles in mid-air, perhaps piercing a windshield to kill a car’s occupants. Also, some cargo elements may be hazardous or volatile materials — such as gasoline — which can be dangerous in themselves when spilled on a highway.

Semi trucks that are overloaded also can have mechanical breakdowns or tire blowouts due to a too-heavy load, and such mechanical and equipment failures also can cause a fatal crash. Heavy loads also can make a semi truck more difficult for its driver to handle. The heavier the truck, the longer it takes to maneuver it or brake to a stop.

18 Wheeler Laws, Load Limits

The trucking industry is highly regulated on the state and federal level. In Texas, for instance, the state sets 18 wheeler load limits. By law, a big rig should not weigh more than a specified and approved amount, based on its size and nature.

According to the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles, a big rig can have a gross weight (including vehicle and cargo) of 81,400 pounds maximum. That’s for a “quinte” or five-axle truck.

A “quadrem,” or four-axle truck, can weigh no more than 70,000 pounds. A “tridem,”or three-axle truck, can weigh up to 60,000 pounds. A “tandem,” or two-axle truck, can weigh a maximum of 46,000 pounds and a single-axle truck can weigh up to 25,000 pounds.

Texas also has some load-restricted areas where the top legal weight of a truck is 10% or more under the customary limits. These areas are scattered across the state and include many bridges, overpasses and stretches of roadways.

One such area is FM 646 from its junction with FM 517 to its junction with Texas 6 in Galveston County. There, the gross vehicle weight allowed is 58,420 pounds, or about 10% less than 65,00o pounds.

The Texas Department of Transportation has a load area map or load zone map along with parameters of weights allowed in load-restricted areas.

Other laws in the Texas Transportation Code set safety standards for commercial vehicles, requirements for a commercial driver’s license and ways to keep truck drivers drug-free.

Federal laws regulate truckers’ hours of service, limiting them to 14 consecutive hours of driving duty at a time. Drivers then must have at least 10 consecutive hours off-duty before they can drive again.

Liability for Overloaded Trucks

The driver, the trucking company and the company that loaded the vehicle may share the liability for an accident caused by overloaded trucks. The amount of liability can be determined in a truck crash lawsuit filed by an 18-wheeler accident lawyer with Jim Adler & Associates.

Notify our law firm today for a free legal consultation regarding your prospects for a successful accident lawsuit or settlement. You may be legally entitled to financial compensation.

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