Thousands of large commercial vehicles carrying trailers operate on Colorado roads every day safely, in large part due to federal and state regulations that are placed on them. When companies and drivers of these vehicles break the regulations, however, and decide to overload their trailers with cargo to cut costs, accidents may occur. In fact, overloading or improperly loading trailers is one of the most common causes of accidents involving trucks because it decreases the driver's ability to control the vehicle. Truck drivers and the companies that employ them have an obligation to adhere to traffic safety laws, which includes weight limitations on their cargo.
In order to ensure driver safety in the United States, there are federal regulations which limit the amount of cargo that different kinds of trailers can load. The U.S. Department of Transportation's Federal Highway Administration sets these weight limits. They also standardize limits across states so that trucks can pass through different state lines with the same weight limits.
Commercial trucks may carry up to 20,000 pounds per axle and 34,000 pounds per tandem axle. In total, an 18-wheel semi truck cannot carry more than 80,000, with some possible exceptions with permits. The government also uses something called the Bridge Gross Weight formula to prevent large vehicles from damaging roadways and bridges. This formula takes into consideration a trailer's dimensions including height, the weight and length of wheelbase to prevent short heavy trucks from damaging roadways. This formula means that sometimes trucks have stricter weight limits, depending on their dimensions.
As most drivers are aware, weigh stations on highways are implemented to check trailer loads. Colorado has ten weigh stations which are situated in areas of the highway where trucks and semis are entering the state. Certain classes of vehicles must clear these ports of entry before they are allowed to continue to drive on the interstate in Colorado. This list includes all commercial vehicles
- Weighing more that 16,000 pounds without a cargo
- With a Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) of more that 26,000
- With Gross Vehicle Weight or apportioned license plates
- Carrying a placard displaying Hazardous Materials code
Dangers of Overloaded Trailers
Overloading or improperly loading trailers significantly increases both the chance of an accident occurring and the potential damage that an accident can cause to property and human life. This is because overloading adds more stress to an already complicated set of machinery and infrastructure which is not designed to carry certain weights.
Runaway Trucks and Trailers
Overloading trailers can contribute to runaway trucks trailers. This phenomenon usually occurs when a truck is traveling downhill or uphill. While traveling on long descents, such as mountain passes, the weight of the cargo, especially if it is above regulation, can push the truck down the hill and increase speed. At times, the brake system on the truck can be overloaded by the speed, weight, and incline, and the driver may lose control of their vehicle. For this reason, highways with long downhill portions often include flat or slightly uphill runaway truck ramps where out of control trucks can pull off and slow down. Unfortunately, however, not all runaway trucks make it to a safety ramp.
Trailers tend to come unattached during sharp inclines or declines or at sharp turns. The more weight a truck is carrying in its trailer, the more stress is applied to the hitch or connection between a cab and its cargo. Overloaded trailers may, therefore, cause a failure in the connecting mechanism. When a trailer, weighing thousands of pounds, comes loose on the interstate, the damage can be catastrophic.
If trucks with open tops are improperly loaded or loaded with too much material, they also have a greater chance of expelling part of their cargo which can be deadly for other drivers on the road. If the truck is not loaded correctly and the weight is not properly secured to the bed of the trailer, during acceleration or turns the cargo may shift and loosen, sometimes flying into the road and creating hazards for other vehicles. If trucks are loaded too fully (such as a dump truck or a coal truck), pieces of material can be blown from the cargo into the windshield of other drivers, potentially blind them as they maneuver their vehicle.
Loss of Control
A more general issue associated with overloading trailers is a loss of control. The extra weight can decrease the performance of a truck, preventing a driver from being able to respond effectively to hazards in the road, such as ice, debris, or pedestrians. Heavier trucks stop, start, and turn more slowly, reducing general responsiveness, putting stress on mechanical components and load bearing axles, and contributing to the likelihood of an accident, especially if a driver is not familiar with the mechanics of extremely heavy vehicles. Overloading also affects balance, especially if the weight is not arranged properly between axles in the trailer.
Taking Action in Colorado
Trucks have legal weight limitations for a reason, and disregarding those safety limitations may increase compensation for victims of a truck accident. If you have been injured or a loved one has been killed in an accident involving a truck that you believe may have been improperly loaded or loaded beyond its federal weight capacity, it may be time to enlist the help of a personal injury attorney.
Experienced attorneys will know how to check the truck's weight capacity, the record of cargo, and port of entry information. In addition, in some cases, they can send crash analysts to the site to evaluate evidence such as skid marks and road hazards. For a free case evaluation, call the Law Office of Jeremy Rosenthal at (303) 825-2223 or contact us online today.