Winter in Maine takes an existing hazard — and makes it worse
It was the first winter storm of the season in 2015, and the roads of Aroostook County, Maine, were covered with snow, ice, and slush.
Shortly before sunrise, a trucker drove a 1992 Peterbilt tractor trailer, loaded with wood chips, south through Nashville Plantation. In a split second, the massive truck slid out of control, rolled onto its side and crashed into a utility pole.
Fortunately there were no other cars on the road that morning, and the driver walked away unharmed, according to news reports.
He was lucky. When winter driving accidents happen, especially when they involve large trucks, hundreds of people in Maine are injured and several are killed each year. Commercial trucks can be dangerous during any season. Weighing as much as 20 tons, their size and weight alone can turn a low-speed collision into a catastrophic or even fatal event. But when you add in the hazards of winter driving in Maine — from snowy and icy roadways to sudden wind gusts and icy debris flying from roofs — the risks go way up.
In this blog post we take a look at the hazards posed by commercial trucks in the winter. We explore some ways to keep your family safe, and give you advice on what to do if you’ve been hurt in accident involving a truck.
Truck drivers face pressure to stay on the road — no matter the conditions
Let’s take a quick look at the scope of the problem. Not accounting for seasons, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports that in 2013 alone, about 95,000 people were injured in about 342,000 crashes involving commercial trucks.
In the past five years in Maine, at least 67 people have been killed in crashes involving large trucks. One only has to watch or read the news headlines to see that winter driving conditions factored into many of those fatalities.
Snow, ice, sleet, freezing rain, black ice, wind and fog. All of these are winter driving hazards to be reckoned with in Maine, and they can appear without warning.
While many motorists simply stay off the roads when there is a likelihood of winter conditions, just as many others roll the dice. Some feel they have superior driving abilities that will allow them to avoid accidents. Others feel they must be on the road to get to work or other business.
Truck drivers drive for a living. They face tremendous pressure to make their pickups and deliveries on time, no matter the driving conditions. This is a fact of life that puts the rest of us at risk. Many truckers also enjoy a relative feeling of safety, simply because of the size of their vehicles. When a semi truck collides with a passenger car, which driver is likely to be rushed to the hospital, and which driver is likely to walk away unharmed?
Five tools for preventing a winter collision on Maine’s roads
1- Stay safe, stay home
When temperatures are near or below freezing, any type of precipitation should send up a red flag that you should stay off the roads. With modern forecasting technology and weather apps, most people have access to current and future weather conditions. Use them often to make good decisions. But… I have to go out. There are errands to be run, people to see. Is this trip so important that you are willing to risk your life for it? Unless it’s an emergency, it can wait.
2- If you must drive, go slow
We get it. Sometimes you have to be on the road, even if there is a threat of winter road conditions. If you must go out, the number one thing you can do to stay safe is to reduce your speed. The faster you go, the more likely you are to lose control, and the harder it is to slow down and stop. Pay special attention when merging or approaching stop signs and traffic signals. Just because you are driving slowly and with caution doesn’t mean other drivers are doing the same.
3- Watch out for the surprising road condition that causes winter crashes (hint: It’s not snow)
When you think of dangerous winter driving in Maine, you might envision a white-packed road and heavy snow falling from the sky. And while this is certainly a hazardous scenario, it’s not the one that causes the most trouble for drivers. That’s because a snow event is obvious. More people stay off the roads when snow is falling and building up on roadways. Drivers slow down. Many businesses and schools close.
But light icing events — caused by freezing rain, condensation, or a sudden drop in temperature where the roads are already wet — catch drivers by surprise. Thin, patchy layers of ice often cause multi-car accidents and slide-offs because an icy road can look exactly like a wet road, until you try to apply your brakes!
4- Keep a safe distance from other vehicles
If you are driving on icy or snowy roads, it is critical to stay much further behind the cars ahead of you than you would during normal driving conditions. First off, this will give you more time to brake or take evasive action if a crash happens in front of you.
Just as important, it will keep you safe from another winter driving hazard: Flying snow and ice from other vehicles. Maine State Police issued a special warning in 2015, after more than 20 vehicles were damaged by slabs of ice that blew off other vehicles. While some states, including Connecticut, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania, have laws requiring drivers to clear roofs, trunks and hoods of snow, Maine does not.
5- Use extra caution on bridges and overpasses
Maine’s roadways feature hundreds of bridges and overpasses, especially near the coast. Because these road surfaces are exposed to air from above, below, and on the sides, bridges and overpasses cool faster that normal roads. Drivers who are travelling at regular speeds can be caught off guard by slick conditions on a bridge.
My car was hit by a commercial truck. Now what?
Taking some basic steps after a truck accident can make the difference between a legal claim that fails and one that provides fair compensation for you and your family. Here are our suggestions for you to follow, if possible. Immediately report the accident to the police (911).
- Get all identifying information on the truck’s tractor and/or trailer, the name of the truck driver, as well as license, registration, and insurance information, and the names of any witnesses.
- Seek immediate medical attention for your injuries, even if you think they are minor.
- Report the accident to your own insurer but do not give a signed or recorded statement before talking to a lawyer.
- Take your own photographs of the damage to vehicles and any visible injuries that you have suffered.
- Do not discuss the accident with any representative of the truck driver’s insurance company before talking to a lawyer.
- Call an experienced personal injury trial lawyer who specializes in truck accident lawsuits. Our firm, Berman & Simmons, is ranked number one in Maine for representing plaintiffs in personal injury cases. We will consult with you about your case, free of charge.
Maine requires owners and operators of commercial trucks to comply with Commercial Vehicle Laws and Regulations, which are enforced by the Maine State Police. It’s a set of rules that governs how trucks must be operated, maintained, and inspected.
The lawyers at Berman & Simmons are experts on these rules and how to use them to prove liability in your case. If we accept you as a client, our lawyers and their teams will investigate the crash in which you were injured. We will obtain driver logs and other records about the driver, company safety records, and other key documents. We often use accident reconstruction experts to show exactly what happened and why.
These legal steps help us prove negligence and win a settlement or jury verdict. Our top goal is to ensure you receive full compensation from the commercial trucking defendants, which can include the driver, his or her employers, other businesses and insurance companies.
Arm yourself with knowledge
Click on the links below to explore these additional resources.
- Winter driving information from the Maine Department of Motor Vehicles. http://maine.gov/mdot/winterdriving/
- New England 511 provides road condtion alerts http://newengland511.org/
- Facts about crashes involving large trucks. Compiled by the U.S. Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. https://www.fmcsa.dot.gov/safety/data-and-statistics/large-truck-and-bus-crash-facts
- Maine Bureau of Motor Vehicles. http://www.maine.gov/sos/bmv/