Colorado is famously known as one of the most scenic states in all of America. The mountainous landscape makes for some of the most beautiful routes in the country, particularly when you drive down a mountain pass. Such drives, however, can be alarmingly dangerous for tractor-trailers. Roadways like Loveland Pass, Pikes Peak Highway, and Trail Ridge Road are among some of Colorado’s most dangerous roads.
Steep hills make for trying conditions for trucks and tractor-trailers. It is not unheard of for a truck’s brakes to fail or a trailer to become detached while going downhill. Obviously, losing control of an 80,000-pound truck going downhill can quickly become an incredibly dangerous situation!
Whether the runaway truck is gaining speed or unable to stop or slow down, it becomes an immediate danger not only to itself but also to any smaller vehicles below. The aftermath may be disastrous, and it may be difficult to figure out any issues of liability.
Tractor-trailers can be classified as “runaway trucks” if the driver loses control while descending a slope. In Colorado, this often happens while going down a mountain pass and the truck is gaining speed. If the vehicle is a big rig, then the driver must prepare him or herself for the upcoming descent. The driver must also take care to reach the descent speed before the truck gets to the beginning of the slope or crests the pass.
In addition to this, drivers should put the truck in first gear. The resistance of the transmission in first gear, along with the slow speed, will keep the truck from barreling downhill too quickly. Brakes may then be used as additional preventative tools, particularly when going around curves.
Failing to take these precautions may cause brakes or other equipment to fail. Making an error while driving downhill can quickly turn a truck into a runaway, so it is important to take as much care as possible. In May 2018, a truck driver died in a tragic accident after his runaway truck sped off more than 125 feet off of Wolf Creek Pass on Colorado’s U.S. Highway 160. The truck’s brakes failed due to the driver’s excessive speed.
Many dangerous highways have runaway truck ramps on their shoulders. These ramps exist to help truck drivers in case of an emergency. They are gravel-covered off-ramps with a rise or a hill. The friction and the effect of the incline effectively work together to stop runaway vehicles. According to Car and Driver, 27 (mostly western) states had 170 runaway ramps.
In Colorado, it is the state that determines where these ramps are constructed. These decisions are based on a number of factors, such as the length and grade of the slope, conditions at the end of the slope (e.g., sharp bends or buildings), the runaway truck accident rate, and the traffic volume, including the percentage of heavy-truck traffic.
When properly built, runaway truck ramps have proven to be very successful in preventing crashes. They allow drivers to slow down their vehicles and return to a normal state. Unfortunately, not all mountain passes have runaway truck ramps—and not every driver is able to reach a ramp in time.
In the fall of 2018, a runaway dump truck overturned in Park City, Utah, after losing its brakes downhill and crashing into a pickup truck. This accident effectively closed the area to traffic for the next few hours, and both drivers had to be rushed to the hospital.
This is a perfect example of how runaway trucks are damaging to more than just the driver behind the wheel. Rather, they affect everyone on the road. There may be many different contributing factors to a runaway truck accident. For instance, a truck driver may be driving too fast and find out too late that the brakes are malfunctioning.
Because truck drivers are generally part of at least one other company, there are multiple potentially liable parties for a runaway truck crash. The trucker, the trucking company, the trucking company’s insurance, and the manufacturer of the truck (or even just a part of the truck) may all be held liable in case of a crash.
Furthermore, employers are generally held responsible for any wrongful acts committed by their employees. This is true if the acts are unintentional and committed as “part” of their employment. Therefore, a trucking company may be held liable if a truck driver becomes involved in an accident while making a delivery for work. However, they may not be held liable if the truck driver becomes involved in an accident while driving back home from work. Employers may also not be held liable for crashes when they are intentionally caused by their employees. This includes incidents of road rage, such as intentional rear-ending.
Determining liability becomes more complicated when truckers are independent contractors rather than employees. This is due to the fact that an employer has less control over an independent contractor’s general workflow. In the case of truckers, independent contractors may use, maintain, and repair their own equipment.
Truck manufacturers may be found liable if faulty truck parts caused the accident. Such cases would fall under the legal theory of product liability. In order to prove product liability, it is up to the truck driver to prove that their truck and/or truck parts had unreasonably dangerous defects. You must also prove that the defects were a direct cause of the crash and/or injury. It is important that the product in question has not been substantially changed from the original condition in which it was sold. It may be difficult to meet all these requirements on your own, but an experienced truck accident lawyer may be able to help.
If you have recently been involved in a trucking accident, we at Injury Victim Law may be able to help. Though our firm is based in Colorado, our team of experts and investigators is ready and available to help personal injury victims all across the country. Contact us today to schedule an initial consultation with one of our experienced nationwide truck accident attorneys.