Big Trucks and Hydroplaning Equals Big Trouble
As winter winds down and the south begins showing signs of spring, motorists are still at risk of bad weather conditions, especially surprise rainstorms. Although we don’t have to worry too much about ice here, we do have to worry about a phenomenon called “hydroplaning,” a condition that occurs when a vehicle’s tires lose grip with the surface of the road and slide out of control.
You might have had this happen to you before, and you know it can be a truly terrifying experience. It’s even more terrifying when it happens to a vehicle next to you and that vehicle is barreling at you out of control. When this vehicle is a commercial truck, the aftermath can be devastating and catastrophic.
What is hydroplaning?
The Federal Highway Administration tells us that the “vast majority of most weather-related crashes happen on wet pavement and during rainfall: 70% on wet pavement and 46% during rainfall.”
Our car tires are made to grip the road throughout all weather conditions. Car and Driver explains how tires work to grip the asphalt in the rain:
Think of the grooves in your tires as miniature aqueducts. They pump water away from the contact patch (where the rubber literally meets the road) at an amazing rate. Tiremaker Continental estimates that, at 50 mph, the average new tire can disperse nearly eight gallons of water per second. That’s a lot to ask from a tiny piece of rubber operating on an area roughly the size of an adult man’s outstretched hand. When a tire can’t disperse water quickly enough, the contact patch starts to ride on the surface of the water, not the road—like water skis climbing onto the surface of a lake. That’s hydroplaning.
Bridgestone Tire explains that hydroplaning is caused by a combination of factors:
- Road conditions. The deeper the water on the road, the higher the risk of hydroplaning – “As water depth on a road surface increases to more than 1/10th of an inch, the risk of hydroplaning worsens. The intensity of the rainfall, type of road surface and drainage conditions play a crucial role in triggering conditions ripe for hydroplaning.”
- Vehicle speed. Your tires need time to rid themselves of excess water. The faster a vehicle is traveling, the less time the tires have to do so. Hydroplaning can occur at speeds as low as 35 mph.
- Tread depth. Bridgestone reports that tires have “little resistance to hydroplaning when their tread is worn down to 2/32nd of an inch or less, so it’s vital that worn tires are replaced as soon as possible to ensure safe driving on wet roads.”
- Vehicle weight. A lighter car or pickup is more at risk of hydroplaning than a heavy SUV or commercial truck. However, when a heavy vehicle does hydroplane, it will cause much more damage.
If you want to check your vehicle’s tire tread, just take a penny and insert it into the groove with Lincoln’s head pointing toward the tire. If you can see the top of his head, your tires need replacing. Remember, though, all tires wear unevenly, so check all four tires (and your spare).
Why are hydroplaning trucks so dangerous?
Any vehicle that is out of the control of the driver is dangerous – but when that vehicle weighs tens of thousands of pounds and is as long as five minivans, the potential for catastrophic wrecks increases exponentially. A hydroplaning truck can easily:
- Cross multiple lanes of traffic, hitting multiple cars
- Collide with utility poles, increasing the risk of a downed power line or traffic signal
- Crush smaller vehicles underneath it if the truck rolls, or is not equipped with side guards
- Scatter debris across multiple lanes of traffic
- Jackknife into traffic or into buildings
Truck accidents can lead to catastrophic injury
Even a “low speed” collision with a semi-truck can be devastating because of the size and weight of the truck. The force of the impact will be great at any speed, but a big rig that hits an unexpected puddle at 55mph can wreak true havoc on the roads. Vehicles, motorcycle riders, cyclists, and pedestrians sustain serious injuries or death. Other potential catastrophic injuries include:
- Traumatic brain injury
- Spinal cord injury
- Burn injuries
- Damage to multiple organs
- Crushing injuries resulting in amputation
- Multiple compound, complex fractures
- Nerve damage
- Amputation Injury
Many of these injuries will have permanent effects on the victims and their families. They may need years or a lifetime of treatment to survive, and may be left unable to care for themselves. Many truck accident survivors live in chronic pain and aren’t able to work to support their families.
Who is liable for my South Carolina truck accident?
If you were injured in any truck wreck, including a hydroplane incident, depending on the circumstances, a variety of parties could be liable for your damages. Here are some examples:
- If the trucker was speeding, driving too fast for conditions, or violated traffic laws, they’ll likely be found responsible for the crash and your injuries and losses. In the same vein, the trucking company can also be held liable for the actions of their employee.
- If the accident happened because of defective tires, the tire manufacturer may be held liable. If the tires weren’t maintained or repaired correctly, you may have a case against the trucking company or a third-party maintenance company hired by the fleet owners.
- In some cases, the municipality or government may hold some liability, if the design of the road made vehicles unreasonably susceptible to hydroplaning.
How do I avoid hydroplaning in my vehicle?
Experienced South Carolina truck drivers should know how to avoid hydroplaning and causing wrecks Trucking risk management company Lytx offers tips and techniques to mitigate hydroplaning hazards when driving in rainy and wet conditions:
- Avoid large puddles. During and after a storm, truckers should avoid any standing water, even if they think it’s shallow. Even a tiny amount of water can cause hydroplaning, and Lytx specifically recommends drivers “avoid outer lanes and drive in the tracks left by vehicles in front of you.”
- Keep alert. Drivers must not always be awake and alert, but they should be aware of ever-changing weather conditions.
- Maintain tires. Like we talked about earlier, non-commercial and commercial vehicle tires must have proper treads in order to grip the road in every weather condition.
- Do not use cruise control in bad weather. Semi-autonomous driving systems, like cruise control, may not reliably detect wet road conditions or deep puddles.
- Slow down. All drivers, especially commercial truckers, must adjust their speed in wet weather to avoid hydroplaning. Lytx explains, “There is no universally agreed definition, but most industry experts agree that hydroplaning is more likely when vehicles exceed 35 mph in wet conditions.”
If you find yourself hydroplaning, don’t panic – and don’t hit the brakes. Instead, release the gas pedal and turn into the skid, keeping any steering and corrective maneuvers small. Once you regain control, ease onto your brakes, and pull over someplace safe.
At McGowan, Hood, Felder & Phillips, LLC, our South Carolina lawyers are here to help if you were seriously injured in a truck accident. We will protect your rights to financial compensation for your injuries and losses, and will address all of your questions and concerns. To schedule a no-cost case review with an experienced member of our team, call our offices or fill out our contact form today.
Randy is the former President of the South Carolina Association for Justice. He has been certified by the American Board of Professional Liability as a specialist in Medical Malpractice Law which is recognized by the South Carolina Bar. Randy has also been awarded the distinction of being a “Super Lawyer” 10 times in the last decade. He has over 25 years of experience helping injured people fight back against corporations, hospitals and wrong-doers.
Read more about S. Randall Hood