With the winter weather arriving in Alabama, motorists are at the risk of inclement weather conditions. Even though we rarely have to worry about snowy highways and roads, we do see a lot of storms and rain. One of the biggest dangers of wet roadways is something called “hydroplaning,” which is something that occurs when a vehicle’s tire treads lose grip with the road surface and slides out of control.
The phenomenon of hydroplaning can be a terrifying experience, whether it happens to you while you are driving or if it happens to a car nearby. When the vehicle that hydroplanes is a commercial truck, the resulting accident can be tragic and devastating.
What is hydroplaning?
Car tires are designed to grip the road in all sorts of weather. Car and Driver explains how tires work to keep our vehicles from slipping in the rain and what happens when they can’t:
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.
The deeper the grooves in your tire (called the “tread depth”), the lower the risk of hydroplaning. However, as the tires wear down, so do the treads. Most new tires come with a tread depth of less than 11/32 of an inch. Per Car and Driver, “When your tread depth is only 2/32 of an inch—the legal minimum in most states—you must replace the tires because the danger of hydroplaning is greatly increased.”
You can check your tire’s tread depth by inserting a penny 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 that tires wear unevenly, so check every tire.
Commercial trucks hydroplane for the same reasons passenger vehicles do. However, truckers should be not only more experienced in how to handle these types of situations, but also how to avoid them in the first place.
Why do commercial trucks hydroplane?
Although we know why hydroplaning occurs in a scientific and mechanical sense, what you may not know is that many Huntsville truck accidents involving hydroplaning are entirely preventable. Risk management company Lytx discusses the techniques truck drivers should take when met with wet driving conditions:
- Slowing down. Truckers should know how to adjust their speed when driving in rainy conditions to avoid hydroplaning. Per Lytx, “There is no universally agreed definition, but most industry experts agree that hydroplaning is more likely when vehicles exceed 35 mph in wet conditions.”
- Avoiding large puddles. Both during and after a storm, commercial truck drivers should avoid standing water. Drivers should never assume they know the depth of a puddle, and any amount of water could cause hydroplaning in the right conditions. Lytx recommends, “avoid outer lanes and drive in the tracks left by vehicles in front of you.”
- Maintaining tires. As mentioned previously, all vehicles must have proper treads to grip the road in every weather condition. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMSCA) requires all commercial trucks to have a tread of at least 2/32 of an inch “when measured at any point on a major tread groove.” In some cases, front wheel tires must have tread depth of at least 4/32 of an inch.
- Refraining from cruise control in inclement weather. Cruise control and other semi-autonomous driving systems may not properly or reliably detect wet roadways. Truckers should retain full control of their vehicles in wet conditions.
- Staying alert. Part of being a responsible truck driver means not only staying awake and alert, but up to date on changing weather conditions. Both drivers and their supervisors (or fleet owners) should be aware of weather situations and plan routes accordingly, ensuring tires and vehicles are ready to make a trip.
If a commercial truck driver does find themselves in a hydroplane situation, they should also be trained on how to get themselves out. Lytx offers truckers and fleet owners the following advice:
- Above all, do not panic, as any panicked maneuvers could cause the truck to spin out of control
- Do not brake, and release the gas
- Turn into the skid, even though it feels incorrect
- Keep your steering corrections and motions small
- After you have regained control, ease into your braking
They also recommend the driver, after regaining full control of their truck, pull over in a safe area to collect themselves and ensure their cargo and vehicle are not damaged.
Note that these tips are applicable to any driver, not just commercial ones.
Who is liable if I’m injured by a hydroplaning truck?
Depending on the circumstances of your accident, a variety of parties may be liable for your injuries and losses. In the end, it typically depends on what caused the hydroplaning:
- If a trucker was speeding or driving too fast for weather conditions, they could be found responsible for the accident and your resulting injuries. Similarly, the trucking company may also be held accountable under the theory of vicarious liability.
- If the hydroplaning accident happened because of improperly maintained or repaired tires, negligent maintenance may be to blame. This may be the fault of the trucking company or a third party maintenance company hired by the fleet owners.
- If the accident occurred due to defective tires or treads that caused the truck to hydroplane, a tire manufacturer can also be held liable.
Your truck accident attorney works to determine all potential liable parties who played a part in causing your injuries. Often, commercial truck accidents result in severe and disabling injuries, and it is important you secure both compensation and justice for your losses. The personal injury lawyers at Martin & Helms can help. To discuss your case with an experienced attorney, call our Huntsville or Decatur offices or submit our contact form today. We also serve clients and families throughout North Alabama. We offer free case evaluations.