Winter weather has arrived in Washington, and that means snow, rain, and wet weather conditions. One of the dangers of this type of weather is hydroplaning, a phenomenon that happens when your vehicle’s tires lose grip with the road and skid out of control on a wet surface. This is scary when it happens with a passenger vehicle, but when it happens with a huge semi-truck, the results can be devastating.
What is hydroplaning?
Car and Driver explains how the tires of your car disperse water when you drive 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.
However, when those grooves are worn down, or can’t move that water away fast enough, your tires start to ride on the water instead of the road. Car and Driver describes it like the tires starting to waterski instead of driving on land.
They also describe the feeling of hydroplaning: “Have you ever driven through a large puddle that was much deeper than you anticipated, only to feel the steering wheel go light in your hands? That sudden loss of feedback is how you experience hydroplaning.”
That feeling of the steering wheel going “light” means a loss of control of the vehicle. This often leads to car accidents – single or multi-vehicle accidents. However, when a commercial truck hydroplanes, it can cause serious wrecks.
Just this past April here in Washington, two semi-trucks slid down an embankment in Woodland on Interstate 5 as a result of a hydroplane accident. A car hydroplaning in heavy rain spun out of control and collided with a semi-truck, which then caused the car to crash into several other vehicles. Meanwhile, the semi-truck crashed into another big rig, causing both trucks to leave the road and slide down an embankment. One truck caught fire and the other slid into the river.
No serious injuries were reported, but the “Washington State Department of Ecology says that the incident spilled diesel and left a ‘visible sheen’ on the Columbia River near the crash site, and a fire boat was used to contain the fuel leaking into the river.”
All of this from one vehicle hydroplaning!
Why semi-trucks hydroplane
We know why hydroplaning happens in a mechanical sense, but it can often be avoided with skillful driving. Truck drivers can take steps to avoid these types of accidents.
- Adjusting speed. Slowing down during rainy and wet conditions can help avoid hydroplaning. Risk management company Lytx states, “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 cruise control in bad weather. A truck’s cruise control system may not reliably detect wet road conditions, and will not slow down appropriately.
- Maintaining tires. A truck’s tires must have correct pressure and treads in order to grip the road correctly in all weather conditions. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMSCA) mandates commercial trucks must have a tread of at least 2/32 of an inch “when measured at any point on a major tread groove.”
- Steering clear of puddles. During or after a storm, truckers should avoid standing water. In addition to not knowing how deep that puddle might be, it could cause hydroplaning. Lytx advises truckers “avoid outer lanes and drive in the tracks left by vehicles in front of you.”
- Staying alert. Truck drivers should be aware of changing weather conditions and stay alert for wet patches in the road. Fleet owners and the drivers themselves should check the weather on their routes in advance and ensure their rigs and tires are ready for the trip.
In the event a truck does hydroplane, the driver should be trained in what to do in order to avoid or minimize a truck accident.
When a commercial truck hydroplanes
Lytx offers truckers advice to prepare themselves in the event of hydroplaning. They first advise truck drivers not to panic, which can often lead to the vehicle spinning out of control. Then:
- Don’t brake
- Release the gas
- Turn into the skid
- Keep your steering corrections small
- Ease into braking after you’ve regained control
- Pull over if you need to
These tips are applicable to any driver, by the way. As Car and Driver notes, “As your speed decreases, your tires will quickly regain contact with the road.”
Who is liable for a Kennewick hydroplaning accident?
If you’re involved and injured in a truck accident caused by hydroplaning, several potential parties could be liable. What caused the hydroplaning may determine who (or what) was at fault. For example:
- If the truck driver was driving too fast or carelessly for weather conditions, they may be found liable for your accident and injuries. In the same vein, the trucking company that employs the driver can be found liable as well.
- If the tires on the truck were in disrepair due to negligent maintenance, which caused the rig to hydroplane, the trucking company’s mechanics may be found liable.
- If the tires on the semi-truck were defective, which caused the truck to hydroplane, the tire manufacturer could be found liable.
Our truck accident attorneys determine all negligent and liable parties and work to secure compensation for your injuries and losses. We understand that commercial truck collisions are typically serious accidents with serious injuries, and we want to make things right.
At Telaré Law, we’re here to help. When you’re hurt in an accident caused by another person’s negligence, you deserve compensation for everything you’ve lost. Call us today in Kennewick or Richland or use our contact page to reach out to a member of our team. We also proudly serve the people of Pasco, Walla Walla, and the Tri-Cities.