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I-81 is notorious for its fatal truck crashes. Its death rate is 70% higher than any other Virginia interstate. Now, Virginia lawmakers are interested in adding ultra-heavy, “monster trucks” to the mix on I-81. Learn more about their plans and how it might impact your safety. 

What Are “Monster” Trucks? 

We’re not talking about the monster trucks that shoot fire and crush buses at fairgrounds and arenas. Instead, Virginia lawmakers are considering allowing longer, heavier trucks on our interstates. The proposed law would create a work group that analyzes the impact of six-axle, 91,000-pound trucks on Virginia roads. Currently, the majority of Virginia’s trucks have an 80,000-pound weight limit. 

Big corporations and industry groups argue that increased truck weights are good for the Commonwealth. For example, Anheuser Busch estimates that it will make an additional $2.32 million in profits if it operates monster trucks.  

Lawmakers also argue that the bill would let Virginia participate in federal pilot programs involving monster trucks. However, these programs do not exist at the present time. While the federal government has considered pilot programs in the past, lawmakers have consistently rejected them. It’s unclear how the proposed work group would study a non-existent pilot program. 

In early March 2018, the bill passed both the Virginia House and Senate. It is currently sitting on the governor’s desk. 

Why Is I-81 So Dangerous for Drivers? 

I-81 runs between four states: Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Maryland, and Virginia. It’s famous for its multi-car pileups and horrific crashes. On average, there are 2,000 crashes on Virginia’s section of I-81 each year. 

I-81 is a challenging road to drive. Its elevation varies dramatically from 2,284 feet to 705 feet as the interstate winds through mountains and river valleys. Because it is mostly a rural road, many truck drivers use it to bypass congested urban areas (such as Washington, DC). However, drivers that are unfamiliar with I-81 can easily make catastrophic errors. For example, a truck driver might miscalculate braking distances or descent speeds. Or a poorly maintained truck might experience a brake or tire failure due to I-81’s extreme conditions.   

While many I-81 accidents are caused by driver error and negligence, there are several factors that make it uniquely dangerous. 

Traffic Volume

In Virginia alone, 11.7 million trucks travel I-81 each year. They share the interstate with millions of passenger cars filled with commuters, tourists, and college students, leading to an increased risk of pileups. 

Rough Terrain

Almost 15% of the interstate has a grade of more than 3% (considered mountainous). At this grade, normal trucks need much longer stopping distances. Trucks also slow down significantly when traveling up I-81’s inclines, causing congestion. On the descent, they speed up dramatically and sometimes barrel into other vehicles. 

Weather

Combine slick roads due to rain, ice, or snow with I-81’s dramatic elevation changes, and you have a recipe for disaster. 

Now, imagine adding ultra-heavy trucks to this complicated interstate. 

How Could Monster Trucks Impact Safety on I-81?

While there isn’t a lot of data on the safety of ultra-heavy trucks, we have a lot of reasons to be concerned about their presence on I-81. Limited testing of 91,000-pound trucks in Washington reported a 47% increase in truck crashes. Other studies suggest that these oversized trucks also increase the number of fatal crashes. 

For example, in the 1990s, researchers studied ultra-heavy coal trucks in Kentucky and West Virginia. The states exempted coal trucks from their weight limits in an attempt to help the struggling industry. The coal trucks frequently operated at weights above 90,000 pounds, but they did not upgrade the truck’s brakes and other safety equipment. The study reported that while there wasn’t a dramatic increase in overall crashes on coal haul roads, fatal accidents increased. 

For many safety experts, it’s a matter of physics. Heavier trucks operating at high speeds will need more time to stop. And the added weight will cause more force during a collision, increasing the risk of death and catastrophic injuries. 

What Should I Do if I’m Injured in a Truck Wreck on I-81?

Getting medical care should be your top priority. Truck crash victims often suffer catastrophic injuries that require immediate hospitalization. Other injuries may develop over time. At Phelan Petty, we know that seemingly minor aches and pains are sometimes early evidence of serious conditions that require surgery, rehab, and extended time off work.  

It’s always in your best interest to see a doctor after a truck crash. It will help you understand the severity of your injuries and document their connection to the accident.  

It’s also important to act quickly to protect your legal rights as a victim after a truck crash. Most trucking companies have rapid response teams of investigators, claims adjusters, and lawyers. Their goal is to minimize the company’s liability and weaken your claim. Sometimes, evidence (such as poorly maintained brakes or tires) disappears in the aftermath. 

To counteract the trucking company’s team, you should contact a Virginia truck accident lawyer as quickly as possible. A lawyer may be able to help you protect valuable evidence and negotiate fair compensation for your injuries.

Phelan Petty: Fighting for Truck Wreck Victims Throughout Virginia 

Phelan Petty specializes in catastrophic injury claims, including those involving negligent car and truck drivers. We are a team of knowledgeable and aggressive lawyers with a single goal: helping victims recover fair compensation and rebuild their lives. If you have been injured or even lost a loved one in a serious truck accident, contact us to schedule a free consultation 

References 

American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials. (2009, December). A synthesis of safety implications of oversize/overweight commercial vehicles. Retrieved from https://books.google.com/books?id=bALyVCjL_7EC&printsec=frontcover#v=onepage&q&f=false  

HB 1276 VDOT; review of enrollment in federal pilot program or project. (n.d.). Virginia’s Legislation Information System. Retrieved March 9, 2018, from https://lis.virginia.gov/cgi-bin/legp604.exe?181+sum+HB1276  

Forman, C. (2018, February 9). Bill to study heavier trucks on Virginia roads gets rolling. The Roanoke Times. Retrieved from https://www.roanoke.com/news/politics/general_assembly/bill-to-study-heavier-trucks-on-virginia-roads-gets-rolling/article_c2fbe62f-2ef8-5649-a2f4-5246909f85b4.html  

Sturgeon, J. (2010, May 29). I-81: How real is the fear? The Roanoke Times. Retrieved from https://www.roanoke.com/webmin/projects/i–how-real-is-the-fear/article_9012aa78-96c4-5737-b2e6-4a3d745171a2.html  

The content provided here is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject.

About Michael Phelan

Michael Phelan has been consistently recognized for his excellence as a trial lawyer, his commitment to research, his outstanding communication skills, and his sincerity and dedication. As one of his valued clients said, “Mike puts his heart into it."