Truck Accidents

How Long Are Tractor Trailers? 10 Facts about 18-Wheelers

Posted by Trent Kelly on February 17, 2023
How Long Are Tractor Trailers? 10 Facts about 18-Wheelers

18-wheelers, or tractor-trailers, can be an intimidating presence on the road. Due to their sheer size, an accident with an 18-wheeler can be fatal.

In 2020, Texas experienced 413 fatal crashes involving tractor-trailer trucks. The majority of these fatal crashes took place in rural areas.

If you have been the victim of or lost a loved one due to a tractor-trailer collision, you need an Austin truck accident lawyer. Below are 10 facts about 18-wheelers that are important to know.

1. How Long Are Tractor Trailers?

The average length of a tractor-trailer (the semi-truck and trailer combined) is about 72 feet long.

The Federal Highway Administration has compiled the size regulations for all commercial motor vehicles. In 1982, Congress established that a tractor-trailer must have a semi-trailer that is at least 48 feet long.

In Texas, a semi-trailer is allowed to be 59 feet in length, with each trailer of a twin-trailer combination having a limit of 28.5 feet. 28.5 feet is the measurement of two cargo-carrying units combined.

2. How Wide is a Tractor Trailer?

The federal government has passed different laws specifying the maximum widths for tractor-trailer trucks.

In 1956, the Federal Aid Highway Act stipulated that a commercial motor vehicle on interstate highways could be 96 inches wide.

In 1982, the Surface Transportation Assistance Act (STAA) increased the allowed width for commercial trucks to 102 inches. The STAA extended these commercial truck provisions from interstate highways to the national network of highways.

3. What is the Height of a Tractor Trailer?

While there is no federal regulation on the maximum height of a tractor-trailer, in Texas, the maximum height for all vehicles is 14 feet.

This height limit is put into place to allow commercial trucks to fit under bridges and other overpasses. If a road contains a low overpass, there will be signs indicating the maximum height allowed for all vehicles. Trucks that exceed the height restriction need to find an alternate route.

4. How Much Does a Tractor Trailer Weigh?

Tractor-trailer trucks are comprised of a tractor (where the driver sits) and a trailer (where cargo is held). Tractor trailers are weighed based on whether or not they are carrying cargo.

According to J.D. Power, a semi-truck with an empty trailer has an unladen weight of about 35,000 pounds. On the other hand, a truck that has a fully loaded trailer can have a laden weight of up to 80,000 pounds.

Tractor trailers are between 20 to 30 times heavier than passenger vehicles. In Texas, the maximum laden weight of a tractor-trailer is 80,000 pounds.

5. How Many Axles Does an 18-Wheeler Have?

An 18-wheeler normally has five axles. Four of the axles connect to the trailer, and one axle is connected to the tractor. The four axles that connect to the trailer each have four wheels on each axle. The axle that connects to the tractor, the steering axle, has two wheels.

According to Texas Transportation Code §621.101, a maximum weight of 20,000 pounds is permitted for a single axle and 34,000 pounds for a tandem axle.

If the steering axle (located on the tractor) is bearing 12,000 pounds, and both sets of drive axles and tandem axles (located on the trailer) are each bearing 34,000 pounds, then the truck is carrying its maximum limit of 80,000 pounds, while still abiding by Texas law.

6. How Many Gears Does a Tractor Trailer Have?

A semi-truck normally has 12 gears: ten forward gears and two reverse gears.

Semi-trucks can contain anywhere between nine to 18 gears.

7. Who Can Drive 18-Wheelers?

In order to drive a tractor-trailer in Texas, you must possess a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL). You must be at least 21 years old if you plan to participate in interstate commerce.

Once you obtain your CDL, you will be allowed to drive large commercial vehicles and buses in both Texas and the United States.

8. Are There Protocols that Commercial Truck Drivers Must Follow?

Anyone driving commercial vehicles has certain regulations they must follow. Tractor-trailer operators are no exception. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) outlines specific protocols that truck drivers must abide by. These protocols are known as the hours-of-operation (HOS) regulations.

The HOS regulations dictate how many hours a truck driver can be on the road, depending on whether they are carrying cargo or passengers. All commercial truck drivers are required to maintain a logbook, which tracks the drivers driving time and breaks. Drivers must record the time they began their “driving window” in the logbook.

By tracking their hours, drivers are documenting when they are “off-duty,” “on-duty,” but not driving, when they are driving, and when they are sleeping (known as the “sleeper berth” in the log book). “On-duty” time would include any secondary tasks that the driver has, which would count against their time to rest.

For truck drivers carrying property, they must adhere to the 11-hour rule, which means that they are only allowed to drive a maximum of 11 hours after being off-duty for ten consecutive hours. Additionally, drivers must adhere to the 14-hour rule, which prohibits them from driving more than 14 consecutive hours after coming on duty. Drivers are permitted to extend their driving time by up to two hours in the event of inclement weather.

These federal regulations are put in place to prevent fatigued drivers from being behind the wheel. Despite federal efforts, drivers are still forced to deliver goods on a demanding schedule and may speed to their locations to get there on time.

9. Does an 18-Wheeler Have an Increased Risk of Crashing?

Tractor trailers are at an increased risk of crashes due to their size and weight. Unlike passenger cars, an 18-wheeler has two parts that can become disjointed from each other, resulting in catastrophe.

The most common types of 18-wheeler crashes are:

  • Jackknifing: truck loses control during a skid, and the trailer swings out, pushing the cab to one side, causing the truck to form a “V.”
  • Rollovers: if a truck loses control, it is more likely to roll onto its side
  • Rear-end collisions: due to a truck’s heaviness, a truck driver needs more time to brake. If any vehicle suddenly stops in front of a truck, the truck may not be able to stop in time, hitting the vehicle from behind.

10. How Can an Austin Truck Accident Lawyer Help?

If you have been in a truck accident, you need experienced legal representation. An Austin truck accident lawyer will know what evidence to gather in order to prove the truck driver’s liability.

If your case goes to trial, a truck accident lawyer will know how to present your case to a jury and win you the legal relief you deserve.

Contact an Austin Truck Accident Lawyer

Being in an accident with an 18-wheeler can be terrifying. Even though there are certain regulations for commercial trucks and truck drivers, accidents still take place. If you need legal representation for your truck accident injuries, you need the attorneys at TK Injury Lawyers. Contact us today to schedule your free consultation.

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