The cabs of most heavy trucks are manufactured without any type of rollover protective system (ROPS) or protective cage. Heavy truck cab structures are often made of flimsy fiberglass, with little or no metal to provide added reinforcement to the roof structure. Experts in the field – including many within the heavy truck industry – believe that such flimsy structures are, at their best, only capable of keeping dust and rain off of the drivers. The roof structures of these heavy truck cabs provide no protection beyond such innocuous elements. When these trucks are involved in rollover events, the roof simply snaps at the joints and collapses.

The Solution

Although designs of rollover protective systems, or ROPS, have been around for decades, and although many European heavy truck manufacturers designed and implemented a ROPS structure in their trucks to satisfy more rigorous and safety-oriented European standards, manufacturers in the United States have elected not to attempt to transfer this knowledge and technology to over-the-road tractors sold and operated in this country. The result of such a decision is that heavy trucks in this country needlessly endanger the driver and occupants of the cab compartment when these tractors rollover. Many heavy truck manufacturers offer a host of excuses as to why it does not believe that a ROPS structure, or a protective cage, should be or could be incorporated into American tractors. However, the bottom line is that these manufacturers choose not to equip heavy trucks with a ROPS or a protective cage. While they undoubtedly claim that the varying nature of rollover incidents and the uniqueness of each rollover incident negates any added benefit or strength achieved by any ROPS structure or roll cage, these can hardly be adequate excuses when a human life is at risk from a collapsed roof. This inapposite logic exemplifies the engineering deficiencies plaguing the heavy truck industry in this country.

The Ignorance

More than 25 years ago, engineers in the heavy truck industry were demanding additional testing of cab structures to determine crash resistance of the heavy truck cab. The significance of these requests by engineers and designers is that they recognized that there were problems with the structural integrity of the heavy truck cabs and that these inadequacies were needlessly endangering the driver and occupants. Although heavy trucks have been involved in rollover events for decades, the heavy truck industry refused to recognize this danger. Oddly, although heavy truck manufacturers wouldn’t argue with the fact that more than 600 truck occupants are fatally injured annually by rollover events, they do little to nothing to reinforce the roofs of their heavy truck cabs.

In fact, data was published in 1996 by the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute (UMTRI) that revealed that 60% of all truck driver fatalities involved cab crush during a rollover event. UMTRI data further demonstrated that 35% of the drivers killed in rollovers had their cabs crushed to the level of the instrument panel. Even the National Transportation Safety Board has investigated thousands of heavy truck rollover events throughout the United States and has reported that the “inadequate cab structure” of heavy trucks has caused the injuries and deaths of hundreds of truck drivers. All of this knowledge was and is equally known to the heavy truck industry.

According to materials from the Truck Manufacturer’s Association, several heavy truck manufacturers have even sponsored educational videos on the subject of rollover dangers. These important videos explain how easily a rollover can occur, and they also demonstrate that a rollover can occur without the operator even knowing that the wheels of the trailer have left the ground. More important, they demonstrate the knowledge of the heavy truck industry that rollover events are occurring and that heavy truck occupants are in danger. These videos reveal that manufacturers are aware that heavy trucks (tractors) have a basic stability level that is one–third that of a passenger car.

In other words, just one-third of the amount of cornering that a car can accept could rollover a heavy loaded truck. If this information is known to the heavy truck industry, then why isn’t anything being done to correct the problem? Why are occupants still needlessly being placed in danger?

The Result

Given this indifference to cab integrity, it should also not be surprising that heavy truck manufacturers have been named in several lawsuits brought by injured drivers or, worse yet, the surviving family members who lost a loved one in a rollover event. The plaintiffs in these cases are alleging that the cab structure of a particular heavy truck is inadequate and fails to protect the driver in a rollover event. Plaintiffs in these cases are also gathering several other similar incidents to demonstrate to a judge and jury that the events are not isolated incidents. To make matters worse, some heavy truck manufacturers have been caught by courts hiding similar incidents from plaintiffs.

In the case of Jordan v. PACCAR, Inc., which was filed in the Northern District of Ohio in the mid- 1990s, the Sixth Circuit was asked to overturn a defense verdict on the basis that PACCAR concealed information concerning other similar incidents. As is explained in the Sixth Circuit’s opinion, it is very difficult to determine the precise number of rollover / roof crush lawsuits, much less notifications of such claims, because PACCAR (a heavy truck manufacturer that makes Peterbilt and Kenworth trucks) has a corporate policy which demands the destruction of such accident records after only five (5) years.

Remarkably, and as a direct result of these lawsuits, design engineers have developed proposed ROPS structures for specific heavy trucks. Irrespective of these advancements, heavy truck manufacturers continue to ignore these design concepts and do nothing to either test or implement these proposed ROPS, protective cages, or roof reinforcements in any of the heavy truck cabs subsequently designed and manufactured by them. This ignorance is needlessly endangering the public.

In spite of all of this knowledge concerning rollover events and risks to occupants, heavy truck manufacturers remain slow to both test their heavy truck cabs in rollover tests and to design reinforcements for their heavy trucks. The loser in this decision-making process is the driver or occupant of a heavy truck cab that is permanently injured or killed from a roof caving in and around them following a rollover event.

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We are committed to helping families and individuals who have been injured or have lost someone as a result of a heavy truck rollover in which the roof failed to protect the occupants.

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