What Is Off-Tracking?

What is off-tracking?

We drive next to large trucks, such as 18-wheelers, every day without thinking about how dangerous these vehicles really can be. While most truck drivers are safe and drive defensively, large truck accidents occur frequently and cause serious damage to other vehicles. These accidents are largely avoidable but are often catastrophic.

A common type of truck accident caused by something called off-tracking.

Not sure what is off-tracking? According to the U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), off-tracking or “cheating” occurs when a vehicle turns and the rear wheels don’t follow the same path as the front wheels. This often happens when large trucks make turns. This can cause severe accidents.

Let’s discuss some of the causes of off-tracking as well as some safety tips to help avoid these often deadly collisions.

Types of Off-Tracking

There are two types of off-tracking recognized by the FHWA:

Low-speed Off-Tracking

This occurs when a combination vehicle makes a low-speed turn, such as a 90-degree turn at an intersection, and the wheels on the back of the trailer follow a path several feet inside the path of the front wheels.

Low-speed off-tracking is common among LCVs, which is why truck drivers often swing wide into lanes of traffic on the left in order to make a right-hand turn.

Experienced truck drivers understand that off-tracking occurs and know that they must make these wide turns to prevent the tires of the trailer from hitting nearby curbs or other vehicles.

High-speed Off-Tracking

This occurs when a large truck makes a turn at a high rate of speed, such as on a highway, which causes the rear wheels of the trailer to swing outward. Depending on the weight of the trailer load, the speed of the truck, and the radius of the turn, this type of off-tracking can cause the trailer to hit vehicles in adjacent lanes, even if the front wheels of the tractor are within the correct lane.

Contributing Factors in Semi-Truck Off-Tracking

When off-tracking happens, a truck driver may attempt to correct it and overcompensate in the process by pulling too much on the steering wheel in the opposite direction. Sometimes this can correct the issue, however, at higher speeds on highways, it’s often hard to control such a maneuver and it may result in a truck rollover situation or a serious jackknife accident.

Some reasons an off-tracking accident may occur are:

  • An inexperienced truck driver
  • A truck driver under the influence of alcohol or drugs
  • Driving too fast for the posted speed limit or road conditions
  • Driving with overloaded or improperly loaded cargo
  • Failing to follow traffic signs or signals
  • A distracted truck driver
  • Improper braking technique
  • Maneuvering through an incline
  • Fatigued truck driver

These are only a few contributing factors in off-tracking incidents, and drivers of smaller vehicles must pay close attention to large trucks on the road around them. If you’re involved in an accident with a large truck due to off-tracking, our legal team at the Trucking Injury Law Group can help.

Dangers of Off-Tracking

Now that we’ve discussed the types of off-tracking and how they happen, it’s important to understand the dangers that these occurrences can pose to other vehicles or even pedestrians nearby.

Data from the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration (NHTSA) shows that most large truck accidents in 2021 had a front or rear impact point. However, of the accidents that did have side impact points on the large truck, most also had front impact points on the smaller passenger vehicles they collided with.

Also, in most accidents that occurred when a large truck was turning either left or right, the passenger vehicle involved in the collision was most likely to be going straight.

While there isn’t specific data for off-tracking incidents, accidents due to off-tracking could likely contribute to some of the previously mentioned NHTSA crash information. And when off-tracking does occur, especially on city streets, it can lead to severe injuries and fatalities.

For example, if a pedestrian is on the sidewalk and a semi-truck’s rear wheels run over the curb while it makes a turn, that pedestrian could easily be struck and killed. Similarly, off-tracking could severely injure any bicyclists, motorcyclists, or other vehicles that may be within the path of those rear wheels.

Tips to Minimize Off-Tracking Collisions

As we’ve discussed, large trucks often make wide turns or overcompensate their steering, resulting in off-tracking. Here are a few tips that drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians can follow to help minimize the chances of off-tracking collisions:

  • Avoid driving in a truck’s blind spots for longer than necessary
  • Pay close attention to the actions of the large trucks around you on the road
  • If you see a truck with its turn signal on or beginning to make a turn, be sure to give it enough space to turn and don’t try to squeeze in on either side of the truck
  • If you’re in a bike lane or on a sidewalk and you see a truck turning near you, be sure to put as much space as you can between you and the truck until it completes its turn

Sometimes, despite our very best efforts, collisions still occur, and if you’re in an accident involving a truck, remember that the Trucking Injury Law Group has the expertise to assist, no matter the cause or type of crash.