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William B. Eadie | Oct 28, 2014

What's the Leading Cause of Truck Crashes?

Categories: Truck Accident

What do you think the leading causes of truck crashes, especially fatal crashes, are? We’ll look at that list in this post, but take a guess for the top few.

If you asked someone, “what are the main causes of car crashes?” most people would have good guesses: distracted driving, drinking, speeding. But what causes truck crashes? To the average driver, big rigs are scary, huge, and best avoided. But the world of their drivers, and the trucking companies that put them on the road, are more of a mystery.

Luckily there is a fairly comprehensive system regulating trucking companies, and research on the causes of truck crashes.

This is no small problem. Semi-truck crashes account for 4,500 deaths per year in the United States according to Science Daily. Although heavy trucks account for only 8% of traffic on US highways, they are involved in 11% of all fatal crashes. That’s astonishing, but not surprising if you’re a truck crash lawyer: these are huge trucks, heavy truck, hard to stop trucks. Like a train with a steering wheel, or a moving brick wall.

According to the U.S Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration, two-thirds of all truck crashes involved one other vehicle; however, 60 percent of all truck crashes resulting in a fatality involved 2 or more vehicles. Maybe that shouldn’t be surprising, either.

So what causes truck crashes?

The number one cause is “driver error,” which I think is inaccurate and frankly unfair to truck drivers.

If a driver is forced to falsify log books and miss required break and sleep time—or risk being fired by an unethical trucking company—is missing a stop sign due to sleepiness “driver error” or the result of dangerous business practices? Or have a heart attack because they’re so full of chemical stimulants, and would rather risk their health than other peoples’ lives by falling asleep?

Here are the top 10 “driver error” causes of crashes according to the Federal Highway Administration:

1. Failure to stop for a stop sign or signal 20%

2. Unsafe crossing, primarily crossing traffic with insufficient headway 20%

3. Driving while impaired by alcohol or other drug 19%

4. Driving left of center or into opposing traffic 17%

5. Unsafe speed 14%

6. Unsafe passing, primarily passing with insufficient headway 13%

7. Crossing a lane line near the side of a truck or trailer while passing 12 %

8. Unsafe turning, primarily turning with insufficient headway 10 %

9. Nearly striking an unattended or parked truck at roadside 9 %

10. Nearly striking the rear of a truck or trailer that is stopped or moving slowly in traffic 8%

If I’m investigating a truck crash case for an injured car driver (or their family, if it was a fatal crash), none of these would be the end of the “what caused this crash” analysis. This just tells me what the driver did the seconds before the crash.

But to really understand the cause of this type of crash, you have to know what happened in the minutes, hours, days, even months before the crash that led to that last bad decision. What I’ve learned is that it is often something at the truck company level—poor training, poor truck maintenance, coercing drivers to do dangerous things, putting profit over safety—that is the root cause. And if we don’t expose that, and punish it, that type of behavior does not change.

Ohio’s roads are getting safer: since 2003, Ohio fatalities have decreased 12%; serious injuries decreased 15%; all injuries decreased 25%; and all crashes decreased 27%. besides federal oversight for heavy commercial trucks and trucking companies, state agencies like the Ohio The Department of Transportation work with local, state and federal safety advocates to identify and improve unsafe roads, enforcing traffic laws, and promoting safe driving behavior through public education. Ohio was the first state in America to implement the software program SafetyAnalyst, which flags locations and road segments that have higher-than-predicted crash frequencies, as well as flags locations for review based on crash severity. 

While safety agencies and truck crash lawyers try to keep trucks, truck drivers, and trucking companies operating safely, you can take steps to avoid causing a crash by:

  • Avoiding driving in a truck’s blind spot
  • Avoiding cutting in front of a truck
  • Avoid following the truck too closely
  • Always pass on the left side of the truck

Have you experienced unsafe truck driving, or are you a trucker with thoughts on how to keep everyone safer on the roads? Have feedback or thoughts on this post? Please comment and share below, it’s fast and easy. And your feedback is important!