In the United States, over 35,000 deaths occur each year due to accidents on the road. Roughly eight percent of these involve large trucks or big rigs. Although the relative number of accidents involving trucks is smaller when compared to the total number of vehicle accidents, truck accidents cause more damage to property and people because of the size and weight of these vehicles.
Many truck accidents are preventable and generally involve high-risk behavior, making the situation even more tragic. Federal law regulates trucking companies and drivers to avoid risky behavior that contributes to the causes of accidents. Nevertheless, these types of vehicles continue to be involved in preventable crashes. Here’s a breakdown of why most truck accidents occur.
What studies say
A study was conducted by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) on large truck crashes, in order to examine the causes of truck accidents with a gross vehicle weight rating of over 10,000 pounds. For the purposes of the study, researchers obtained a representative sample from a total population of 120,000 accidents during a period of three years, with each accident involving an injury or death. The resulting set included 963 crashes between 1,123 trucks and 959 non-commercial vehicles, where 249 fatalities and 1,654 injuries occurred.
Here are some quick numbers: in 32 percent of cases, running out of the lane of travel was the cause of the crash. Loss of control caused by speeding, vehicle failure, road conditions, or cargo shift accounted for 29 percent. Finally, colliding with another vehicle’s rear within the same travel lane occurred 22 percent of the time. The results of the study suggested that drivers were the main critical reason for accidents, represented by 87 percent of the total accidents. Within that percentage, 12 percent was due to non-performance (drivers who fell asleep, had a heart attack or medical condition, or otherwise suffered physical impairment), 28 percent for recognition problems (defined as driver inattentiveness or distraction), 38 percent caused by decision-making (driving faster than the road conditions permitted), and 9 percent for performance. (overcompensating or failure to maintain control of the vehicle). The remaining accidents which weren’t caused by drivers were faulty vehicles at 10 percent while environmental factors accounted for just 3 percent.
Most of the crashes, however, included elements of driver fatigue or reckless driving, from either the trucker or the driver of the other vehicle.
Even though federal law limits the amount of time that a driver can operate a commercial vehicle, the number of deaths resulting from driver fatigue has not declined. This means that many drivers still may not understand the risks associated with poor driving practices.
Furthermore, the lack of comprehension is concerning given that other studies suggest that driving while fatigued is as dangerous as driving while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. While there are specific addiction treatment services in Louisiana and every single state in the country which address the issue of drugs or alcohol, truck driving jobs still require drivers to understand and respect the risks of driving while tired. It is virtually impossible for a third party to check every driver’s state of fatigue before returning to work. And because of that, truckers need to be trained on how to rest and how to determine if they are too tired to continue driving.
An additional concern is the time-sensitive nature of trucking and the stress placed on drivers to keep to a schedule. For example, when a truck break down and requires a bunch of repairs during transport, the trucker will feel pressure to make up for lost time. Other issues like road closures, environmental factors, and weather conditions can contribute to delays in getting a haul delivered on time.
Some technological solutions have helped address these issues — fleet operators are more commonly turning to truck repair shop software to help with the logistics of finding repair centers and tank washes, and they generally improve the overall operational efficiency of a trucking company. Fleet companies are encouraged to use new advances in technology as an aid to improve logistics while reducing the stress placed on their vehicle drivers.
Of course, the trucker is not always at fault in these accidents. In fact, research suggests that many accidents involving large trucks are caused by drivers of the other vehicle, where avoidable recklessness was the main contributor to the crash. Furthermore, most of the reckless driving involves speeding, where 27 percent of traffic fatalities implicated drivers who were traveling above the posted speed limit. However, regardless of the determining factor, reckless driving can be avoided so long as drivers are properly educated on safe driving practices. But for truckers who are on the road, either representing a company or as independent contractors making a living from providing commercial hauling services, there is no margin for error.
The momentum achieved from a truck’s weight and speed make it deadly. Therefore, it is of critical importance that the driver of the truck drives responsibly and defensively to prevent accidents. Even when the trucker is not at fault, the consequences of an accident are serious and can create a scenario where the fleet company and driver are held liable and tied to litigation that is time-consuming and expensive.
Many individuals and companies are involved in the process of transporting goods involving trucks. Therefore, these parties can play a role in the accident depending on the type of work or interaction relating to the cause of the accident. These parties include the individual driving the truck, secondary motorists driving another vehicle involved in the accident, the owner of the truck or trailer, the owner of the lease of the truck, the manufacturer of the truck or parts, and the cargo owner or loader.
Each of these parties could potentially play a role in contributing to the accident, and each may be liable depending on the cause of the accident. Currently, the law stipulates that trucking companies which own a permit for a truck involved in an accident can be held liable, thus eliminating a previous loophole where most drivers were independent of the organization. This old loophole created a distance between the company and the driver where the trucking business often avoided liability.
As the liability of accidents extends to the organizations that carry the trucking permit, insurance costs will inevitably rise. Fleet companies are encouraged to seek coverage, and some companies which offer commercial vehicle insurance in Mandeville, LA, for example, provide coverages to commercial truck companies that includes bodily injury, property damage, physical damage, medical payment insurance coverage, uninsured motorist insurance, trailer interchange insurance, non-trucking liability insurance, motor truck cargo insurance, and on-hook towing insurance, among other coverages. A quick Google search on truck driving accidents will pull thousands of results for attorneys looking to represent truck accident victims. Therefore, these policies are critical for all organizations with a fleet of trucks regardless if the drivers are employees or independent contractors.