Leading Causes of Semi-truck Crashes and Tractor Trailer Wrecks

/ / Commercial Vehicle Accidents, Trucking Accidents
Wrecked Semi Truck in Snowy Ditch

One in every 10 vehicles involved in a fatal crash is a semi-truck or tractor trailer. This may not seem like a startling number until you consider the overall impact of large heavy trucks crashing into cars on American roads every year.

Guess who bears the brunt of these catastrophic collisions?

If you said, “the drivers and passengers of smaller cars”, you are absolutely correct. Over 70% of the people who are killed in such crashes are occupants of smaller vehicles. And it gets worse!

According to NHTSA forecast, that figure is expected to swell in the coming years, as it did in 2018 and 2019. Things are just as bad on Kansas roads, where semi-trucks were involved in 3500 plus wrecks in 2017. These led to over 90 deaths.

Compare this with the total number of on-road fatalities for the year, which stands at 461, and it is easy to understand just how dangerous a crash with a semi-truck can  be for all motorist and even for the pedestrians and bicyclists on the road.

Are truck drivers always at fault?

Actually, no they are not! According to several large studies conducted by the NHTSA as well as the FMCSA and other entities, truck drivers are responsible for less than 30% of such crashes. This means that nearly 70-80% of heavy vehicle crashes are attributed to the misjudgment or negligence of other motorists.

This, of course, begs the question, how can anybody possibly miss a mammoth 80,000 kg beast that’s at least 70 feet long?

Of course, motorists don’t deliberately ignore a rig, but at the same time, most of them end up misjudging the capabilities of the trucks and their drivers. This explains why nearly 30% fatal heavy vehicle crashes are head on collisions and another 30% are rear end crashes.

In both cases, motorists simply plow straight into the larger vehicle or veer into the path/lane of the truck. Factors that lead to such dangerous maneuvers and behavior include:

  • Changing lanes suddenly in front of a truck, without signaling.
  • Lingering in the truck’s blind spot.
  • Driving too fast or too slow around the large vehicle.
  • Trying to speed past the truck or in between two trucks.
  • Slowing down suddenly while in front of a truck.
  • Misjudging the stop distance and speed of the truck.
  • Turning left in front of the truck without signaling in advance.
  • Driving while distracted that leads to sudden lane changes.
  • Dangerously overtaking a truck/other vehicles and crossing the center line.
  • Trying to pass a large truck without success.
  • Tailgating.

But, what about the approximately 80,000 crashes that are attributed to truckers?

Contrary to perception, alcohol and narcotic substances are not the main causes of heavy vehicle collisions. In fact, a semi-truck crash, even when it does not involve more than two vehicles, is a complex incident. Scores of factors contribute to the catastrophe.

From driver distraction to mechanical faults and from inexperience to unfamiliarity with the road, can all create dangerous situations. According to the FMCSA, if the truck driver is responsible for the crash, one of these top 5 factors are likely to have played a role in the collision:

1. Trucker fatigue: Nearly 40% of all wrecks caused by truckers are attributed to fatigue despite the strict regulations pertaining to the maximum number of vehicle operation hours as well as the number of rest hours in between.

However, truckers are routinely found overshooting these regulatory requirements. Unfortunately, when the vehicle in question is a gigantic eighteen wheeler, delayed reaction time and perception errors caused by fatigue and sleep deprivation can lead to disastrous consequences.

2. Speeding to meet deadlines: Spending days on end away from home and driving from one state to another is stressful enough. To add to their woes, truckers also have deadlines to meet. It is not uncommon to find truck operators rushing from one city/state to another, often going well above the recommended and safe speed limit to get to their destination in time.

Moreover, some drivers are paid by the mile. This further adds incentive to driving as fast as possible. But any increase in speed of such a massive vehicle can take away significantly from the driver’s control over the truck and the reaction time required to avoid a collision. This explains why a third of all heavy vehicle wrecks caused by truckers involve speeding.

3. Mechanical problems: Only about 10% of all trucker-caused collisions can be traced to mechanical issues. Tire and brake problems are the main culprits when it comes to big rig wrecks. A sudden tire blowout can be very dangerous for any vehicle, let alone a semi-trailer. Ditto for brake malfunctions that can cause the trucker to lose control over the vehicle.

Also, improper cargo loading can destabilize the vehicle and impact the driver’s ability to operate and control the rig safely. Most of these issues crop up due to faulty or lax maintenance and loading practices of the trucking/logistics company that owns the vehicle.

4. Inclement weather and poor surface conditions: This factor is responsible for a mere 3% of all truck wrecks. Yet, in the last 5 years, almost 18,000 people were injured and over 950 lost their lives in truck wrecks in work zones.

Because sudden disruptions like closed or narrowed lanes, gravel on the road, flaggers and work vehicles make it harder for the trucker to operate the semi, nearly 30% of all work zone crashes involve trucks.  Unfortunately, when surface conditions are perilous and a heavy vehicle is only a few feet away from smaller cars, other motorists on the road face higher risks.

5. Inexperienced drivers: The NHTSA has issued a clear warning against inexperienced truckers driving heavy vehicles that exceed the gross weight rating of 10,000 lbs. Trucking companies seldom heed to this warning.

Truckers must undergo specific training and take several tests before they get their license. Several commercial transporters routinely flout the federal safety requirements and take on inexperienced and unqualified drivers to save a few bucks. Because operating a rig calls for very specific and refined driving skills, the lack of adequate experience and appropriate qualification can lead to bad outcomes for the trucker and other motorists.

What happens if you are hurt in a semi-truck collision?

Between 2009 and 2017, fatal truck wrecks have skyrocketed by over 50%. This means that no matter how careful you are when driving around a rig, you may still end up in a wreck. Unfortunately, even at its slowest speed, a heavy truck can crush a sedan/SUV, and cause serious and life threatening injuries to the occupants of smaller vehicles.

If you were injured in a truck collision, chances are that you have already received a call from the trucking company’s insurance provider.  If not, you will. Know this- All the insurance company wants to do is send you packing with the lowest compensation you will accept.

Also, when it comes to truck wreck related tort claims, several parties can be held accountable for your damages and injuries. For instance, you can seek restitution not only from the truck driver but also from the trucking company, third party maintenance providers, truck manufacturers and others. If you cannot or do not recognize the role played by other parties in the mishap, you may lose out on your chance to get fair compensation.

This is not a battle to be fought alone!

To say that truck wreck injury claims can get complicated and messy would be an understatement! So, if you don’t want these commercial giants to snowball you into accepting what could be an unfair settlement, you should contact an experienced law firm right away.

Remember, justice delayed is justice denied, and in this case, denied justice can leave you grappling with an avalanche of medical bills. At DeVaughn James Injury Lawyers, our attorneys have decades of experience and we know how to counter the extensive legal resources that the insurance providers and trucking companies will no doubt use against you.

Contact us today to get the legal help you need and deserve!