Vehicle Accident

Most Common Causes of Semi-Truck Accidents

Semi Truck Accident

A car accident of any kind is a traumatic experience. But truck accidents have a far greater likelihood of being serious or fatal since passenger vehicles simply can’t match the size and weight of a commercial semi-truck. 

If you have been involved in a truck accident, you may be able to get compensation to help your family get back on its feet. The key is understanding the causes of a truck accident and what happened in your unique case. 

With that in mind, we’re looking back at a seminal truck accident study to understand the key causes of accidents, what they mean for your case, and the next steps you and your family can take. 

Critical Events, Critical Reasons, and Associated Factors

In a study by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) analyzing data from 963 study cases involving 141,000 trucks FMCSA coded crash variables in three categories: critical events, critical reasons, and associated factors. 

Critical events are events or actions that put the vehicle on a course which made collision unavoidable. The categorization is assigned to the vehicle that took the action. 

Critical reasons are immediate reasons leading up to the critical event which caused it to occur and are also coded with the vehicle responsible for the failure. This was coded as driver error, vehicle failure, or environmental conditions (i.e. weather or the road). 

Associated factors are the people, vehicles, and environmental conditions involved at the time of the accident. This only judged whether the factor was present, not its involvement in causing the crash. 

Critical Events

The study found that three major critical events were assigned to trucks: 

  • Running out of the travel lane (32% of sampled cases)
  • Vehicle loss of control (29% of sampled cases)
  • Colliding with the rear end of another vehicle in the truck’s travel lane (22%)

Keep in mind that the study assigned critical events based on what was primarily responsible for the collision. It is possible that a truck could be out of control and ran out of the travel lane, but it would only be coded based on the most relevant critical event. 

Critical Reasons

Critical reasons were a bit more complex. The study found that the type of critical reason coded to an accident typically depended on the type of crash. Of the trucks involved in all crashes (single-vehicle and multi-vehicle) 55% of trucks were coded with critical reasons. Of the trucks involved in two-vehicle crashes involving a truck and a passenger vehicle, 44% were assigned the critical reason. 

However, the critical reason across the board was overwhelming: in 87% of all trucks evaluated in the study, the critical reason had to do with the driver. 38% of those driver-related critical reasons were specifically due to the driver’s decision, while another 28% had to do with driver recognition. 

Associated Factors

The study coded hundreds of associated factors for large truck crashes. The top 10 were: 

  • Brake problems
  • Traffic flow interruption
  • Prescription drug abuse
  • Traveling too fast for conditions
  • Unfamiliarity with the roadway
  • Roadway problems
  • Required to stop before the crash (for example, due to a crosswalk)
  • Over-the-counter drug use
  • Inadequate surveillance
  • Fatigue

You’ll notice that many of these factors have little to do with the vehicle, but rather with the driver. 

Avoid the Four Most Common Causes

Here are the four most common causes of truck accidents and what you can do to drive safe, no matter how long the route.

Driver Error

Unfortunately, truck drivers have more responsibility on the road than other drivers, thanks to their vehicles. 

This responsibility has a lot to do with awareness of the road. About 71% of truck accidents are actually caused by car drivers, not truck drivers.

So, not only are you responsible for your truck, you’re responsible for watching the cars around you. Remember, you know the dimensions of your truck and how it operates—other drivers don’t.

What You Can Do About Other Drivers

The single best thing you can do on the road is driven defensively.

In other words, you should drive under the assumption that other drivers are going to do unsafe things and prepare accordingly. If you drive with caution, under the assumption that other drivers will be reckless, you’ll be aware and ready to handle it if someone is actually reckless.

This includes things like being patient with slow drivers, using your turn signals, always driving the speed limit, and keeping a safe distance from other vehicles.

Remember, physics isn’t on your side. Your truck is much more difficult to stop and turn than a car. Excess caution can make the difference between a safe drive and an accident.

Blind Spots

Another major culprit in trucking accidents? Blind spots, a.k.a. no man’s land.

Large trucks have significantly larger blind spots than a car or SUV. The problem is that most car drivers don’t know that.

There are three major blind spots on most 18-wheelers:

  1. Directly in front of the truck, due to the height of the cab and vantage point of the driver
  2. On either side of the cab, which can encompass several lanes of traffic
  3. Directly behind the truck, due to the length and height of the vehicle

Add in the fact that your truck is a large, heavy object moving at high speeds (i.e. it can’t slow down and stop quickly) and you have a recipe for disaster.

What You Can Do About Blind Spots

When you’re on the road, you should always be conscious of your blind spots and try to be aware of cars in the traffic lanes around you. Don’t tailgate cars, and try to keep a healthy distance between your truck and other cars, especially when you’re trying to change lanes.

Size and Weight

There’s no way to get around the sheer size and weight of a truck and the risk it poses to other vehicles.

Commercial motor vehicles can:

  • Weigh up to 40 tons. (That’s 80,000 pounds of vehicle weight.) 
  • Maximum width is 102.36 inches
  • Height of 13 to 14 feet and a minimum length of 48 feet. (Car and boat transports are even longer.)

The average passenger car doesn’t stand a chance in comparison.

Potential property damage that 80,000 pounds can cause at high speeds (not even accounting for the damage the cargo could cause), and you have a recipe for a giant, dangerous mess.

What You Can Do to Manage Size and Weight

Once again, as a truck driver, defensive driving is the best thing you can do to stay safe.

You can’t eliminate the potential dangers that come with driving a vehicle of this size. What you can do is take every precaution to avoid disasters on the road.

For example, turning to merge onto a highway. The posted speed limit is intended for the average passenger car, not a semi. If you go the posted speed limit on a turn, the weight and length of your truck create a real danger of a rollover.

Instead, drive below the speed limit and get up to speed once you merge.

When driving, you should also make sure to slow down early—much earlier than you would in a car. A car is lighter and more compact than a semi, which makes it easier to reduce speed. A truck doesn’t have that advantage.

Cargo Errors

Most of the risks we’ve discussed thus far have to do with the truck itself. But the cargo you carry can be just as dangerous.

There are a variety of industry rules that truck drivers and cargo teams have to follow when loading a commercial truck. There are weight, height, size, and length limits to a load, in addition to rules about how the cargo is secured.

Negligence at any stage of this process could cause cargo to fall off on the road, creating a catastrophe for anyone driving nearby.

What You Can Do About Cargo Errors

There are many different technologies available allowing trucking companies to avoid accidents before they occur, such as telematics, sensors, and real-time monitoring of driving conditions and driver behavior.

However, the single best thing you can do to stop cargo-related accidents is to follow industry rules. Keep an eye out for negligence and always double-check to make sure that cargo is loaded safely. If something is wrong, don’t get on the road until the cargo is reloaded correctly.

Understanding Causes of a Truck Accident

What does all of this mean for the causes of your truck accident? 

In short, it means that truck accidents are complex events. Several factors come into play that makes an accident possible, and several more factors are involved in the accident’s relative severity. Unfortunately, trucking companies and insurance companies are used to dealing with these cases, and they often put pressure on people like you who are lost and overwhelmed. 

That’s why if you’re involved in a truck accident, whatever the causes may be, it’s vital to call an attorney as soon as possible. They can help ensure that you understand the details of your case so that you can make decisions to guarantee your best possible outcome. 

We Fight for You After a Truck Accident

The nature of truck accidents means they often result in permanent or fatal injury, regardless of the exact causes of a truck accident. Worse, truck companies and insurance companies know how to bulldoze ordinary families like you who are just trying to get back on their feet. 

The experienced truck accident attorneys at Giroux Pappas Trial Attorneys know you shouldn’t have to pay for someone else’s negligence. You deserve to have your voice heard, and you deserve the tools you need to recover after a serious accident. We’ve won millions for families like yours for the last 25 years, and we’ve done it by practicing the law with diligence, attention to detail, and compassion for our clients. 

If you need to speak with an attorney about your options, schedule your free consultation today

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Bob Giroux

Bob Giroux's Bio

Bob has been a litigation attorney for over 24 years. He is a Super Lawyer and has received, from Martindale, Hubbell, an AV Preeminent rating, the highest rating obtainable in both proficiency and ethics. Bob Giroux is a true litigator and trial attorney that has worked both sides of the courtroom and has personally been involved in over 100 trials.