The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety reported that 3,986 lives were lost in 2016 stemming from commercial truck accidents. Roughly 66% were passenger vehicle occupants, 17% were occupants of trucks, and approximately 16% were on motorcycles, bicycles, or walking. One reason that these accidents are particularly dangerous is that commercial trucks or tractor-trailers can often weigh between 10,000 and 26,000 pounds. The majority of causes that lead to collisions between these trucks and passenger cars are classified as errors in driver recognition or decision. It is interesting to note that the actions of the party in the passenger vehicle are more often the cause.
Top Three Causes of Truck & Car Collisions
- Passenger car driver error (61-77%) Actions or inactions by drivers of passenger vehicles are more likely to cause collisions with commercial trucks. We will cite the most common examples of these acts later. The reason for the wide variance in the reported frequency is simply reflective of the results from various comprehensive studies.
- Truck driver error (16-39%) Accidents are coded using different terms depending on the entity or agency that is investigating and reporting the crash data.
- Both drivers made an error (10%) Problems such as driving too fast for the conditions and fatigue are common among drivers of both trucks and cars. A report by GTG Technology Group, a developer of transportation solutions, presented their causal data from a slightly different angle. They are not disputing that passenger car driver errors are more likely to cause truck/car crashes; however, truck drivers often exhibit poor defensive driving techniques or poor reactionary skills. Some examples include failures to maintain a proper distance or exercising patience. For test reporting purposes, this process is often referred to as “fault distribution.”
Leading Passenger Car Driver Errors
- Drug or alcohol use
- Distracted driving (inattentiveness)
- Poor eyesight or poor night vision
- Overcompensating when steering the vehicle
- Aggressive driving
Leading Truck Driver Errors
- Following a vehicle too closely or assured clearing distance
- 32% stem from running out of the lane of travel
- 29% involve a loss of vehicle control
- Work-related pressures
- Inadequate braking ability of the truck
- Failing to adhere to manufacturer recommended service and maintenance schedules
- Failing to conduct pre or post-shift vehicle inspections, or doing so in an insufficient manner
Why Fatigue is Difficult to Measure
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) reports that truck driver fatigue is a factor in 30 to 40% of accidents they are involved in. In truck/car accidents, the car driver is almost twice more likely to be reported as fatigued. Drowsiness or fatigue can result in a driver falling asleep or failing to detect potentially dangerous situations. A Department of Transportation study revised their prior estimates, saying fatigue is a factor in roughly 13% of all truck accidents. Deborah Hersman, a former NTSB leader and National Safety Council president, told the New York Times she believes that fatigue is grossly underreported and that such data is inaccurate. She says truck drivers are unlikely to report being tired until we have “a blood test for determining fatigue.”
Environmental factors can definitely factor into truck/car accidents, but they are typically classified as an associated or contributing factor. For example, if a truck strikes the rear of a passenger vehicle they are trailing, the report is likely to indicate the driver's failure to maintain a safe braking distance as the primary (critical) factor. The fact that the roads were slick may be noted, but as an associated, thus secondary, factor or condition. Other truck-related factors include improper loading or overloading of freight. When freight is loaded in an unbalanced way, the result is general instability based on weight distribution. When freight is not properly secured, the potential exists for massive--often abrupt--shifts in weight.
Those in passenger vehicles that collide with tractor-trailers are at a great risk for life-altering injuries or death. Crashes are volatile and dynamic in nature, and are often the result of one or more primary errors as well as other associated (contributing) factors. For these reasons, injury victims involved in these crashes should contact an experienced accident attorney as soon as possible after receiving proper medical treatment.