Why Deadly Truck Crashes Happen

 In Commercial Trucking Accidents, Trucking Accident

Deadly truck crashes are an all-too-common occurrence in the United States. The competing priorities of truckers, shipping companies, trucking industry lobbyists, and legislators can cause friction and confusion, and these agendas often overshadow the number one priority: getting a cargo load from point A to point B safely and without incident. 

Deadly Truck Crashes: Contributing Factors

One out of every ten deaths that occur in crashes on U.S. highways involves a large truck, and more than 3,800 people died as the result of a large truck crash in 2015. Of those who died, 69 percent were riding in passenger vehicles and 15 percent were pedestrians, bicyclists, or motorcyclists.

Between 2009 and 2015, the number of annual deaths from trucking accidents rose 22 percent. More trucks on the road, an improved economy, greater distances traveled, and increased access to technology are possible factors in the rise of truck crash fatalities, but they don’t tell the whole story.

Truck crashes happen for a variety of reasons and often involve multiple factors. Here we will break them down into two categories; the first is the truck driver’s role in the crash and the second are outside forces that are normally outside the driver’s control — although that doesn’t mean they’re beyond anyone’s control

Truck Drivers and Crashes

A July 2007 report from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) cited truck drivers’ actions as the cause of 87% of all truck crashes. The following are some common contributing factors on the part of the driver:

  • Speed

    Traveling too fast for conditions is a common and contributing factor to deadly truck crashes. Many truck drivers face grueling schedules that pressure them to speed, and speeding truckers are unable to stop quickly or in a safe amount of time when something unexpected happens. Speed is not always the single and direct cause of an accident, however; it is often coupled with another contributing factor, like driver impairment or fatigue.

  • Fatigue

    Driver fatigue is cited in 13% of trucking crashes that result in a fatality or injury. Insufficient breaks, not enough rest, lack of quality sleep, eye strain, poor diet, and dehydration—or a combination of these—can cause driver fatigue and impair a trucker’s ability to drive safely. Sleep apnea is an especially widespread and dangerous cause of fatigue in truckers.

  • Impairment

    Driver impairment from distractions like texting, talking, adjusting the radio, consuming alcohol, abusing prescription or over-the-counter drugs, etc. negatively affects the driver’s ability to make sound judgements and react quickly when something unexpected occurs.

  • Driver Behaviors

    Certain hazardous actions and behaviors on the part of the driver, like unexpected lane changes, illegal merging, wide right turns with insufficient space, unsafe passing, road rage, or running out of lane space — many of which result from inexperience and poor training — compromise the safety of everyone on the road.  

Not Just the Driver: Other Factors that Cause Truck Wrecks

Other causes of truck crashes can be just as deadly as negligent or inexperienced truckers. Some of these factors can include:

  • Cargo Load

    Trucks that are improperly or unevenly loaded or overloaded can create a hazard in a variety of driving situations. For example, if a driver needs to slow down suddenly or change lanes quickly, an uneven cargo load might shift in the trailer, causing the truck to tip over or jack-knife and inflicting widespread damage. A properly- and evenly-loaded truck would minimize the likelihood and consequences of such a crash.

  • Improper Truck Maintenance

    The lack of proper and timely truck maintenance contributes to many deadly crashes. Even when poor maintenance is not the primary factor in a crash, mechanical violations, steering defects, and brake issues make dangerous situations even worse. If a trucker needs to stop suddenly or maneuver the truck quickly and the truck has mechanical problems, it can lead to devastating consequences for other vehicles on the road.

  • Weather

    Slippery black ice; snow, heavy rain, and fog; a bright, reflective sun; and other unpredictable, changing weather patterns can contribute to deadly truck crashes. The limited visibility from a variety of common weather situations, coupled with driver inexperience or fatigue, create a perfect storm of dangerous conditions.

RELATED: How Common Are Commercial Trucking Accidents?

To address the many crash factors listed above, the FMCSA has tried to step in and regulate different aspects of the trucking industry to promote safe driving and reduce crashes, fatalities, and injuries.

Trucking Industry Regulations and Opposition

Deadly truck crashes are devastating to everyone involved. They have a huge economic impact due to the severe nature of the injuries they produce and the extensive medical treatment they require. Victims often are unable to work and may require modifications to their home and in-home care for the rest of their lives.

Previous administrations directed federal agencies to promote safety in the trucking industry in a way that would protect both truckers and occupants of passenger cars. Anti-regulation trucking industry groups, however, have succeeded in rolling back many crucial safety regulations, and the new administration has promised to continue this rollback as a way to stimulate economic growth and give businesses more freedom.

Here are a few examples of how federal regulators and highway safety advocates have found themselves at odds with trucking industry lobbyists in recent years:

  • Electronic Logging Devices (ELD)

    A goal of the Obama administration was to have an ELD installed in every truck to increase accountability for drivers and more easily log, track, and share driving data remotely. Industry lobbyists, however, argued that requiring ELDs violated the trucker’s privacy.

  • Rest Breaks

    Truck drivers need sufficient rest and sleep to stay healthy and avoid fatigue. Some states, like California, feel that more breaks are necessary than what federal regulations require, and are implementing their own regulations that truckers must follow when driving in those states. Industry lobbyists argue that this places a larger burden on shipping companies who run their businesses on tight deadlines, while safety experts and state lawmakers say that states have a right to ensure the safety of their citizens through additional regulation as they see fit.

  • Speed Limiting Devices

    A speed-limiting device is installed in the truck’s engine and prevents the driver from exceeding a set speed limit. Because excessive speed and failure to slow down are common causes of large truck crashes, regulators argue that speed limiters keep roadways safer. Industry lobbyists, however, have tried to argue that speed limiters are unsafe (despite studies to the contrary) because speed limiters would prevent a trucker from passing another truck, especially on two-lane highways. As a result, they say, this could cause more road congestion or other safety issues.

To keep roadways safe for everyone, it is important that truckers, passenger vehicle drivers, shipping companies, legislators, and industry lobbyists respect our highways and prioritize public safety over profits, schedules, or any other business motivation.

Contact Truck Wreck Justice if You’ve Been Hurt in a Trucking Accident

If you or a loved one has been injured in a crash involving a large truck or bus, Truck Wreck Justice Attorney Morgan Adams is here to help. With years of experience and a sole focus on large vehicle cases, Mr. Adams is a powerful advocate for trucking accident victims and an experienced litigator who won’t hesitate to fight for your rights in court.

Please contact Truck Wreck Justice at (432) 265-2020 or fill out our online contact form if you need legal representation or assistance. We offer free consultations to help you gain a better understanding of your legal options, and we handle cases on a contingent fee basis, which means that you’ll only pay fees or case expenses if we achieve a monetary award or settlement on your behalf.


The large truck crash causation study. (2007, July). Federal Motor Carrier Safety AdministrationRetrieved from https://www.fmcsa.dot.gov/safety/research-and-analysis/large-truck-crash-causation-study-analysis-brief

Large trucks [2015]. (2016, November). Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Retrieved from http://www.iihs.org/iihs/topics/t/large-trucks/fatalityfacts/large-trucks/2015

The content provided here is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject.

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