Several catastrophic trucking accidents have been in the news of late, including the fatal New Jersey accident that severely injured comedian Tracy Morgan. Locally and more recently was a trucking accident in south St. Louis County on Interstate 55 in which one person died.

Of the former, federal officials say that it appears the tractor-trailer driver was traveling more than 20 mph over the speed limit. Investigations continue to determine if the truck driver also exceeded federal work regulations and was tired at the time of the deadly accident.

While the Tracy Morgan accident in particular brought increased attention to the dangers of tired and speeding truck drivers, a broader look at trucking accidents better portrays the scope of their tragic impact.

80 Percent of Fatal Truck Accidents Involved Other Vehicles

In May 2014, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration released a revised version of its Large Trucks report for 2012. That is the most current data available. According to the federal report, 3,921 people died in large trucking crashes for the year. A large truck is defined as having a gross vehicle weight rating larger than 10,000 pounds.

In Missouri, 89 large trucks were involved in fatal accidents. The number of Illinois trucks involved in deadly crashes was 115.

The almost 4,000 people killed in large truck crashes in 2012 was a 4 percent increase over 2011. Eight out of every 10 fatal crashes involving large commercial trucks were multi-vehicle crashes. And 73 percent of all those killed in trucking accidents were occupants in the other vehicles.

Truck Driver Error and Fatal Truck Crashes

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration conducted an exhaustive review a few years ago to determine the causes of truck accidents. The study, which included 963 truck crashes, found that truck driver mistakes were major contributors.

Specifically, 87 percent of the fatal trucking accidents assigned a “critical reason” (the immediate cause for a “critical event”) had truck driver error as the critical reason. The top critical events (events that made the accidents unavoidable) for the trucking accidents were:

  • Truck out of the travel lane, either into another lane or off the road
  • Loss of control of the truck due to traveling too fast for conditions, cargo shift, vehicle systems failure, and other reasons
  • Truck rear ends another vehicle in the truck’s travel lane

Fatal trucking accidents are often complex, lacking one single clear-cut cause. Attorneys experienced in representing people hit by tractor-trailers conduct in-depth investigations to determine all the parties responsible. Victims of catastrophic accidents, or their families, may want to consult such an attorney to explore their legal options.