A New Look into Causes of Fatal Truck Accidents

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It’s been more than a dozen years since the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration issued the findings of its study on the causes of fatal truck crashes.  As the number of people killed in trucking accidents continues to increase, the federal government has decided to take another look at why this is happening.

One year ago the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration issued its report on fatal commercial truck accidents for 2017.  According to that report, 4,761 people in this country died in tractor-trailer crashes that year – a spike of 9% over 2016.

And when announcing its intention of updating the fatal truck crash study, the FMCSA explained that deaths in commercial truck accidents has dramatically and steadily climbed more than 50% between 2009 and 2018. Just between 2016 and 2018, that number jumped nearly 6 %.

In 2018 alone, when overall deaths in motor vehicle crashes declined compared to the year prior, truck crash deaths increased.

Truck Driver Actions Causing Deadly Crashes

The original “Large Truck Crash Causation Study,” released in 2006, included 967 truck crashes between 2001 and 2003, which killed 251 people. Federal researchers pinpointed driver error as the leading cause of deadly big-rig accidents.

For example, speeding by truckers was a common factor the researchers found. Also cited were driver fatigue and driving too fast for road conditions.

Other truck driver errors in the study were:

  • Driver inattention
  • Distracted driver
  • Following too closely
  • Driver losing control of rig

Researchers determined what the critical events were leading up to the fatal trucking accidents. Identified as the event or action which made the crashes unavoidable, there were four that accounted for 93% of the deadly truck crashes, including:

  • Trucks crossing the center line or running off the road
  • Trucker losing control
  • Turning at or crossing an intersection

Unsafe Trucks and Fatal Accidents

Beyond poor decisions and performance by truck drivers, other leading causes for catastrophic commercial truck accidents were rig-related:

So what factors have caused commercial truck accident deaths to spike, especially since 2009?  That is what the federal government is hoping to find out.

But some reasons seem readily apparent.

There are more big rigs on the road today thanks to the explosion of online shopping.  More goods need to be shipped, which requires more 18-wheelers and delivery trucks.  And more large commercial trucks increase the odds for deadly crashes.

Cell phone use also has exploded since 2006.  Federal rules prohibit commercial truckers to use hand-held cell phones for making calls or texting.  But that doesn’t mean all truckers adhere to this safety rule. And certainly more truckers have cell phones today than those included in the original fatal truck crash study.

The federal government also announced this year it is doubling the rate of random tests for illegal drug use by commercial truck drivers.  Why?  The number of truck drivers who failed drug tests increased, which requires more truck drivers to be drug-tested this year.

Careless driving and poorly maintained rigs were found to be chief causes for fatal truck crashes in 2006.  But even though the causes were identified, fatal truck crashes climbed.

Maybe this new study not only will spotlight dangerous actions taken by truck drivers and truck companies, but dramatically reduce them as well. Only time will tell.

If you were seriously hurt or had a loved one die in a crash with a large commercial truck, consult a truck accident lawyer about holding all responsible parties accountable.

The choice of a lawyer is an important decision that should not be based solely on advertisements.

Authored by Gray Ritter Graham, posted in Articles February 3, 2020

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