The Most Common Causes Of Truck Accidents

There is nothing more frightening than seeing a large commercial truck bearing down on you, knowing that this massive vehicle is about to crash into you. In order to have the person responsible pay for your medical expenses, lost wages, damages to your car and other losses, it is important to find out exactly what caused your accident.

There are a number of common causes of truck accidents. Obviously, truck driver mistakes are on top of the list. However, in many instances, the truck company may be liable. In other cases, another vehicle driver, or that driver's employer, may be at fault. Often, a lawyer is needed to help you determine who is responsible.

Understanding The Reasons For Truck Accidents

A groundbreaking study, jointly conducted by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), compiled the statistics of representative truck accidents. This became known as the Large Truck Crash Causation Study (LTCCS). This study was important because knowing how large truck accidents happen can help people avoid them. Here are some common causes of truck accidents found in that study and through other research.

The Driver Was Under The Influence Of Drugs Or Alcohol

The LTCCS found that in a significant percentage of the accidents studied, drugs or alcohol taken by the truck driver was a factor in the accident. In 26 percent of the cases cited, the substance in question was found to be a prescription medication. An additional 18 percent of the cases involved over-the-counter (OTC) medications.

OTC or prescription medication can include muscle relaxants and other opioid pain relief, sedatives, cold/sinus medication that causes drowsiness or pills to help stay awake. Unfortunately, "awake" does not always mean "aware" as drivers can experience mild or even dramatic hallucinations when kept artificially awake.

In addition, in about 3 percent of the collisions, illegal drugs or alcohol were factors. Those percentages might seem low, until you consider that they represent thousands of trucks — and just from one study.

The Truck Driver Was Speeding

In about 23 percent of the cases studied, excessive speeding was an associated factor of the accidents. Speeding could mean that the truck driver was going too fast for the road conditions or that the driver misjudging the speed of other drivers.

Not only is a speeding truck more likely to get into an accident, but it also makes an accident much more dangerous. For each mile traveled over speed, the greater an impact the weight of the truck will have on what it hits. (For comparison's sake, an 18-wheeler can weigh up to 80,000 pounds, compared to the 5,000 pounds an average car weighs.)

So why are truckers going so fast? Well, in many cases the companies they work for insist on the fastest possible delivery — and they'll pay extra for it. When truckers have the financial incentive to move their payload at faster-than-safe rates, accidents can occur. That's why trucking companies are often investigated, and held liable when appropriate, along with the truck drivers themselves.

The Driver Was Not Sure Where He Or She Was Going

Being unfamiliar with the route was a factor in about 22 percent of large truck crashes, according to the LTCCS. Unsure drivers are more likely to hesitate at, then veer toward, highway exits at top speeds. Or they may brake suddenly for fear of missing a turn. Worst of all, a lost driver is a distracted one — prone to checking maps, calling the main office or simply craning to look for landmarks. All of these situations can spell disaster at high speeds and massive weights. Often, disorganization with the dispatch service the trucker relies upon can contribute to route confusion.

The Driver Was Tired

Driving too long without resting is a well-known danger for truckers and the people with whom they share the road. Once again, trucking companies can put tremendous pressure on their drivers to drive too fast, and without adequate rest. Too often, the goal of getting goods to the delivery point quickly is put above road safety and the drivers' health.

Truck drivers may be tempted to work longer hours in order to make more money. Or they may be punished if they don't meet unrealistic corporate goals. This can add up to more drivers being on the road for more consecutive hours than federal or state regulations allow. In fact, fatigue was a factor in 13 percent of the accidents studied in the LTCCS.

The Driver Was Not Paying Attention

If a truck driver neglects to check "blind spots" or fails to notice other dangers, this is known as "inadequate surveillance." Inadequate surveillance was cited in 14 percent of the accidents examined in the LTCCS. In layman's terms, this has to do with having a habit of watching the various blind spots with which truckers must contend while driving big rigs. Drivers are supposed to be trained to learn how to tell when it's safe to brake, turn and merge with their blind spots in mind. But too often, this training was either inadequate on the part of the employer, or ignored by the driver.

The Driver Ignored The Rules Of The Road

It's annoying enough to be behind a sporty sedan that fails to signal before turning. Now imagine a truck coming in the opposite direction, then suddenly turning into your path, without proper signaling or slowing. That and similar scenarios played a part in about 9 percent of the major truck accidents studied. "Illegal maneuvering" is the broad phrase used for any actions undertaken that are against the law, from failing to signal a turn, turning where it is prohibited, to going the wrong way on a one-way road.

Something Was Wrong With The Truck

Vehicle-related factors account for about 10 percent of accidents in which the truck was the vehicle clearly at fault. The failure of a trucking company to keep its fleet regularly inspected, maintained and repaired can have deadly consequences. So can failing to load the vehicle properly. These safety lapses not only put the truck drivers at risk, but also endanger everyone else on the road.

Of course, vehicles aren't the root causes — the people inspecting them are. Before a driver gets behind a wheel, he is expected to visually confirm:

  • That the truck is not leaning to one side
  • That it doesn't have fluids underneath it
  • That no obvious body damage has occurred
  • That tire pressure and tire grooves are at adequate levels

In addition, drivers should also:

  • Check the engine's fluid levels
  • Test cab interior and exterior components (mirrors, doors, gauges, horn, etc.)
  • Examine the trailer interior
  • Perform a safety check

Between trips, the fleet crew should be doing similar inspections and making adjustments and repairs as needed. Obviously, these checks do not always occur.

The most common causes of vehicle-related error, in descending order, are:

  • Cargo shifts. Improperly loaded cargo can suddenly collapse, causing the truck's center of gravity to go wildly off center. When this happens, trucks can fishtail, veer into another lane or even overturn. There are regulations involving how boxes and other heavy items should be balanced in the cargo hold, as well as how they should be secured. When loading is done improperly, lives are put at risk.
  • Old braking systems. Some of the accidents studied were clearly caused by braking systems that had degraded past the point of being road worthy.
  • Steering, tire, wheel and/or suspension failure. Each of these elements was responsible for about 1 percent of the accidents studied. Again, 1 percent might not seem like a lot, but each failure represents about 1,000 trucks that might be on the road at any given time. When their respective systems aren't adequately inspected and maintained, these faulty systems and defective parts can lead to serious accidents.

Buses And Bus Drivers Causing Accidents

Other large vehicles can lead to truck accidents as well. There are more and more passenger, charter and school buses on the roads these days. You may have been in a bus when it collided with a truck. Or you may have even been in a third vehicle that was caught up in a bus vs. truck collision. In either case, there are times when the bus driver, rather than the truck driver, is at fault. There are reasons they may cause accidents too:

  • Inadequate maintenance: Buses that are not maintained properly are an obvious hazard. Anything that can go wrong on a small car can go wrong on a large bus. Yet the risks of failing to inspect and maintain these large vehicles are even greater, given their size and the amount of time they spend on the road. Faulty brakes, broken signal lights, failing headlights, locking steering mechanism — all can spell disaster when these buses hit any vehicles, especially big rigs. Defective buses even pose safety risks simply by breaking down, because truck drivers may not see stalled buses in situations of poor visibility.
  • Inadequate driver training: Truck vs. bus accidents also occur due to bus driver error. Just as with trucking companies, bus companies may not provide adequate training for their drivers or are not stringent in hiring qualified drivers. Specifically, the drivers may have poor records, or not have acquired enough experience driving passenger vehicles. The drivers should be carrying a commercial driver's license with a specific "passenger endorsement." This ensures that they know the specifics of operating a bus. But too few travel planners and event organizers know to look for this when scheduling their trips.
  • Bus driver fatigue: Even when normally good drivers are behind the wheel, they may be overworked. Too many bus companies don't follow federal safety regulations regarding the number of hours a commercial driver can be on the road at a time. These hours-of-service rules specify that interstate bus drivers must have been off the road for eight hours before getting behind the wheel. Once they are, they cannot drive more than 10 hours at a time, or a combination of driving and being on duty for 15 hours. There are more extensive rules having to do with long-term schedules. For example, if the driver works for a company that is open all seven days of the week, the driver can't be on duty for more than a total of 70 hours during eight consecutive days.

Other Motorists That Cause Truck Accidents

Commercial truck drivers know all too well that it's tough to share the road with other motorists. Passenger vehicle, RV and motorcycle drivers can be drowsy, distracted or negligent just like truck drivers are. Unfortunately, a small mistake by a small vehicle at just the wrong time can easily cause a large truck accident. Common causes of these accidents caused by smaller vehicles include:

  • Trying to outmaneuver a large truck
  • Improper lane changes
  • Failing to accommodate or notice when a truck driver signals a lane change or a need to merge
  • Zooming into the right lane just as the truck driver is signaling to turn right
  • Straying into one of the truck's "no-zones" — the areas to the side or just behind a truck where visibility is limited
  • Insisting on driving between two large trucks
  • Failing to understand that a truck's slower reaction time makes "coming out of nowhere" all the more hazardous
  • Racing to beat a truck through an intersection
  • Daring onto the highway from an entrance ramp
  • Abandoning broken down vehicles too close to the lane of traffic

Any of these passenger vehicle mistakes can pose a risk to the drivers, their passengers, the truck driver and surrounding vehicles caught up in the resulting collision.

What To Do If You Are In A Truck Accident In California

Were you or someone you know injured in a large truck accident? Don't wait for the insurance companies to battle it out — they will not get you what you deserve for your losses.

The experienced legal team at Girardi | Keese is here to help you with your recovery. Call 800-401-4530 or contact us online today to get started. Let us help you understand your options. Remember, you pay no attorney fees unless we win your personal injury case for you.