How Truck Accidents Happen: A Closer Look

During 2016, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) reported that there were 475,000 crashes involving large trucks. About 22 percent of them (106,000) injured one or more people. The FMCSA and other organizations closely track trucking accidents, trying to find ways to make roads safer for everyone.

Understanding why trucking-related collisions happen can help accident victims and their personal injury lawyers decide if a lawsuit is warranted, and determine its chances of success. A deeper knowledge of how these accidents happen can also help everyone – including truck drivers, motorists in smaller vehicles and trucking companies – play a role in preventing them.

What Are The Most Common Types Of Truck Accidents?

Every trucking accident is unique, but there are distinct patterns in the types of accidents that happen most often. Eighteen-wheelers, in particular, are prone to the following types of crashes:

  • Jackknife accidents, in which the trailer of the truck can skid at a 90-degree angle to the cab
  • Rollovers, where the cab, its trailer or the entire rig can turn completely over
  • Blind spot accidents during turns or lane changes — passenger cars can be hit or forced off the road
  • Tire blowouts, which can cause a complete loss of control of the vehicle
  • Rear-end collisions that can exert exponentially greater force on the vehicle in front of them than a passenger car would
  • Under-ride accidents, a catastrophic situation in which a smaller vehicle slides under the trailer of the 18-wheeler
  • Lost load accidents, in which cargo leaves the trailer or flatbed and empties onto the roadway
  • Head-on collisions, which, like rear-end collisions, exert much more force than a similar accident between two cars

What Happens During An Injury Accident Involving A Truck?

For a truck accident to be serious enough to cause an injury to a driver, a passenger or another party, contact between the truck and other objects is extremely common. A study conducted by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) noted that physical contact between vehicles occurred in nearly 88 percent of all cases tracked in 2016. The large truck hit the passenger car first in about 32 percent of all cases, while the passenger car struck the truck first in about 22 percent of the time. A rear-end collision caused an injury in about 31 percent of all cases, while head-on collisions were a factor in less than 2 percent of all cases.

What Causes Serious Truck Collisions?

For every type of truck accident, there can be numerous reasons for its occurrence. The Large Truck Crash Causation Study, sponsored jointly by the FMCSA and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, found that drugs and alcohol played a significant role in the crashes it studied. The data it compiled showed that:

Prescription drug use played a role in 26 percent of semitruck accidents in the United States.

  • Improper over-the-counter drug use influenced 17 percent of all crashes
  • Alcohol use contributed to about 8 percent of tractor-trailer accidents
  • Illicit drug use was a factor in 3 percent of truck crashes

Other major factors in truck collisions were speeding or driving too fast for conditions (23 percent of crashes) and driver fatigue (13 percent).

Some Surprising Facts About The Location And Timing Of Truck Wrecks

Given that many of us hear about catastrophic truck accidents on the traffic report in crowded metropolitan areas, it may come as a surprise to learn that the Insurance Institute For Highway Safety reports that 60 percent of all fatal truck accidents happen on roads that are not interstate highways or other kinds of freeways. The same study found the following for wrecks in 2016:

  • Large truck wrecks most commonly occurred between noon and 3 p.m.
  • Monday and Friday were the two most common days of the week for fatal truck wrecks to take place

Are Truckers Frequently At Fault For Serious Trucking Accidents?

Truck drivers are not usually determined to be at fault for collisions with cars. Perhaps this is because they receive training to operate vehicles that are many times longer and heavier than other vehicles.

A 2013 report released by the American Trucking Associations (ATA) gathered findings from several other research organizations about fault in car-truck crashes. The findings revealed that professional truck drivers were blamed for the accident in less than 20 percent of the thousands of cases studied.

While this finding might seem to make the chances of a successful truck accident lawsuit dim at best, there are several other important points to keep in mind:

  • Catastrophic accidents can be the fault of more than one driver.
  • Serious accidents can be caused by truck maintenance failures, like a brake failure or a tire blowout, which may be the fault of the trucking company.
  • When a truck driver is responsible for a collision, it may be far more dangerous and destructive due to the truck's size and momentum.

What Laws Are Broken When Truckers Are At Fault For Catastrophic Injury Accidents?

When a truck driver is to blame in a trucking accident, an accident attorney will examine the crash site evidence and documentation for evidence that something illegal happened. This can show that the driver failed to drive safely, which is an element necessary to file a personal injury lawsuit.

Given the statistics mentioned earlier in this article, there are many unlawful activities that could lead to a trucking accident, including:

  • Illicit drug use
  • Impaired or drunk driving
  • Speeding
  • Illegal lane change

Additionally, professional truck drivers are required to have commercial driver's licenses (CDLs) and abide by federal regulations regarding rest and sleep breaks. Violations in these areas may also be considered when demonstrating negligence by the driver or the company he or she works for.

How Can Truckers And Other Drivers Work Together To Prevent Truck Accidents?

Everyone involved in driving on America's roadways can take steps to prevent catastrophic truck accidents. Remember the concept of defensive driving where the idea was to look out for the other people on the road? It still applies today. If you look out for the safety of other drivers, they will be looking out for your safety.

Truckers can keep themselves, their rigs and other motorists safe by:

  • Regularly inspecting their truck and insisting it receives necessary repairs and maintenance as needed
  • Understanding the precise locations of "blind spots" on their truck, and driving with extra caution with the knowledge that many accidents occur when cars enter blind spots before a truck makes a turn or lane change
  • Strictly observing regulations around rest and sleep breaks
  • Slowing down and show even greater caution in designated work zones

Passenger car drivers can promote a safe driving environment by:

  • Remembering that a tractor-trailer can weigh as much as 80,000 pounds, 40 times more than the average passenger car
  • Always allowing extra room for turns, lane changes and stops when driving alongside a truck
  • Maintaining a sizable distance when driving in front of or behind a truck
  • Realizing that trucks have much larger "blind spots" than cars do and cannot see you if you cannot see the truck's mirrors
  • Reporting erratic driving behavior by truckers or other passenger car drivers
  • Abiding by all traffic rules and using extra care in bad weather or road construction zones

Can Trucking Businesses Make American Roadways Safer?

Commercial drivers take many of their safety cues from their employers. Given the cost of a catastrophic accident, both in human suffering and potential claims against trucking companies, it makes sense to champion safe driving guidelines. Trucking companies can support roadway safety by doing the following:

  • Insisting on verification of new driver training, background checks and CDL status
  • Strictly enforcing and providing real-world consequences for violations of distracted driving statutes (texting or using the phone while driving)
  • Auditing driver logs to reduce driver fatigue and ensure compliance with federal hours of service guidelines
  • Investing in technology solutions to track poor driving behaviors, and retraining or terminating drivers who disregard safety guidelines

Girardi | Keese Has The Resources You Need If You Are Injured In A Truck Accident

Accidents between a truck and another motor vehicle can be complex. At Girardi | Keese, we have experienced truck accident lawyers and a track record of success recovering compensation for personal injury clients. Let us help you file a robust claim and receive the funds you need to rebuild your life. We also can tap leading medical experts and other professionals to enhance your case. To set up an introductory appointment, call us at 800-401-4530 or email us. We have offices locations in Los Angeles and San Bernardino.