Large truck and tractor-trailer accidents kill and injure thousands of people every year throughout the nation. Traffic accident investigators frequently see the same factors contributing to crashes involving tractor-trailers and semi-trucks.

A widely cited federal study analyzed almost 1,000 fatal crashes involving large trucks and identified distinctive contributing causes. The study found that tractor-trailers and truck drivers were at fault in 55 percent of the nearly 1,000 crashes analyzed.

The following is a list of the issues identified by truck crash researchers:

  • Truck Driver Performance: Many of the contributing factors involve actions and inaction by the truck driver. Driver recognition or decision errors are the most commonly cited factors. The driver may be speeding or driving too fast for conditions or be distracted. According to the federal study, a truck driver’s action was the critical reason for a crash in 88 percent of crashes in which the truck was at fault.
  • Driver Fatigue: Fatigue contributes to many truck crashes. Federal hours of service (HOS) rules regulate how many hours drivers can remain behind the wheel during a given week. The hours per week that commercial drivers may operate a truck has been reduced to try to keep drivers fresh while they’re behind the wheel. An experienced truck accident lawyer will act quickly to preserve driver logs and travel records that may reveal an hours of service violation and a dangerously fatigued driver.
  • Vehicle Maintenance: Hydraulic brake failures, tires that separate and other mechanical components are frequently found to be either the cause of accidents or contributing factors. Issues involving brakes out of adjustment and brake failure were identified as a problem in nearly 30 percent of the trucks and only 5 percent of the cars analyzed in the study. It is imperative that truck drivers and trucking companies perform consistent, scheduled maintenance and inspections on every vehicle. Mechanical problems were the critical factor in 8 percent of truck accidents.
  • Lack of Familiarity with Roadway: Even experienced truck drivers may feel confused because of changes in a roadway’s setup or configuration, including exit ramps, truck-free lanes and different speed limits for commercial vehicles. This factor is a contributing factor in one of every five accidents.
  • Drug Use: Evidence of the use of prescription drugs and over-the-counter medications shows up in many truck accidents. Prescription drug use is a factor in one quarter of truck accidents. Drunk driving is much less common among commercial truck drivers, according to the study. Trucking companies have a duty to make sure that their truck drivers do not pose a safety hazard.
  • Truck Driver Licensing and Monitoring: Improperly licensed truckers or drivers with a troubled history can be at the center of terrible crashes. Trucking companies should know their drivers’ work history and may be held accountable if they fail to heed red flags and allow a dangerous driver to remain on the road.
  • Traffic Flow: Congestion, traffic slow downs for work zones, and traffic flow issues figure in more than one in four 18-wheeler accidents.
  • Vehicle Load: Load shifts can be factors in an 18-wheeler crash if the cargo is unsecured or shifts. For example, tanker trucks have a higher center of gravity, and liquid loads can shift suddenly if the driver is inexperienced or takes a banked curve too fast, causing the truck to roll over.
  • Inadequate Surveillance: Tractor-trailers have large blind spots on either side and in the rear of the truck. If a truck driver is not paying close attention to the movement of vehicles around the truck, an accident may result. Truckers may fail to recognize traffic stopped on the highway ahead in time to prevent a crash.
  • Truck Driver Training and Experience: Truck accidents can occur when a driver is not properly trained or experienced enough for a certain position.

More than 3,900 people died in crashes involving large trucks in 2012, and four out of five of those fatally injured were occupants of other vehicles involved in a truck crash. Trucks and tractor-trailers can cause terrible crashes because of the size and weight of these types of vehicles. Although the Large Truck Crash Causation study was published seven years ago, the issues identified in the study remain relevant today as areas ripe for an experienced truck accident attorney to examine in any case involving serious injuries and fatalities.

About the Author

Mark Joye is the Head of the Litigation Department at the Joye Law Firm. A Board-Certified Trial Advocate with nearly 30 years of litigation experience, he currently serves on the Board of Governors for the American Association for Justice and is a past president of the South Carolina Association for Justice. In a recent trial, Joye headed a trial team that secured $17 million for a family killed in a tractor-trailer accident.

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