Causes of Truck Accidents

May 10, 2024 | Phil Sarfin
Causes of Truck Accidents

Large trucks – comprising everything from tractor-trailers and 18-wheelers to cement mixers and garbage trucks – are critical to the infrastructure that keeps our economy moving. Yet, as indispensable as they are, their sheer size and design present risks that, if not navigated carefully, can lead to devastation and catastrophic results on U.S. roads.

But how do truck accidents occur? The causes of accidents involving large trucks vary from one case to another. In many cases, it takes a truck accident attorney with years of experience to examine the facts surrounding the accident, conduct an investigation, and determine the causes.

Claims arising from commercial vehicle crashes are often highly complicated and technical. If you are facing a possible case, immediately consult a truck accident lawyer near you.

 

Dangers Associated with Large Trucks on U.S. Roads

Statistically speaking, accidents involving large trucks injure more than 150,000 people and kill about 5,000 annually. Due to the sheer size and design of large trucks, they are more difficult to operate than smaller vehicles on U.S. roads. Here is an overview of some of the most notable dangers that are inherent in the design of large trucks:

Truck Accident
  • Stopping distance. For a passenger vehicle traveling at a consistent speed, the time it takes to avoid an obstacle, brake, and come to a complete stop is often measured in feet. Unfortunately, the same luxury does not apply to trucks. The disparity in stopping distances between trucks and standard automobiles is nothing short of staggering. A truck hauling a full load can require the entirety of a football field – a distance that equates to almost three times that of an average car.
  • Blind spots. For large trucks, blind spots – areas in the vehicle in which the driver has limited or non-existent visibility – are notorious for their size. The truck’s blind spots are so huge they can easily conceal entire cars and motorcycles from the driver’s view. An integral aspect of the large truck design is the sacrifice of direct vision in favor of structural integrity and cargo capacity. As a result, there is a swathe of space behind, beside, and even in front of the truck where smaller vehicles can vanish from the driver’s vision and awareness.
  • Wider turn radius. For any large truck operator, the ability to pivot with precision is integral to maneuvering corners and navigating tight spots. However, due to their length and design, trucks necessitate a broader turn radius to negotiate turns without encroaching on adjacent lanes or, worse still, on the pathways of unsuspecting vehicles and pedestrians.
  • Susceptibility to rollovers. Rollovers, where a vehicle tips onto its side or roof, are not uncommon types of accidents among large trucks. The risks associated with rollovers exist due to the design of these vehicles, from their high centers of gravity to specific road and weather conditions. Due to their height and weight distribution, trucks are particularly susceptible to rollovers when taking sharp turns.

Combining these dangers inherent in the design of large trucks with driver error becomes a recipe for disaster.

Common Causes of Truck Accidents

Determining the cause of a truck accident depends on various factors. Below is an overview of some of the most common causes of crashes involving large trucks.

Driver Fatigue

Long hours on the road, inadequate rest breaks, and tight delivery schedules contribute to drowsy driving. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (FMCSA) estimates that fatigue is a factor in about 13 percent of truck accidents, a figure that is likely an underestimate.

The consequences of drowsiness can be severe. Impaired reaction times, reduced awareness of surroundings, and even nodding off for a second can result in devastating collisions. Trucking regulations limit the number of hours a driver can be on duty, but enforcement and compliance are ongoing challenges.

Substance Use

Substance use by truck drivers is another significant issue. The high-stress nature of the job, coupled with the accessibility of stimulants, can lead some drivers to engage in risky behaviors. Alcohol, illegal drugs, and prescription medications can all impair a driver’s ability to operate the vehicle safely. A study that investigated fatal-to-the-driver trucking accidents found that 67 percent of drivers had at least one drug detected in their systems.

Substance abuse testing is required in the industry but is not a foolproof deterrent. Random tests often target an individual after safety concerns have arisen, meaning that a driver can operate a vehicle unsafely for some time before being caught.

Distracted Driving

The prevalence of smartphones in the digital age has introduced a new and dangerous form of distraction on the roads. Texting, making calls, or using apps while driving, known as “digital” or “e-driving” distractions, increases the risk of accidents. Using GPS or communication equipment without proper management can also lead to inattentiveness for truck drivers.

While it’s illegal for commercial drivers to text while driving, enforcement and monitoring remain challenging. The pressure of immediate response and connectivity with the employer or client can also encourage drivers to engage with their devices while on the job.

Unsafe Lane Changes

Improper lane changes account for a substantial number of truck accidents each year. The difficulty of maneuvering a large vehicle, coupled with blind spots, can make situations where a truck needs to change lanes especially risky for everyone on the road.

Truck drivers are often under pressure to meet deadlines, sometimes leading to more aggressive driving behavior. This can mean failing to signal when changing lanes or merging erratically, resulting in catastrophic consequences.

Speeding

Speeding has long been a common contributing factor to accidents, and trucks are no exception. Statistics show that speeding is involved in about one-third of all motor vehicle fatalities on U.S. roads. The force of impact in a collision is directly related to speed, with higher speeds leading to more severe outcomes. Yet, pressure to deliver goods quickly can sometimes trump safety concerns.

Exceeding speed limits and driving too fast for road conditions, such as poor weather, can lead to loss of control and decreased effectiveness of safety equipment.

Improper Training

Underestimating the complexity of operating a commercial vehicle is very dangerous, especially if a driver hasn’t received thorough training before hitting the road. Inexperienced drivers may not fully understand how to manage the unique aspects of trucking, such as navigating turns with a trailer or controlling the vehicle in high winds.

Inadequate pre-licensing training can also contribute to issues, with new drivers feeling overwhelmed or unprepared for the realities of life on the road.

Vehicle Maintenance Issues

Vehicle maintenance is another major factor in truck accidents. Failure to keep trucks in proper working order, including brakes, lights, tires, etc., can lead to breakdowns and accidents.

Regular inspections are necessary to identify and correct potential issues before they become problems on the road. While some issues may result from unforeseeable circumstances, routine maintenance is a legal and moral obligation for trucking companies.

Weather Conditions

Weather conditions are among the few driving environment elements beyond anyone’s control. Rain, snow, fog, and ice can all increase the risk of accidents and affect visibility and road conditions.

However, truck drivers must be cautious when navigating adverse weather and adjust their driving strategies accordingly. Yet, some drivers do not adapt their driving adequately to the current conditions to stay on track with their deliveries.

Improper Loading or Cargo Issues

Properly securing and distributing the load is an important but often overlooked aspect of truck safety. An unbalanced or shifting load can cause the truck to become unmanageable, especially when traveling at high speeds or making sudden maneuvers.

Improperly loaded or secured cargo is not just a problem with the initial loading but can also result from the offloading process and the cargo’s condition during transit.

Unfamiliarity with the Vehicle or Roadway

While truck drivers are generally well-versed in the routes they travel, there are still dangers associated with unfamiliar territory. New roads, traffic patterns, and local customs can catch even an inexperienced driver off-guard.

Mistakes on the road due to unfamiliarity can be particularly problematic for trucks, given their size and the challenge of quickly correcting course in a tight situation.

Poor Road Design and Maintenance

Without proper roadway design and maintenance, the risk of accidents can increase significantly. Sharp turns with short warnings, lack of visibility due to overgrown foliage, and potholes or debris can all lead to accidents, especially when a commercial vehicle is involved. There’s often a strong correlation between poorly designed/maintained roads and the prevalence of accidents on those stretches of highway.

Keep in mind the above are only some of the many causes of truck crashes that experienced truck accident lawyers see.

Investigation & Evidence to Determine the Cause of a Truck Accident

If you have suffered an injury in an accident with a large truck, you may not know what caused the collision without conducting a thorough investigation and gathering the necessary evidence. This is why accident victims may need the assistance of a truck accident attorney to investigate the circumstances surrounding the crash and identify its causes.

Driver Logs and Records

Driver Logs and Records

The investigation often begins with detailed scrutiny of the driver’s logs and records. This wealth of information can provide information about the state of the driver at the time of the incident, including hours of service, rest periods, and overall adherence to safety regulations. In some cases, discrepancies in these records can be the first sign of negligence.

Despite electronic logging devices becoming more prevalent, there are still instances of logbook falsification. Drivers might underreport their hours to meet tight deadlines, or employers might pressure them to do so unlawfully.

Vehicle Inspection and Maintenance Records

Regular maintenance is imperative for truck safety; overlooking it can have disastrous consequences. Thoroughly inspecting the vehicle and gathering maintenance records is crucial in determining if mechanical failure was a factor in the incident. A maintenance log provides a historical record of the vehicle’s condition, including repairs, part replacements, and any known issues.

If a truck accident lawyer discovers that inadequate maintenance led to the accident, the mechanic or the company responsible for the upkeep can be held liable.

Accident Reconstruction

Reconstructing the accident scene is a meticulous process involving expert analysis of factors such as skid marks, the point of impact, and the final positioning of the vehicles. This is about piecing together the sequence of events and understanding the forces at play and their implications for liability. Modern accident reconstruction often employs cutting-edge technology, including 3D modeling and simulation software that can create virtual replicas of the scene.

Accident reconstruction can create an undisputable visual narrative that is powerful in court and can sway the outcome in favor of the victim. A truck accident attorney can connect victims with these important resources.

Black Box Data

Nearly all modern commercial trucks are equipped with event data recorders, or “black boxes,” which capture and store critical information leading up to and during a crash. Black box data can reveal the speed of the truck prior to the crash, whether and when brakes were applied, engine performance, and other crucial metrics. This can validate or refute the accounts of all involved parties and prove the facts of the case.

You need to act quickly to secure the EDR data before it is overwritten or lost, which is why it is best to work with a truck accident attorney who can access and interpret the data.

Witness Statements

Gathering testimonies from those who saw the accident unfold can provide invaluable context and corroboration of evidence. This human element can paint a verifiable picture of the events leading up to the crash. Memories fade, which is why getting witness statements as soon as possible is crucial. Time is an adversary; the fresher the account, the more reliable it is.

Having multiple witnesses tell a coherent story can strengthen your case. Allow a truck accident lawyer to gather witness accounts of your crash.

The immediate, life-altering effects of a truck accident demand rapid and decisive action, but the search for answers and justice can be daunting without the assistance of a personal injury lawyer. With legal counsel, you can rest assured that the legal matters of your case are in good hands. This may allow you to focus on your recovery and healing.

Phil Sarfin

Phil Sarfin is an associate at Blakeley Law Firm, P.A. and focuses his practice on personal injury, including automobile accidents, slip and falls and wrongful death. He received a Bachelor of Science from the University of Delaware in 2010, and his Juris Doctor from Nova Southeastern University in 2015. He is licensed to practice in all Florida state courts.

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