According to the National Transportation Safety Board, each year about 5,000 people are killed in accidents involving large trucks. Annually, truck collisions account for more than 25,000 injuries requiring emergency room treatment.
The most recent numbers from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) illustrate the severity of the problem. In 2004, 416,000 large trucks (gross vehicle weight rating greater than 10,000 pounds) were involved in traffic crashes in the United States, with 4,862 involved in fatal crashes. A total of 5,190 people died (12% of all the traffic fatalities reported in 2004) and an additional 116,000 were injured in those crashes.
Most fatal crashes involving large trucks occurred in rural areas (66%), during the daytime (67%), and on weekdays (80%). During the week, 74 percent of the crashes occurred during the daytime (6 a.m. to 5:59 p.m.). On weekends, 62 percent occurred at night (6 p.m. to 5:59 a.m.) Thus, a large majority of the fatal and non-fatal crashes involving large trucks occur in good weather, on dry road surfaces, during the day, and on weekdays.
Common Causes of Truck Accidents
The primary causes of these collisions include excessive speed, poor driving, improperly loaded cargo, driver fatigue, equipment defects, truck design defects, and poor signing, maintenance or roadway repair.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration
analysis shows that for 2002, well over a third (37.8%) of truck accidents involved driver-related factors, most frequently speeding, running off the road or failure to stay in single lane of traffic.
The top problem for any truck driver is the constant race against at time. This pressure encourages two of the most dangerous conditions for those sharing the road with the big rigs – excessive speed and driver fatigue. More than one-fourth (26%) of all drivers of large trucks involved in fatal crashes in 2004 had at least one prior speeding conviction, compared to 19% of the passenger car drivers involved in fatal crashes. The NHTSA blames driver fatigue for 31% of all truck driver fatalities.
The unique features of large rigs also contribute to many accidents. Stopping distance for a truck is dramatically greater than a car – for a speed of 65 mph it takes a car about 162 feet to stop, but a semi-truck needs about 420 feet to stop. For bobtails (trucks without a trailer) and empty trucks, the stopping distance is even greater because the lighter load has less traction. Heavy trucks are designed with brakes, tires, springs and shock absorbers optimized with the weight of a full load.
One of the most deadly type of accident results when trucks lack adequate safeguards on the rear of the truck to prevent vehicles from “underriding.” A car underrides a truck when the truck breaks quickly and the car fails to stop before plowing into, and under, the semi – typically shearing off the top of the car. Underrides kill approximately 1000 persons each year, and all of them are car occupants. Only about 2% of those in a car which underrides a truck survive the accident. These accidents occur because trucks stop or slow suddenly and the driver of the car is unable to avoid rear-ending the truck.