According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, 108,000 injury-related accidents involving semi-trucks and large buses occurred in 2020. That represented a 10% decline in these types of accidents compared to 2019. Meanwhile, there were an additional 327,000 trucking accidents that only led to property damage. Compared to 2019, that represented a 21% decline.
These numbers make trucking accidents look very common, but 5.25 million accidents occurred on U.S. roads in 2020. That makes trucking accidents roughly 8% of the total number. While their fraction of motor vehicle accidents is relatively small, the impact of these crashes is often catastrophic.
How Deadly Are Trucking Accidents?
Trucks weigh up to 30 times more than passenger vehicles and require up to 40 times the stopping distance. Add the potential for carrying hazardous or flammable materials and the risk of fatalities climbs immensely.
One Insurance Institute for Highway Safety report estimates that 4,014 people died in 2020 trucking accidents. Here is a breakdown of the road users who make up these fatality numbers:
- 68% were the occupants of other passenger vehicles, such as cars
- 16% were motorcyclists, cyclists and pedestrians
- 15% were truck occupants
The IIHS did not explain who represented the remaining 1% of accidents, but this could represent unknown victims. When accidents involved a two-vehicle crash between a truck and a passenger vehicle, 97% of the fatalities were occupants in the passenger vehicle. Truckers accounted for the remaining 3% of deaths.
The IIHS estimates that trucking accidents account for 10% of motor vehicle fatalities. This is slightly higher than the percentage of truck crashes, creating some cause for concern.
What Are Some Accident Factors That Increase the Risk of Fatalities?
All trucking accidents have a high risk of severe injuries and death. These are some of the main ones to keep in mind.
The Size of the Truck
The larger the truck, the harder it is to maneuver and stop, especially in emergencies. Heavier and taller trucks are also naturally more likely to cause damage in accidents. The IIHS reports that while single-unit trucks account for 27% of truck fatalities, large tractor-trailers make up 74% of these fatalities. The remaining 1% of accidents involved trucks of an unknown description or size.
The Day of the Week
Did you know that deadly truck accidents are more likely to occur on some days than others? Wednesday is the deadliest day for 2020, with 689 trucking accidents occurring at this time. Overall, most trucking accidents seemed to happen during the work week. In contrast, Sunday had the lowest fatality rates at just 279 or 7% of the fatalities. Saturdays are a close second at 392 or 10% of deaths. Ironically, the opposite is true for other types of crashes. Fatalities fall during the week and skyrocket on the weekends.
The Time of the Day
Most deadly truck crashes occur from noon to 3 p.m. Compare this to other types of crashes, which had the most deadly crashes at 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Fatal truck accidents seemed least likely from midnight to 3 a.m. Meanwhile, other car crashes seemed to have the least deadly hours from 3 a.m. to noon.
The Type of Roads
Not surprisingly, deadly truck crashes occur more often on certain types of roads. Major roads made up 47% of these accidents, while interstates and freeways accounted for 36% of truck crashes. In comparison, minor roads accounted for only 15%. The remaining 2% of crashes involved unknown types of roads or those that did not fit neatly into the previous three categories.
What Are Some Common Causes of Trucking Accidents?
Trucking accidents occur for the same reasons as those involving passenger vehicles. Some issues are more likely to affect truckers than other drivers.
Speeding is one of the most common causes of trucking accidents. The faster a truck is going, the harder it is to stop. This is especially true when a truck is carrying a heavy load. Trucks can also jackknife when stopping suddenly after high speeds, which can also cause them to roll over.
Truck drivers often work long hours to meet deadlines. This can lead to driver fatigue, which increases the risk of accidents. Fatigue accounts for 13% of trucking accidents. Truckers can drive up to 11 hours, but studies suggest that truckers often do not comply with this restriction. Some have actively protested attempts to limit the hours they can drive.
Distracted driving refers to anything that takes a driver’s attention away from the road. This can include using a cell phone, eating, or changing the radio station. Distracted driving is a problem for all drivers, but it can be especially dangerous for truckers.
Driving Under the Influence
Driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol is illegal and risky. This is true for all drivers, but it can be especially dangerous for those operating large trucks. For this reason, some medications warn consumers not to operate large machinery after taking them. Truckers could be held responsible even when the drugs they take are legal or prescribed, such as antihistamines or anti-depressants.
Bad weather can make driving conditions more difficult for all drivers. This is especially true for truckers, who may have to deal with high winds, rain and snow. These conditions can make it more difficult to see obstacles and stop the truck in time.
Poorly Maintained Vehicles
Trucks are subject to a lot of wear and tear. This means that they need to be adequately maintained to avoid accidents. Unfortunately, some trucking companies cut corners on maintenance to save money. This can lead to bald tires, faulty brakes, broken lights and other issues.
Even when trucks receive routine maintenance, brakes can fail. This can happen on steep downhill passes where the driver has already braked for so long that the brakes start to heat up. That is why so many roads like these have runaway ramps for trucks whose brakes fail.
The trucking industry has complained about a labor shortage and an inability to keep up with consumer demands. Consequently, trucking companies often recruit new and inexperienced drivers who might not know how to safely handle some conditions, such as steep mountain roads.
Overloaded or Poorly Loaded Trucks
Trucks are often overloaded, which can make them more challenging to control. Poorly loaded or overloaded trucks are also more likely to tip over or sway. An unsecured load can also cause instability. If the load shifts while the tractor-trailer is moving, it can cause the driver to lose control. This could lead to veering off the road or even flipping over.
How an Experienced Truck Accident Attorney Can Help
Trucking accidents are often as complex as they are deadly. Complexities stem from the fact that trucking accidents involve commercial entities, such as the trucking company. It can also prove far more challenging to reconstruct the scene and determine what factors led to the accident. These are just some reasons injured persons should rely on experienced attorneys to negotiate settlements and argue their cases.
Our team at Siegfried and Jensen has recovered $1.2 billion across all our personal injury cases. While we cannot guarantee multi-million-dollar wins for all the cases we handle, we do everything possible to make this possible. Schedule your free consultation to get started.