Brad Pistotnik Law
Abogado El Toro

Truck Accident Statistics by Brad Pistotnik

Last year, trucking revenues totaled $610 billion, and this amount is estimated to double by 2015. While this is good news for trucking companies and the economy as a whole, it is disadvantageous for all other vehicles that travel with these trucks, as it raises the potential threat of truck-related accidents and deaths. A number of agencies in the United States are responsible for reporting and tracking truck-driving statistics. These agencies fall under the USDOT and include National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), Federal Highway Administration (FHA), and the FMCSA. Regulation of the interstate commercial driving safety requirements and of the interstate commercial driver license requirements are all undertaken by the FMCSA. The job of the FHA is to ensure that all trucks obey rules and regulations, such as the limitation on the size and weight of the vehicle. This has to be monitored closely in order to protect the infrastructure of the highways and to improve the safety of trucks. Reporting of tractor-trailer accidents and roadside violations of the FMCSR is primarily performed by the NHTSA and the FMCSA, while the basic job of the FHA is to provide information regarding trucking statistics, such as freight tonnage carried across the nation’s highways. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) undertakes the tracking of truck accidents, including fatalities and injury numbers, for the Highway Safety Coalition and the Truck Safety Coalition. As a parent agency, the DOT reported the following statistics related to trucking accidents in the United States:

  • As of December 2010, more than 1.1 million interstate motor carriers were present. The motor carriers include for-hire, private carriers, business fleets, and owner-operators.
  • According to the last available data of 2007, the Commodity Flow Survey reported that trucks carried and transported goods that were worth more than $8.3 trillion.
  • The approximate tonnage of freight moved each year is eleven billion.
  • The number of large truck occupiers that died in 2009 was 529.
  • The number of truck occupiers injured in 2009 was twenty thousand.
  • On an annual basis, five hundred thousand truck-related accidents occur.
  • In 2010, 1.1 serious crashes per one hundred million truck miles took place.
The statistics tend to vary depending on the reporting authority, but it is a widely accepted fact that truck crashes are increasingly common and the number of fatalities is rising as well. The IIHS reported the following statistics as of 2010:
  • The total number of truck miles traveled was 286,585 million.
  • The number of deaths due to large trucks totaled 3,413 people.
  • Of this number of deaths, 14 percent were truck occupants and 72 percent were occupants in passenger cars.
  • Pedestrians, bicyclists, and motorcyclists accounted for 13 percent of the deaths.
  • As compared to 2009, the number of deaths in 2010 rose by a staggering 8 percent.
  • The share of large trucks in these accidents was almost 4 percent of the registered vehicles and 9 percent of the total deaths due to motor vehicle crashes.
  • The amount of deaths caused by tractor-trailers was 75 percent while 25 percent were caused by single large trucks.

Of all the car accidents in 2012, commercial trucks were involved in 2.4 percent of them. It has been estimated that the rate of truck driver-caused crashes is very high, with one person killed or injured every sixteen minutes. Based on research by the USDOT, it is estimated that five hundred thousand accidents involving trucks occur each year. The major cause of 75 percent of these truck accidents is the fault of the drivers of passenger vehicles and only 16 percent of all truck accidents are the fault of the truck driver. The number of people killed every year in truck accidents is almost five thousand. Approximately 98 percent of the time, the person killed is in the other vehicle, not in the larger truck or tractor-trailer. Approximately 68 percent of truck accidents occur in rural areas as opposed to urban areas. Of this percentage, 68 percent happen during the daytime and 78 percent occur on the weekends. The states that account for the highest number of truck accidents are California, Florida, Texas, Pennsylvania, and Georgia. Statistics indicate that some 1,159 accidents occurred in Oregon, which resulted not only in severe injuries and in damages to vehicles, but also caused many deaths. This number is 8.01 percent higher than it was in 2003. Of this number, 621 truck accidents were due to the fault of the truck driver. The maximum number of truck accidents increased to thirteen accidents per day and the largest number of accidents caused by one trucking company was twenty-six accidents. Of the 1,159 accidents, 3.02 percent of the trucks were carrying hazardous materials when the accidents took place. As mentioned earlier, trucks weigh almost thirty times more than passenger vehicles. This points toward only one harsh reality: In truck and tractor-trailer related accidents, the people most likely to die are those in the passenger vehicles. The stopping distance required by trucks is far greater than that required by cars, especially when the trucks are heavily loaded. We can conclude that drivers of passenger cars need to be aware of two crucial issues. First, heavily loaded trucks and tractor-trailers are dangerous. Second, an overloaded truck or tractor-trailer will require a much greater stopping distance than a properly loaded truck or tractor-trailer. A 2006 study called, “The Large-Truck Crash Causation Study: An Initial Overview,” published by the NHTSA, analyzed the major causes of truck-related accidents, and some common variables or factors contributing to crashes, injuries, and deaths. The study analyzed 2,284 vehicles involved in 1,070 crashes, and over one thousand variables. Some of the variables included vehicle type, weight, cargo type, brakes, air bag status, driving records of drivers, fatigue factors, sleep patterns (also known as circadian rhythms), and seat belt and other restraint systems. One of the key terms was a, “critical event,” defined as the event that immediately led to the crash. The critical event is the action or event that made the crash unavoidable, and only one critical event was defined for each crash. This study evaluated the following accident types:

  1. Right roadside departure;
  2. Rear-end collision;
  3. Turn-across path;
  4. Straight paths;
  5. Same Trafficway Same Direction, Forward Impact;
  6. Same Trafficway Opposite Directions, Forward Impact;
  7. Turn-into Path;
  8. Single Driver, Forward Impact;
  9. Same Trafficway Same Direction, Sideswipe/Angle;
  10. Miscellaneous types of accidents.
This study found many causation-related issues with truck crashes, some of which are discussed below.
  • A tire bursting is one of the most common critical reasons why crashes occur with large trucks. This obviously leads to the conclusion that the motor carrier industry needs to have better systems of maintenance and repair as required under the FMCSR pretrip daily inspections. Tires are often not replaced on a timely basis due to the associated cost of replacement, which ultimately reduces the motor carrier’s or truck driver’s profitability. In other words, driving on worn tires saves money, makes more profit per mile, but has high costs associated with crashes, injuries, and deaths to car occupants.
  • Engine problems can be included in the category of disabling or nondisabling vehicle failure. This again relates to poor maintenance and repair in order to increase profits at the cost of human lives.
  • Deteriorating or inadequate road conditions that may be due to poor weather conditions or a lack of maintenance by state, federal, and county highway departments can cause accidents if vehicles are not traveling at safe and appropriate speeds for the specific road conditions.
  • Sudden shifts of truck cargo can cause a truck to lose control. These accidents can be prevented by following the FMCSR rules on cargo loading and the CSA study about cargo loading and weight, since it is known that poorly loaded cargo will shift and cause accidents.
  • Lane drifting is a critical event that causes many accidents. The motorist in a passenger car should always be observant of large trucks and tractor-trailers lane shifting. Trucks can shift because of weather conditions like heavy winds, which can cause them to lose control and leave the traveled roadway.
  • Truck drivers that are not properly qualified and trained on defensive driving techniques, hazard perception, and awareness techniques may have difficulty when making turns at intersections or when simply passing through intersections, and may cause accidents.
  • Heavily loaded trucks may not be able to stop for traffic that slows or stops ahead of the truck’s path. When the truck driver is operating too fast for slowed or stopped traffic, a critical event occurs and a crash becomes a reality.
  • Intoxicated drivers are a major cause of crashes and deaths.
  • Driver fatigue is a problem that results in injury and deaths to other motorists.
  • Objects left on the highway from improperly loaded truck cargo cause critical events that lead to crashes.

According to a 1994 report by the NHTA, truck driver fatigue is a contributing factor in approximately 30 percent to 40 percent of all large truck accidents. A study in 1995 by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) found that in 107 heavy truck crashes, fatigue was a critical factor 75 percent of the time. For those drivers who do not comply with the FMCSR and associated state regulations and stay on the roads for more than the number of hours permitted, they are twice as likely to crash and cause accidents than those drivers who drive for the regulated amount of time. The large number of statistics regarding truck-related accidents indicates an overwhelming need for additional safety and hours-of-service regulations. The bottom line is that trucks are, without a doubt, the cause of thousands of accidents each year. The numerous federal and state agencies are doing their best in the promotion of truck safety, but there has to be an increase in public awareness about the dangers of truck drivers and motor carriers that operate with a careless system aimed at on-time delivery rather than road safety.

Bradley A. Pistotnik © 2014