According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), although large trucks* are responsible for only 3% of injury-causing accidents, accidents involving large trucks typically cause much greater harm because of their size and weight. Approximately 500,000 trucking accidents occur every year in the United States, of which about 5,000 result in fatalities. Put more precisely, one out of every eight traffic fatalities involves a trucking collision.
Semi-truck accidents can be caused by human error, carelessness, improper maintenance, or distracted driving, among other things. Some of the most common causes are described below:
Impaired Truck Drivers
Truck drivers often work long shifts in order to cover long distances. Inadequate sleep, prolonged sitting, and the monotony of driving can cause a driver to take unnecessary risks and have poor reactions and judgment. The same problems can be intensified by alcohol and use of prescription medications. Federal regulations require trucking companies to test drivers for alcohol and drug use as a condition of employment, and also require periodic testing while drivers are on duty and after fatal accidents.
Of all truck accidents caused by driver error, 44% involve a driver taking prescription or over-the-counter drugs, 23% involve speeding, and 18% are caused by driver fatigue.
The federal “hours of service rules”, 76 FR 81133, attempts to avoid driver fatigue by placing limits on the number of hours a driver may work. Under this regulation, a commercial driver may work a maximum of 14 hours a day, with a maximum of 11 hours of driving. Drivers must be off-duty for 10 consecutive hours prior to the start of each shift. Drivers may not drive after being on duty 60 hours in 7 consecutive days, or 70 hours in 8 consecutive days, until he or she been off duty for 34+ hours.
Federal regulations require truck drivers to keep a driver’s log. If you suspect that your accident was caused by driver fatigue as a result of violation of the hours of service rules, request a copy of the driver’s logs and/or the trucking company’s logs.
Carelessness While Driving
Semi-trucks have “no-zones”, where a passenger car can disappear from the truck driver’s view. No-zones occur at the front, side, and rear of a truck, as well as when the driver backs up or turns right. An accident is 60% more likely to occur when a car is in a truck’s no-zone, as opposed to when it is visible to the truck driver. Accidents are most frequent when the truck driver doesn’t know or doesn’t take precautions when a car is in one of its no-zones.
Truck rollovers, also a common cause of truck accidents, are most frequently caused by speeding, fatigue, inexperience, improper load distribution, or when a driver takes a curve too fast.
According to the United States Department of Transportation, 29.4% of all large truck accidents involve brake failure, brakes that are out of adjustment, or other brake-related issues. Responsibility for maintenance of brakes falls on the driver, the company who loaded the truck, the party responsible for maintaining the brakes, and the manufacturer of the brakes.
Truck drivers sometimes depower their front brakes, which reduces operating costs by minimizing wear and tear on the brakes and tires. Depowering the front brakes results in reliance upon the trailer brakes and downshifting to slow or stop the truck, and increases the risk of accidents, especially jackknifing. Improper attachment of the trailer to the front of the truck can also result in jackknifing.
Tire problems are another cause of accidents. Allowing drivers to drive on tires that don’t meet minimum DOT tread depth requirements, mounting mismatched tire sizes or with significantly different wear, and mixing bias and radial tires on the same axle, can all cause drivers to have problems that could lead to accidents. Federal safety regulations require pre-trip tire inspections that, if conducted properly, should greatly minimize problems like improper tire pressure and worn or damaged tires, that can also cause accidents.
Research commissioned by FMCSA shows that commercial drivers who engage in dialing a mobile phone while driving are six times more likely to be involved in a safety-critical event (e.g., crash, near-crash, unintentional lane deviation) than those who do not. The average driver took his or her eyes off the forward roadway for 3.8 seconds, which equates to a traveling distance of 306 feet when driving 55 mph.
As a result, the FMCSA has prohibited drivers of commercial motor vehicles from texting, holding a mobile device to make a call, or dialing by pressing more than a single button. Violations of the restriction can result in civil penalties of up to $2,750, and driver disqualification for multiple offenses. Trucking companies may not require their drivers to text or use hand-held mobile devices while driving.
Commercial truck drivers can still legally use mobile phones by using an earpiece or the speaker phone function, using voice-activated driving, or using the hands-free feature.
*trucks are considered to be large when they have a gross weight rating exceeding 10,000 pounds