Top Causes of Truck Accidents

Reviewed by Louis Patino, JD, DC

Louis Patino, JD, DC
A former U.S. Army Combat Medic, Dr. Louis Patino is a distinguished attorney recognised by Top Attorneys of America, Expertise, and the American Institute of Trial Lawyers. He has a Doctor of Jurisprudence from Texas Southern University and a Doctor of Chiropractic from Parker College of Chiropractic.

Top Causes of Truck AccidentsAccidents involving large trucks, or those with a gross weight of over 10,000 pounds, happen at an alarming rate. Despite accounting for only 4 percent of all registered vehicles, nearly 10 percent of car accidents that end in fatalities involve large trucks.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration conducted the Large Truck Crash Causation Study that summarizes the top causes of truck accidents in the United States. Statistics vary by location, levels of highway construction, and other essential factors, but the study categorizes the critical reasons for large truck crashes by the driver, the vehicle, and the environment.

Truck accident claims are complex, requiring evidence of what caused the accident and who is at fault to successfully recover compensation. Book a free case review with our experienced truck accident attorney to identify the potential contributing factors to your accident.

The Driver

The number one cause of large truck accidents is a truck driver’s action or inaction. According to the study mentioned above, a driver’s performance, non-performance, failure to recognize danger around them, and wrong decisions caused 87 percent of truck accidents.

Examples include the truck driver’s lapse of judgment in a situation, traveling into another lane or off the road, and non-performance that is not the truck driver’s fault, such as being disabled by a heart attack. Prescription drug use is also a significant factor in truck drivers’ impairment leading to wrong actions or inaction.

The Vehicle

Mechanical failure of a truck component that prevents the truck from operating properly causes 10 percent of truck accidents. A large truck might have mismatched tires or uneven tread wear that make driving bumpy and unbalanced. Similarly, while not mechanical, the cargo in a large truck can shift dramatically during transit if improperly secured, which can cause an accident. The study reported that brake problems, though, are the number one factor that causes truck accidents.

Environmental Factors

Environmental factors cause 3 percent of large truck accidents. Environmental dangers or concerns can include narrow roadways, inclement weather, and ongoing construction that result in unexpected detours.

Prevalence of Truck Accidents

With large trucks weighing twenty to thirty times as much as the average vehicle, there’s no question about the dangers posed by truck accidents. Additionally, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), the number of accidents involving large trucks causing fatalities has increased each year since 2011. In 2011, 2,245 passengers died from large truck accidents. By comparison, in 2018, 2,786 passengers died in large truck accidents.

In one recent year, police data showed 415,000 crashes involving large trucks. Further, 60 percent of these crashes happened on rural roads, and 83 percent of these crashes occurred on weekdays.

Truck accident statistics indicate that percentages of the prevalence of causes of large truck accidents are:

  • Prescription drug use (26 percent)
  • Speeding (23 percent)
  • Over-the-counter drug use (17 percent)
  • Fatigue (13 percent)

Types of Trucks on the Road

When you’re involved in an accident with a truck, your recovery amount for damages might depend on the type of large truck involved due to different laws that apply to each kind of truck.

Common types of large trucks include:

  • Flatbed trucks – this is a truck with a flat body and no sides or top covering. This design carries loads that would not otherwise fit into an enclosed truck. Common items transported in flatbed trucks include construction materials such as wood paneling.
  • Tanker trucks – These trucks carry liquids such as gasoline, beverages for consumption, and dry goods such as grain. Accidents involving tanker trucks are dangerous due to hazards from spills, especially when the truck is transporting chemicals.
  • Refrigerator trucks – Also referred to as reefer trucks, they haul perishable goods like produce.
  • Tractor-trailer trucks – These trucks are the largest and most heavily equipped trucks on the roads. Tractor-trailer trucks can carry freight up to 80,000 pounds.

Types of Truck Accidents

The type of truck accident you’re involved in is critical to establishing a case and determining who’s at fault. There are many different types of truck accidents, but the most common types of truck accidents are:

Jackknife Accidents

A jackknife accident involving a large truck occurs when the truck’s two separate parts (the cab and the trailer) fold in on each other. The resulting swivel motion creates a V shape and can easily swipe an oncoming vehicle or lead to a car striking the truck due to the delay in realigning the cab and trailer.

Truck Rollover Accidents

A shift in the truck’s gravity can cause truck rollover accidents. If cargo inside the truck shifts, the truck itself can shift and rollover. Truck rollovers can also happen if the truck driver is not paying attention and engages in reckless driving or speeds.

Blind Spot Accidents

Due to their massive size, large trucks have blind spots that prevent truck drivers from fully seeing cars or other objects directly next to or behind them. When truck drivers switch lanes, blind spots might hinder their sight resulting in an accident when they strike the unseen car or object.

T-Bone Accidents

Also known as broadsiding, a T-Bone accident occurs when one vehicle or swipes the side of or directly crashes into another vehicle. T-Bone accidents tend to more significantly impact the person operating the vehicle that gets hit head-on rather than on the side.

Underride Accidents

Underride accidents are one of the most deadly types of truck accidents. When a large truck quickly brakes, the vehicle behind it can get stuck underneath the large truck. Often, the impact causes the car’s top to rip off as it collides with the large truck’s undercarriage.

Head-On Collisions

Head-on collisions happen when a large truck directly hits another vehicle head-to-head. A large truck since the truck’s heaviness can destroy a smaller vehicle and seriously injure its driver and passengers.

Rear-End Collisions

Rear-end collisions happen when a truck hits another vehicle on its back-end. Again, since the truck is much heavier than a smaller vehicle, it can cause catastrophic damage to the car and severe injuries to the passengers inside the vehicle.

Employer Negligence in Truck Accidents

Companies that employ large truck drivers must adhere to laws governing safety protocols, hiring practices, and supervision. Accordingly, when a truck driver who is not self-employed gets into an accident, the injured party may have claims against the driver’s employer under a theory known as vicarious liability. This theory surmises that an employer is responsible for its employees’ actions when the employee performs within the scope of their delegated duties.

Claims against the employer can include:

  • Negligent hiring practices: If the employer neglects to properly screen a truck driver during the hiring process, this can be a red flag. Employers must take steps to ensure employees are competent to perform their duties. State laws might require employers to conduct background checks on potential employees or prove that they can legally operate a large truck.
  • Negligent entrustment: Like negligent hiring, negligent entrustment results from an employer’s failure to make sure an employee is trustworthy to operate a large truck. If a truck driver has a history of driving under the influence (DUI) violations and his employer neglected to discover this, the employer may be liable for wrongful actions of the employee (e.g., driving while intoxicated) while operating within the scope of their employment.
  • Failure to maintain the truck for safe driving: Trucking companies must regularly inspect their trucks in operation according to safety laws. A truck employer’s failure to adhere to these laws can result in serious potential liability.
  • Violating trucking regulations: The FMCSA enforces trucking regulations to ensure that truck drivers safely operate their vehicles. If a claimant can establish that the employer violated federal or state laws, the employer may be liable for resulting damages.

Regulations in Place to Prevent Truck Accidents

In response to safety concerns about large trucks sharing road space with smaller vehicles, the FMCSA created rules to regulate large truck drivers.

Measures put in place to potentially save lives include:

  • Restrictions on the use of mobile devices: Legislative bodies implemented this measure in response to the FMCSA’s study that revealed the likelihood of being involved in an accident was six times higher when truck drivers use their mobile devices while driving. Penalties can result in expensive fines. Truck drivers can pay up to $2,750 in fines, and employers can be responsible for up to $11,000 in fines. The FMCSA restricts the following mobile device activity:
    • Using one or both hands to hold a mobile device to make a call
    • Making a call that requires the truck driver to press more than a single button
    • Reaching for a mobile device, causing the truck driver to move from a seated driving position
  • Maximum driving time for large trucks transporting property: Following years of litigation, the FMCSA adopted a 70-hour, eight-day driving rule. In other words, a truck driver may work a maximum of eight days consecutively, including no more than 70 hours of drive time before a 34-hour reset period applies. After the truck driver completes the 34-hour break, they may resume working.
  • Random drug and alcohol testing: The FMCSA implemented this regulation to ensure truck drivers are not under the influence of drugs or alcohol while driving. A truck driver may be randomly tested at weigh stations along the highway and face steep penalties, including losing their commercial driving license and, therefore, their employment, upon a failed test result.

Do You Have a Truck Accident Claim?

Whether you have a truck accident claim depends on many different factors. First, if injured, you must show your medical records and other documentation to support your claim for damages. Documents can include medical records explaining your diagnoses, evidence of the truck accident such as police reports and photos, and witness statements.

You will need a lawyer to determine the at-fault party. If the opposing party was responsible for causing the truck accident, you have a stronger case than if you contributed to or directly caused the accident to occur.

Claimants can often recover economic damages tied directly to the accident, such as structural damage to your car, medical expenses, lost wages, and any property damage from the accident. Claimants can also potentially recover non-economic damages, including pain and suffering or emotional distress caused by disfigurement stemming from your accident injuries. Lastly, punitive damages might be allowable if the truck driver acted recklessly or maliciously.

A truck accident attorney can help you properly evaluate your claim and determine if you should proceed with a demand for compensation. Contact Patino Law Firm to learn more about your legal options.

Patino Law Firm
1802 N 10th St
McAllen, TX 78501

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