Common Causes of Truck AccidentsCommon Causes of Truck Accidents

It is nearly impossible to travel on a highway anywhere without experiencing the stress and tension caused by the 18-wheelers and large trucks that either race by you, box you in, or approach you in your rear-view mirror as you come to a stop.

There are approximately 2,750,000 tractor-trailers on the road. These are involved in approximately 500,000 truck accidents every year. Based on statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration showing that the number of fatal truck crashes grows steadily every year, including crashes involving pedestrians, which increased by 13% last year, there is good reason to be especially cautious around trucks on the road.

In any accident involving a truck, it is possible that there is more than one cause of the accident. Studies comparing truck accidents reveal that there are often several factors that contribute to a fatal truck accidents.

Here are six common causes of truck accidents that you should be mindful of when driving near trucks on the road.

Problems Breaking

An 18-wheeler loaded with cargo can weigh as much as 80,000 pounds—many times heavier than the average passenger car, which weighs about 2,870 pounds. Stopping distance for a car going 65 miles per hour is approximately 350 feet. However, a tractor-trailer traveling at the same speed will take about 600 feet to stop. That is the length of two football fields. In poor weather conditions, it can be even longer. It is important to keep a safe distance between you and any tractor trailers behind you.

Blind Spots

According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, trucks on the road have four blind spots:

  • 20 feet in front
  • 30 feet behind
  • 1 lane to the left
  • 2 lanes to the right

You should stay clear of these areas when driving near a truck. The adage is true that if you cannot see the truck driver in his side mirror, then he cannot see you.

Driver Unfamiliar with Route

According to a truck crash causation study, 22% of all crashes involving commercial vehicles are the result of a driver who is not familiar with the road they are driving. When a truck driver is on an unfamiliar route, they can get lost and become easily distracted. This increases the risk of a fatal truck accident.

Time Pressure

The trucking industry runs on a delivery schedule like any other delivery business. Cargo must arrive at its destination at specific times. With the trucking industry regulated with strict hours of operation limitations, drivers are constantly under time pressure to deliver cargo on time. Because of this, drivers often exceed the speed limits to make up time. This also increases the likelihood of a fatal crash.

Driver Fatigue

Because of the time pressures involved, truck drivers admittedly drive for more hours than they are legally permitted to drive per day, which, pursuant to federal “hours-of-service” regulations, is 11 hours per stretch of driving. When drivers are on the road too long, they experience driver fatigue, which is well known in the industry as a factor in many truck crashes.

Aggressive Driving

Exceeding the speed limit and aggressive driving or overtaking slower cars on the road is a significant factor causing truck collisions. Because trucks are so much heavier than cars, they cannot maneuver like cars, nor can they stop like cars. Many truck accidents are caused by trucks merging into traffic or running out of lane.

Tire Wear or Mechanical Failure

Consider how often you see strips of shredded tires on the highway. Tire wear is a significant problem with trucks and can be caused by over-use, improper tire pressure, or imbalanced alignment. Also, mechanical failure, especially in the breaks, are a significant risk. Approximately 27% of trucks are found to have brake problems. Inexperienced drivers who ride their brakes on steep declines increase the chances of break failure, which increases the likelihood of a fatal accident.

Impairment from Drugs or Alcohol

Many truck drivers in accidents are found to have been impaired by drugs or alcohol. This can be a particular problem for drivers who put in too many hours to meet the pressures of their delivery schedule. Obviously impaired drivers significantly increase the likelihood of a fatal accident.


A small percentage of truck drivers experience some illness or episode, like a heart attack, while driving. Often this results in a collision and fatalities. Although statistically, drivers of passenger vehicles more commonly experience incapacitating health events than truck drivers, this is still a significant concern for truck drivers because of the damage that trucks cause when they are in accidents with passenger vehicles.

Distracted driving

Distracted driving is a hazard for any driver. Truck drivers engage in the same distracted behavior that all drivers engage in:

  • Cellular phone use
  • Talking with passengers
  • Using the radio
  • Eating
  • Reaching

Particularly for truck drivers who are fatigued or driving on unfamiliar roads and get lost, distractions can lead to fatal accidents.

Poor training and maintenance

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) requires specific background checks for truck drivers. However, there are more tractor trailers on the road than ever, with less experienced drivers to drive them safely. This has led to a hiring war in the trucking industry, which has a 94% turn-over rate for drivers in large fleets. Trucking companies must balance the need for highway safety with the need to hire experienced drivers quickly. Often, however, inexperienced drivers are hired without proper background checks and with minimal training. This is a factor in the likelihood of fatal crashes.

Improper cargo loading

When you combine the size and weight of a tractor trailer with inexperienced drivers and improperly loaded cargo, which can shift easily, you have the common problem of overturned or jack-knifed tractor trailers. Both events can lead to fatalities for drivers and especially for passengers in other vehicles.

Truck Accidents Result from a Combination of Factors

Truck accident reconstructionist conclude that there is rarely a single factor that contributes to an accident. Usually, there is a combination of factors that cause something to go wrong. In addition to the twelve common causes of truck crashes listed above, there are other factors that can add to the likelihood of a crash. For example:

  • Faulty vehicle design
  • Manufacturing defects
  • Highway conditions
  • Weather conditions
  • Traffic signaling

Unfortunately, there is no way to guard against all of these factors when you are on the road. However, being aware of the most common causes of truck crashes may influence you to drive more cautiously near trucks on the road, especially by changing lanes when trucks approach from the rear and do not maintain a safe stopping distance.

Brian Wallace
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Kansas City Personal Injury Attorney