Causes of Truck Accidents

HutzlerLaw August 2, 2022

In the wake of any truck accident, everyone wants to know what happened and who was to blame. Lawyers, insurance adjusters, law enforcement, and courts answer these questions by investigating the cause of the crash. Discovering the cause allows them to decide who owes you compensation for your injuries and losses.

Truck accidents have myriad potential causes. They’re often the most complicated injury cases to prove. Consequently, truck accident victims usually need the help of a seasoned truck accident lawyer to get sufficient compensation to pay for their care and return to living their lives.

Here’s a review of some common causes of truck accidents that lawyers for injured victims will usually investigate in building a case for damages.

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Many Truck Accidents Arise From Human Errors

In our experience as lawyers for individuals harmed by truck crashes, we have found that many (if not most) accidents happen because of a preventable human error or lapse in judgment. In those cases, the individual or entity that made that mistake will usually shoulder financial liability for the injuries and losses the victims suffered.

Speeding and Driving Too Fast for Road Conditions

Traveling at an unsafe speed contributes to hundreds of thousands of crashes on American roads annually and nearly one-third (29 percent) of all traffic deaths, according to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA).

It’s an especially significant problem in connection with truck accidents. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) found in its seminal Large Truck Crash Causation Study (LTCCS) that speeding contributes to the cause of roughly one-quarter (23 percent) of all truck accidents in the United States.

Driving too fast, whether it involves speeding (exceeding a posted speed limit) or simply traveling faster than road conditions warrant, creates numerous dangers for trucks and vehicles sharing the road with them. The higher a vehicle’s rate of speed, the less time its driver has to react to road hazards, the further the distance the vehicle needs to come to a safe, controlled stop, and the greater the force and destruction of a collision. Trucks in particular, because of their outsized mass, often need long distances to stop when traveling too fast, which runs the risk of deadly rear-end crashes, jackknifes, and other catastrophic losses of control by a trucker.

Driver Distraction and Inattention

Distraction and inattention behind the wheel of any vehicle increase the likelihood of an accident, especially for truckers. According to the LTCCS, truck driver inattention, distraction, and inadequate surveillance have historically accounted for roughly one-third (31 percent) of truck accidents on U.S. roads.

Driving a truck requires sustained focus and skill because trucks are large, complicated machines. A moment’s lapse of situational awareness while driving a big rig can have deadly consequences.

Truck accidents frequently happen because a trucker:

  • Lost track of vehicles in the truck’s immediate vicinity;
  • Became distracted by using a phone or GPS (even though prohibited by federal and state regulations);
  • Ate or drank behind the wheel; or
  • Looked away from the road for too long.

Of course, it’s not just truck drivers who cause truck accidents by driving distracted or paying insufficient attention at the wheel. Drivers of other vehicles that share the road with trucks can also trigger a collision through those dangerous behaviors. According to the NHTSA, distracted driving led to more than 3,100 accident deaths in the United States in one recent year, a significant portion of them in crashes involving trucks.

Fatigue (a.k.a. Drowsy Driving)

Trucking is a notoriously exhausting job. Truck drivers work long hours on tight schedules. They often favor driving at night or early in the morning—when most people are asleep—to take advantage of lighter traffic. As a group, they’re older than the average American worker and in poorer health.

All of these factors combine to make driver fatigue a major issue for the trucking industry. The LTCCS found that drowsy driving contributed to the cause of 13 percent of truck crashes in the United States annually. Given the nationwide epidemic of insufficient sleep—according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 1/3 of all American adults regularly get less sleep than they need—even that alarming figure likely underestimates the scale of the problem.

Fatigue impairs driving abilities in much the same way that consuming alcohol does, adversely impacting reaction times, motor control, attentiveness, and decision making. The CDC reports that a driver who has been awake for at least 18 hours experiences the same levels of impairment as someone with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.05 percent, which is above the nationwide 0.04 percent legal limit for truck drivers. Going 24 hours without sleep roughly equals having a BAC of 0.10 percent, above the legal limit for drivers of any vehicle.

To combat trucker fatigue, federal and state governments have issued detailed hours of service (HOS) regulations that limit how long truck drivers can drive without rest per day and per week. Trucks also carry electronic logging devices (ELDs) to monitor compliance with those rules. But even when truckers meet those mandates (and many don’t), fatigue can still set in and cause deadly accidents.

Truckers are not alone in feeling the ill effects of fatigue, either. According to the NHTSA, drowsy driving resulted in just shy of 700 road deaths in a recent year, which we believe is also a significant underestimate. Anyone who shares the road with a truck while fatigued risks causing a catastrophic truck accident.

Drug or Alcohol Impairment

Everyone knows that using drugs or alcohol before driving is illegal and a major risk factor for causing a deadly crash. But despite years of public awareness campaigns and harsh criminal penalties, drunk and drugged driving still takes a massive toll on U.S. roads.

According to the NHTSA, drunk driving causes 32 traffic deaths per day in the United States (roughly one every 45 minutes), and drug-impaired driving appears to play a role in more than half of all serious injury and fatal crashes.

The LTCCS found that alcohol use is relatively rare among truck drivers, accounting for just one percent of truck accidents annually. But it found misuse of drugs—both legal and illegal—to be a far larger problem. The study attributed nearly one-fifth (19 percent) of truck accidents to the potential effects of over-the-counter or illegal drug use by the truck drivers involved. This is perhaps unsurprising, considering that many truckers use stimulants to stay awake and alert and take medications with potentially hazardous side effects to treat acute and chronic health conditions.

Impaired drivers of other vehicles sharing the road with trucks also contribute to truck crashes. As the NHTSA data cited above reflects, drunk driving is far more common among passenger car drivers than truckers, and many of those alcohol-impaired drivers get into accidents with trucks. The same goes for passenger vehicle drivers who operate under the influence of legal and illegal drugs.

Equipment Failures

Trucks are not just large cars. As machines, they’re exponentially more complex and difficult to operate safely than the ordinary sedan, SUV, or pickup. That’s why all truckers must carry a valid commercial driver’s license (CDL), which they can only obtain by passing meeting minimum knowledge, experience, skill, and physical requirements.

But all the training and know-how in the world cannot prevent a truck accident if the driver takes the wheel of a dangerously defective vehicle. The LTCCS found that equipment failures contributed to 39 percent of truck accidents annually, mostly commonly failures in braking systems (29 percent of crashes), tires (6 percent), and shifting cargo (4 percent). A sudden, catastrophic failure of an essential system in a truck will predictably lead to a loss of control and a dangerous accident.

By and large, equipment failures are preventable. Truckers and truck operators must inspect their equipment for safety and perform necessary maintenance. Parties who load cargo onto trucks must take care to secure it so that it does not shift or fall off. Truck and truck part manufacturers have legal duties not to produce faulty products. If a truck crashes because one of its components failed under normal use conditions, chances are that someone made a dangerous mistake in allowing that truck on the road.

Dangerous or Unfamiliar Roads

The LTCCS also found that roads and drivers’ lack of familiarity with them also contribute to a significant number of crashes every year. The study traced as many as 42 percent of truck accidents to these factors, making them nearly as significant as truck driver distraction and fatigue combined.

Road conditions contributed to truck accidents by presenting a driver with potentially extreme challenges in keeping his rig under control. Of course, some road conditions, like those caused by sudden weather changes, are unavoidable.  But truckers should know how to deal with most of them safely if they make good choices. Truck accidents can all too easily happen when truck drivers make the poor decision to drive through blizzards, in high crosswinds, or during extreme sun glare.

Truck drivers also must know the roads they intend to travel. Truck crashes happen when truckers take detours or drive a new route without familiarizing themselves with potential hazards or driving challenges.  The same goes for other motorists, who can risk causing a truck accident by making sudden or ill-advised course changes while sharing an unfamiliar road with experienced truckers.

Others can also have a responsibility to prevent road-related truck accidents. A government agency, for example, might create an unnecessary and unreasonable risk of a truck accident by failing to warn about sudden changes in a road surface or traffic pattern due to construction, or by designing and building a road that is inherently unsafe for truck travel.

Find an Experienced Truck Accident Attorney to Handle Your Injury Case

The potential causes of truck accidents listed above do not represent a complete list, of course. Trucks can crash under a virtually limitless array of circumstances. And it often falls to the lawyer representing the injured truck accident victim to figure out what happened and who owes compensation for the harm done.

That is why, if you or someone you love sustained injuries in a truck accident, it’s critical to hire an experienced truck accident attorney to handle your case. Do not entrust your rights to just any attorney who claims to handle traffic accident matters. Truck accident cases tend to be more factually complicated, legally challenging, and labor-intensive than other accident claims. Only a lawyer who understands the trucking industry and the intricacies of holding truckers and trucking companies accountable for crashes can put you in the strongest position to get the compensation you need.

The right lawyer can:

  • Investigate a truck crash and identify all parties—including truck drivers, owners, operators, contractors, and manufacturers—who may owe compensation to you;
  • Act quickly to preserve your rights if a party with liability seeks to destroy evidence, shift blame, or take shelter in bankruptcy court;
  • Navigate a case that may involve multiple victims and defendants, each vying to promote their different interests;
  • Explain complicated concepts to judges and juries at a trial;
  • Negotiate aggressively with commercial liability insurance carriers who may face large losses on your claim; and
  • Collect your settlement, judgment, or jury award.

Look for a lawyer who can demonstrate an established track record of success in truck accident claims and of winning for clients in and out of court.

Contact a Truck Accident Attorney Today

Do not wait to seek legal help after you or someone you love suffers injuries in a truck crash. A lawyer may need to take prompt action to investigate the cause of the accident and to hold the at-fault parties accountable. If you wait too long, you may lose valuable rights.

To learn more about your rights after a truck accident, contact an experienced truck accident injury lawyer today for a free case consultation.

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