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Truck Accident Causes

Identifying the Most Common Causes of Big Rig Collisions

Causes of Truck Accidents

Serving the Injured Across the United States with Offices in Texas & Louisiana

One of the most crucial questions that must be answered in the aftermath of a truck accident is what caused the collision. Unlike other types of motor vehicle accidents, it can be less clear. In many cases, several factors may be to blame. The responsible party or parties involved can only be held liable if the causes of a collision are properly identified and connected with the offending party or the extenuating circumstances that led to them. Retaining a personal injury lawyer who can investigate your case and identify the causes that led to it will be crucial in your case. When you turn to our team at Arnold & Itkin, you can have confidence that your case will be in the hands of a legal professional who understands the regulations and precedents that affect commercial truck accidents.

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Why Do Truck Accidents Occur?

The large size and weight of commercial trucks can make catastrophic results more likely. However, this is not the only factor to consider when examining the damaging effects. More likely than not, a dangerous combination of circumstances led to the truck accident you were involved in; it is up to your attorney to assess the situation and determine what those circumstances were. Looking at the statistics of truck accidents and the number of serious injuries and fatalities they have caused is troubling. However, finding out the factors that lead to truck accidents is much easier said than done. There are many different causes to consider. One example is driver negligence, which might take the form of fatigued driving, distracted driving, failure to note blind spot deficiencies, and so on.

But human error is only one of a long list of factors that may have been involved.

Other possible causes include:

  • Adverse weather conditions
  • An overloaded trailer
  • Inadequate maintenance of vehicle products
  • Defective equipment
  • A company's failure to fire drivers with habitual drug and alcohol abuse problems

Most Common Causes of Truck Accidents

The FMCSA conducted a study into the most common causes of truck accidents.

The most common causes listed in the report were:

  • Driver fatigue
  • Aggressive driving
  • Speeding
  • Distracted driving
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Improperly loaded cargo
  • Defective truck equipment
  • Inexperienced, inadequately trained drivers
  • Unsafe lane changing
  • Failure to maintain proper distance

Causes of truck accident receive special attention because of how inherently dangerous large truck are when they're operated unsafely. While most passenger vehicles on the road weight under 4,000 pounds, semis can weigh as much as 80,000 pounds. These factors combine to reveal that semi trucks are often 20 to 30 times larger than the vehicles they share the road with.

The massive size of a trucks means they handle much differently than a smaller passenger vehicle:

  • One of the biggest differences is stopping distance. At 65 mph, a car requires approximately 160 feet to stop. A big rig, on the other hand, requires approximately 420 feet to stop.
  • A big rig also has huge blind spots ("no zones") We are all used to the blind spot in our own car, but trucks have multiple blind spots. This makes it difficult for the driver to spot surrounding vehicles.
  • In addition, large trucks make wide turns. A driver often has to swing in the opposite direction before negotiating a turn. For example, before making a right turn, a tractor-trailer driver may first swing the truck left to accommodate the wide turning radius. This can endanger vehicles on either side.
  • The height and weight distribution of an 18-wheeler makes it particularly susceptible to rollovers. Although often caused by speeding, truck rollovers can occur even at very low speeds, especially when going around corners and up or down a steep pitch. Rollovers may also occur when a tire goes off the pavement.

Who Causes Truck Accidents?

When Do Truck Drivers Cause Accidents?

Each day, some commercial truck drivers choose to violate commercial trucking regulations. Speeding, keeping illegal duplicate log books to conceal long hours, using drugs to overcome fatigue, and driving without proper certification—each of these violations puts the driver and everyone else on the road at risk. In other cases, truck drivers may drive legally but make poor decisions that result in injury or death to others sharing the highway.

State and federal laws governing 18-wheelers and their drivers are put in place to protect the driving public. Commercial truck drivers who consciously break those laws are responsible when their actions cause serious injury or death. At our firm, trucking accident lawyers can help if you were injured in an accident caused by the driver of an 18-wheeler. Our firm has the experience, resources, and determination needed to uncover truck driver negligence and get results.

Alcohol & Drug Abuse by Truck Drivers

As far as alcohol and drug use in the workplace is concerned, truck drivers provide a good example. Research indicates long distance truck drivers are more likely to use amphetamines as compared to the general work population. This use is associated with the work conditions of drivers as they enable drivers to stay awake and drive longer hours, thereby earning more money while keeping freight rates at low level, which in turn brings more work. In this case, while drug use no doubt has a negative impact on health and safety, it can positively impact productivity.

NTSB Safety Studies: Substance Abuse in the Trucking Industry

Safety studies conducted by the NTSB have documented the role of alcohol and drugs use in accidents in the U.S. One particular study targeted substance abuse as a factor in large truck accidents. Investigations of accidents in which the driver of a heavy truck was fatally injured determined that one-third of fatally injured large truck drivers tested positive for alcohol or other drugs.

Fatigue and fatigue-drug interactions were cited as the most common factor in these fatality accidents. Driver fatigue is a common cause of large truck accidents, but often truck drivers will resort to drugs such as amphetamines or other stimulants to combat fatigue. NTSB studies uncovered a strong association between violations of the maximum driving time regulation and drug usage by drivers.

Alcohol and drug abuse is a cause for concern among all drivers; however, when you combine the impairment from substance abuse with the dangers of driving an 18-wheeler, the results can be catastrophic. In the early 1990s, the NTSB strengthened regulations regarding alcohol and drug use by truck drivers. These regulations include prohibitions on use of alcohol or controlled substances on the job and requirements for drug and alcohol testing of drivers.

Aside from the physical limitations of 18-wheelers, other factors can lead to truck accidents. Although truck drivers are trained, minor lapses in judgment or behavior can lead to catastrophic situations.

Actions such as the following can all lead to a truck accident:

There are also a many factors inherent to the trucking business that can lead to a big rig accident. Truck drivers often operate within a system of compensation that encourages driving faster and for longer than is safe. They may also drive through hazardous conditions. Additionally, drivers may receive inadequate training.

Do Old Truckers Cause Accidents?

A 2005 study by the American Trucking Association said the heavy-duty long haul trucking industry had a shortage of approximately 20,000 drivers. The study said 1/5 of all long haul truck drivers were 55 or older. According to the study, about 3.7% of the truck drivers were 65 and older in 2004, which was an increase from 4 years earlier.

While older truck drivers typically have more experience and may be more cautious, research has established that age-related declines in cognitive, perceptual, and physical abilities are linked with an increased accident risk. According to a report by the Transportation Research Board (TRB), older adults are at increased risk of being involved in crashes.

Passenger Vehicle Driver Error

Adding to the danger of trucks is the fact that many people near them don't consider the limitations that truckers need to deal with. While a four-door sedan can quickly weave between lanes, trucks can't do the same. This means that a trucker is has limited options when they need to avoid an emergency. Additionally, the size of trucks mean that drivers—both inside them and outside them—have limited visibility.

Unsafe actions by passenger vehicle drivers include:

  • Driving in an 18-wheeler's blind spot
  • Cutting abruptly in front of a truck
  • Pulling in front of a large truck too quickly
  • Failing to exercise caution around a truck making a turn
  • Unsafe passing, such as not allowing enough headway

When the Trucking Company Is to Blame for an Accident

As explained above, can cause serious accidents. They may be driving too fast, may be fatigued, or may be distracted. Still, the driver of the truck and other vehicles in the accident are not solely to blame. In fact, the trucking company may also be at fault.

Some examples of situations where the trucking company may be liable:

  • Negligent Hiring Retention: They hire a driver with a history of alcohol abuse
  • Negligent Retention: They keep a driver on staff with a string of moving violations
  • Negligent Maintenance: They fail to maintain hydraulic brakes, tires, or other equipment

A five-year study of fatal accidents involving large trucks in Michigan found that a third of more than 400 trucks inspected had maintenance defects that would have placed them out of service if detected before a crash. Brake problems accounted for a third of the problems. Evidence of negligent maintenance can be difficult to detect. That's why our attorneys work with accident reconstruction and technical experts to examine trucking accidents carefully.

FMCSA's Study on Truck Accident Causes

The FMCSA closely follows the causes of truck accidents. It does this because doing so makes nearly every road in the United States a safer place to be. If we can understand why truck accidents happen, we can hold the people who cause them accountable for their actions.

The FMCSA study also broke down the common causes of truck accidents by percentage.

  • 13% of the accidents were caused at least in part by driver fatigue.
  • Nearly a quarter of all accidents involved a speeding truck.
  • Prescription and over-the-counter drugs were involved in 18% of the accidents.
  • While distracted driving was only found to cause 8% of the accidents at the time of the FMCSA study, that number has been growing in recent years as smartphones and other technology gadgets provide unneeded distractions inside the cab of the truck.
  • Negligent driving was responsible for 7% of truck accidents.
  • Over 25% of truck drivers involved in an accident had traces of drugs or alcohol in their system.

As seen with the data above, many serious truck accidents involve factors that are entirely preventable. Savings lives could be a simple as slowing down, making sure truckers are rested, and preventing the use of electronic devices while driving. When added together, stopping these behaviors has the potential to mitigate or prevent about 46 percent of truck accidents.

Unsafe Lane Changing & Truck Crashes

As both trucks and passenger cars are sharing the same roadways, there are specific rules and procedures that should be followed to help keep everyone safe. Commercial trucks have extremely large blind spots, and the tight schedules that many truck drivers are on can cause them to change lanes aggressively for the sake of cutting a few seconds off their route.

Unfortunately, an unsafe lane change can be the cause of a serious and life-changing accident.

How Do I Know If a Driver Made an Unsafe Lane Change?

Truck drivers are often facing a tight schedule that pushes them to drive dangerously on the road. The need for haste and general impatience may contribute to an unsafe lane change, in addition to driver distractions or fatigue. Since commercial trucks are usually large and carrying a significant amount of heavy cargo, accidents involving them can be devastating.

A driver may be responsible for an unsafe lane change if they:

  • Do not signal
  • Change lanes while in an intersection
  • Change lanes when traveling at high speeds
  • Do not check their blind spot
  • Weaving between lanes

Truck drivers have a responsibility to protect the safety of all drivers on the road, regardless of their deadlines. When they fail to do so, they may find themselves involved in an accident that caused serious injuries to another. Truck accident cases can involve more than just the driver, but also the company, manufacturer, and other parties. Additionally, some trucking companies have hired legal teams that seek to obscure evidence of company and driver liability.

Aggressive Driving Behaviors & Serious Accidents

When people think about dangerous driving behaviors behind the wheel, they often will think about obvious and even criminal behavior—such as driving while drunk or driving while distracted. One of the most hazardous behaviors, however, is not an action, but rather a state of mind. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), aggressive driving can be defined as the operation of a motor vehicle in a way that will likely endanger others. Aggressive driving can include everything from exceeding the speed limit to tailgating.

Types of Aggressive Driving

There are two types of aggressive driving. The type involves habits that aren't byproducts of anger. Rather, these driving habits often stem from poor training, impatient drivers, or a general disregard for safety.

Intentional aggressive driving includes the following:

  • Speeding over the limit
  • Tailgating and following too closely
  • Weaving in and out of traffic
  • Failing to stop or yield the right of way
  • Deliberately blocking attempts to pass
  • Ignoring traffic signs, such as red lights

What Is Road Rage?

Often used as a synonym with aggressive driving, road rage is entirely different. This is actually considered a criminal behavior where a driver is intentionally operating their vehicle in a way that will endanger the people around them.

Road rage can be considered criminal assault where the motor vehicle is classified as a deadly weapon. At the very least, drivers who participate in road rage should be held civilly accountable for any accidents and suffering that their behavior causes.

Statistics Regarding Aggressive Driving & Traffic Fatalities

In a study released by the NHTSA, it would found that in roughly 47% of all fatal traffic accidents, at least 1 behavior was involved that could have been classified as some form of aggressive driving. In 8% of fatal accidents, 2 aggressive driving behaviors were involved and in 0.5% of all accidents, 3 or more behaviors were attributed to causing the accident.

So what were the primary causes?

  • Speeding – 30.7%
  • Failure to Yield – 11.4%
  • Reckless Driving – 7.4%
  • Failure to Obey Traffic Signs – 6.6%
  • Making Improper Turn – 4.1%
  • Improper Passing – 1.7%
  • Improper Following – 1.5%
  • Erratic Lane Changing – 1.4%

Weather-Related Truck Accidents

Per the U.S. Department of Transportation, 25% of all traffic accidents in the U.S. are weather-related and occur during conditions such as rain, sleet, snow, or fog. This is because during heavy weather, drivers may have greater difficulty in controlling their vehicles. When the roads are slick and visibility is limited, even driving at speeds that may otherwise be permissible can be deadly. This is especially dangerous when it involves large trucks.

Wet Pavement Means a Longer Stopping Time

In 2006, a study of large truck crashes by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration ranked weather among the top 20 causes for truck accidents involving deaths and serious injuries. They estimated weather was a critical factor in 20,000 crashes involving large trucks over a multi-year period.

Most weather-related accidents happen on wet pavement and during rainfall. In fact, three-fourths of weather-related accidents occur on wet pavement and nearly half during rain. Rain reduces visibility, makes roadways slick, and lengthens stopping time for all vehicles, but particularly for large commercial trucks carrying heavy loads.

Are Companies Forcing Truckers to Drive Too Fast for Conditions?

Commercial drivers trying to make delivery deadlines may drive too fast for road conditions during adverse weather. Each year trucking companies lose an estimated 32 billion vehicle hours due to weather-related congestion in the nation's metropolitan areas, per an analysis of weather effects on commercial vehicle mobility. A truck driver may feel pressure to make a delivery despite the adverse weather, leading to an accident as they speeds through stormy weather. They may also drive too many hours because of a weather delay, putting them on the road when they are dangerously fatigued. This behavior may put everyone else on the road at risk.

Dangerous Roads & Highways: What They Mean for Truck Accidents

Sometimes, roads can be inherently dangerous without the presence of adverse weather conditions. There are several ways to show that a road, street, highway, or freeway presented dangerous hazards to truck drivers and others on the road such as passenger-vehicle motorists, motorcyclists, bicyclists, and pedestrians.

For instance, an accident could have been caused by any of the following:

  • Broken pavement
  • Potholes
  • Steep shoulder drop-offs
  • Fallen trees or boulders

An injury may also be attributable to a lack of safety features, such as rumble strips and guard rails. The design of the road itself—one that leaves no time for the motorist to react—may also be the source of a crash. When filing a claim related to a truck accident, it's important to consider these factors so liability can be properly distributed.

Who Is Liable for an Accident Caused by a Dangerous Road?

State or local government may be responsible for safe design and maintenance of a road or street, while the federal government may be in charge of designing, maintaining, and repairing interstate roads. Although the state and federal governments may be shielded from a lawsuit by the doctrine of sovereign immunity, there may be laws that waive that immunity to a certain extent, such as the Federal Tort Claims Act or a state tort claims statute. Our goal will be to determine exactly how to hold the negligent party accountable. We use our considerable experience and resources to get to the bottom of every accident case we handle.

Improper Reflectors & Truck Crashes

While reflectors may not seem important, trucks run the risk of not being seen by other motorists without them—especially in storms or at night. When reflectors do not work, collision with a truck is much like a collision with a brick wall. Reflectors are very important, especially when a truck is forced to pull to the side of the road.

Due to the large size of many trucks, they may not completely fit all the way off of the shoulder. As a result, some of the truck will be sticking out in the road. When a driver is unable to see the part of the truck in the road due to a lack of reflectors, there is a chance they could collide with the vehicle.

How Federal Guidelines Mandate Reflector Usage

Federal guidelines mandate that truck reflectors must be of a certain thickness. Depending on the truck size, there must be a specific number on each side of the vehicle. Trucks must be kept clean to help drivers see these reflectors.

Reflectors are most important at the following times:
  • At night
  • On winding roads
  • While a truck makes a turn at night
  • When a truck is pulled over
  • In a rain or snow storm
  • In tunnels

Additionally, when a truck is stalled on the side of the road, flares or other ground reflectors must be used to allow other drivers to see the truck. When a stalled or disabled truck is not completely off the highway, approaching automobiles may not be able to see the edge of truck without these warning signs, which could lead to catastrophic collisions.

Truck Accident Causes: Common Questions

How can you determine what caused my truck accident?

When we investigate a truck accident, we spare no effort in finding its cause. We work with investigators and accident reconstruction specialists as well as experts in numerous applicable fields to identify all contributing factors. We look at driving logs and compare these to maintenance and loading logs, truck driver receipts, witness accounts, physical evidence, and all documentation of the time leading up to the collision. This will paint a clear picture of the condition of the truck and its cargo, the driver, the roads, and more. Then we can determine what caused the collision and who is responsible.

Are most truck accidents caused by truck drivers?

Most traffic accidents are caused by driving behavior like drunk driving, recklessness, or speeding, but this does not necessarily mean that all truck accidents are caused by truck drivers. Many truck operators are experienced, careful, and excellent drivers. However, their abilities can be compromised if they are pressured by their employers to drive long hours in violation of hours-of-service regulations. They can also have trouble maneuvering their vehicles if they are improperly loaded, or they may lose control if a truck is not maintained and inspected properly.

Getting to the bottom of a truck accident will shed light on what caused it to occur, whether this was negligence on the part of a truck driver or another reason.

What can I do after an accident?

There are so many causes that it is nearly impossible to fully prevent them. However, this is not to say that action cannot be taken to help improve safety in the truck industry. For example, while adverse weather conditions cannot be controlled, drivers can be advised not to drive in dangerous conditions. While drunk drivers on the road cannot be avoided, truckers can be held to standards that prevent them from drinking on the job. While there is always a possibility for product malfunction, trucking laws can ensure that adequate testing and maintenance curb the problem.

Our Top-Rated Houston Truck Accident Attorneys Are Ready to Help

Pursuing your truck accident case in court may seem daunting—but don’t worry! You are not alone. With the help of an attorney at Arnold & Itkin, you can feel the weight of this burden lifted off of your shoulders. Our team understands the complex nature of truck accidents. We know how these matters should be addressed when brought to court. Even out-of-court settlements can benefit from our services, as we know the investigative procedures and legal steps that need to take place in order to produce a successful outcome to your case.

Although many causes exist when it comes to truck accidents, it is not impossible to take legal action. Our law firm is here to help. Call Arnold & Itkin today at (888) 493-1629.

Case Results

Check Out Our Victories

  • $12 Million Massive Settlement Obtained for Truck Driver Arnold & Itkin is proud to announce that our firm has secured a $12 million settlement on behalf a truck driver who was crushed by his own cargo—which then led directly to a stroke. The driver, who was 56 years old at the time, now requires costly ...
  • $10 Million Settlement Obtained for Family Affected by Fatal Vehicle Accident Our firm represented the family of two people who were killed after their vehicle was hit by an 18-wheeler running a red light. We were successful in reaching an eight figure settlement on their behalf.
  • $10 Million Settlement Won for Family Against Negligent Trucking Company Attorneys Kurt Arnold, Caj Boatright, and Ces Tavares represented a family who had lost their father in a tragic 18-wheeler accident. He was driving home when a trucker made a dangerous maneuver and caused a massive collision. The trucking company ...
  • $3.2 Million Settlement Reached for Injured Husband & Wife Attorney Cory Itkin represented a husband and wife who were injured after being hit by two semi-trucks. The wife sustained back injures while the husband was knocked unconscious; he needed several surgeries. Our firm was successful in reaching a ...
  • $2.1 Million Settlement Obtained for Truck Accident Victim Arnold & Itkin LLP secured a multimillion-dollar settlement for a man who suffered severe neck and back injuries in a truck accident. Our firm aggressively pursued the case until the defendant settled with our client days before trial.
  • $2 Million Large Settlement Obtained for Grieving Family Arnold & Itkin is proud to have secured a massive settlement for a family who lost their loved one due to the negligence and reckless action of a commercial vehicle driver. Our work will allow our clients to live in financial stability while they ...
  • $1.6 Million Large Settlement Reached for Victim of Severe Truck Accident Truck accident attorneys at Arnold & Itkin secured a sizable settlement for a client who was rear-ended by an 18-wheeler on the highway. Her injuries required multiple surgeries, but the defendants refused to take responsibility. Her $1.6 million ...
  • $1.5 Million Big Rig Accident Victim Received Jury Verdict Arnold & Itkin LLP obtained a $1.5 million verdict on behalf of a client who suffered a torn meniscus when he was bumped by a tractor trailer. We are especially pleased with this result because the defendants accepted no responsibility for the injury ...
  • $1.5 Million Jury Verdict Ruled in Favor of Longshoreman Arnold & Itkin obtained a $1.55 million verdict on behalf of a client who was seriously injured when a yard mule driver collided with the pickup truck in which he was standing. The defendants only offered to settle for $35,000 while denying the ...
  • $1.49 Million Settlement for Man Struck by a Truck Our firm helped represent a client who was severely injured after he was struck by a truck. We helped recover $1.49 million on his behalf.
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