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 after a truck accident is what caused the collision. Unlike other types of 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 correctly identified and connected with the offending party or the extenuating circumstances that led to them. Retaining a Houston 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.
Why Do Truck Accidents Occur?
Commercial trucks' large size and weight can cause catastrophic results. However, this is not the only factor to consider when examining the 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 severe 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.
When Do Truck Drivers Cause Accidents?
Each day, some 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 public. 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 a truck driver. Our firm has the experience, resources, and determination to uncover truck driver negligence and get results.
When Is the Trucking Company to Blame for an Accident?
As explained above, truck drivers can cause serious accidents. They may be driving too fast, tired, or distracted. Still, the driver is 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: 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.
Most Common Causes of Truck Accidents
FMCSA studies have broken down the common causes of truck accidents by percentage:
- 13% of accidents are caused at least in part by driver fatigue.
- Nearly 25% of all accidents involve a speeding truck.
- Prescription and over-the-counter drugs are involved in 18% of accidents.
- Negligent driving is responsible for 7% of truck accidents.
- Over 25% of truck drivers involved in an accident had traces of drugs or alcohol in their system.
The data above shows that many truck accidents involve entirely preventable factors. Savings lives could be as simple as slowing down, making sure truckers are rested, and not using electronic devices while driving. When added together, stopping these behaviors can mitigate or prevent about 46% of truck accidents.
Looking at all of the data, some of the most common causes of significant 18-wheeler accidents include:
- Fatigued Truck Drivers
- Defective Truck Equipment
- Negligent Truck Maintenance
- Improperly Loaded Trucks
- Poorly Planned Truck Routes
- Speeding Truck Drivers
- Truck Driver Alcohol & Drug Abuse
- Unsafe Lane Changes
- Aggressive Driving
- Inclement Weather
- Dangerous Roads
- Improper Reflectors
- Passenger Vehicle Driver Error
Read below to learn more about some of these common causes.
Defective Truck Equipment Lawyers
How a Defective Truck Part Can Cause an Accident
Truck component manufacturers must design and produce safe products. If a truck part has a serious defect, the manufacturer may be held legally accountable—without the injured party proving a specific act of negligence or wrongdoing. The defect and the fact it caused an injury is enough to hold them accountable.
Many components on a truck can cause accidents if negligently manufactured, including:
- Coupling Systems
- Load Straps
The manufacturer of a faulty truck part may be liable under an area of the law known as product liability. If a manufacturer recalled any of these parts after discovering defects, and the trucking company did nothing to replace the truck part, the trucking company may ultimately be held responsible for any injuries.
Negligent Maintenance of Large Trucks
If you or a loved one was injured in a truck collision and you believe poor truck maintenance was to blame, now is the time to talk to a lawyer. At Arnold & Itkin, we work closely with accident reconstruction and technical experts to determine the cause of a big rig accident so we can identify the parties at fault. Using the documents and records that trucking companies and drivers must maintain, we carefully review all aspects of the case.
Just some of what we will consider when inspecting a truck accident case:
- State and federal regulations for all parts of the vehicle—including lighting, brake systems, etc.
- Company records regarding the inspection, repair, and maintenance of all vehicles.
- Driver records of pre-trip rig inspections to check all parts, accessories, and equipment.
- Driver responsibility of making sure the cargo has been properly loaded and secured.
When a truck accident has been caused by inadequate vehicle maintenance, multiple parties are likely involved. In these types of cases, our firm takes the necessary time not only to review all of the data but come up with a clear idea of who is truly at fault. We then exhaustively build a case to prove such a fault, always acting in such a way to help obtain necessary compensation from all liable parties. The bottom line is a trucking company, trucker, mechanic, and other parties may be held responsible for an accident caused by a mechanical or equipment problem that could have been easily detected by reasonable inspections.
Improperly Loaded Trucks
Not only do commercial trucks need to be driven safely, but they must also be loaded correctly. Unfortunately, many truck accidents are the result of improper loading methods. Improperly loaded trucks are dangerous for several different reasons. A fully loaded semi can carry tens of thousands of pounds of cargo. If this cargo is not secured or loaded correctly, it can get loose and fall, endangering motorists. In some cases, improperly secured cargo can even cause a truck to become involved in a devastating collision.
Below are a few potential consequences of a truck that is improperly loaded:
- Braking Problems - Overloaded trailers can impact the effectiveness of the truck's braking system. The brakes were designed with a maximum weight in mind. Loading the trailer above that weight can affect the truck's ability to brake as quickly as normal, which can lead to devastating accidents.
- Tire Problems - Like the brake system, the truck's tires are only designed to carry a certain amount of weight. Overloading the trailer puts additional pressure on the tires and can cause them to burst.
Regulations Regarding Secured Cargo
According to a 2004 survey conducted by the American Automobile Association (AAA), more than 25,000 motor vehicle accidents are caused by unsecured cargo every year. This is why the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the United States Department of Transportation (DOT) have established regulations for allowable weight limits for truck cargo as well as proper procedures for securing that cargo. To help enforce these regulations, weigh stations and truck scales are dispersed along America's highways. Law enforcement officials can ensure that truck drivers adhere to applicable commercial trucking regulations there.
For example, in Texas, a truck cannot weigh more than 80,000 pounds, but that limit varies based on the truck's size. Here are the weight limits for smaller commercial trucks:
- Quad Axle Trucks – 50,000 lbs.
- Triple Axle Trucks – 42,000 lbs.
- Two Axle Trucks – 34,000 lbs.
- Single Axle Trucks – 20,000 lbs.
In addition to the regulations outlined above, there are also ones set forth by the FMCSA. The Cargo Securement Rules by the FMCSA have been adapted based on the North American Cargo Securement Standard Model Regulations. All rules are based on a multi-year research program that evaluated cargo securement in both the U.S. and Canada. In general, the rule requires motor carriers to change how they secure their cargo.
The rule states that the cargo must be "firmly immobilized or secured" on the vehicle by tie-downs or another structure of adequate strength. Inflatable bags, called dunnage bags, can be used to fill space between articles of cargo. A truck driver must meet a certain minimum of tie-downs depending upon the length and weight of their cargo. Trucks carrying certain types of cargo have specific rules regarding cargo securement as well.
Types of Accidents Caused by Improperly Secured & Loaded Cargo
- Overturn Accidents: One type of accident caused by improperly loaded trucks is overturning. When a truck is attempting to turn, it may be thrown off balance by loose cargo. When the load shifts, the truck's weight is no longer evenly distributed, which makes it more likely to turn over.
- Jackknife Accidents: One primary reason why the NHTSA has established load weight limits is that heavy loads can impair a driver's ability to brake quickly. The heavier the load, the longer it can take a commercial vehicle to come to a complete stop. If a truck driver slams on the brakes suddenly, the driver risks having the load shift in such a way that the truck jackknifes or tips over.
- Hazardous Materials Spills: Truckers responsible for carrying hazardous cargo must be even more careful when loading. Accidents involving these trucks can be even more dangerous, as hazardous materials spill off a truck and onto the highway may present a heightened risk of fire or explosion.
- Accidents Caused by Spilled Cargo: When cargo is on top of a flatbed, it is more likely to fly onto the road. Bungees or strong tethers typically secure cargo. If a trucker uses tethers that have been worn down by use or sun damage, they could break and cause cargo to spill. Debris on highways can either fly off a truck bed and cause direct damage to a vehicle or fall onto the road and present a barrier that vehicles must swerve to avoid. Both scenarios are dangerous and can result in serious collisions.
Are Cargo Loaders Liable for Truck Accidents?
Loading a truck involves multiple parties. Carriers, cargo loaders, and truck drivers might share liability for an accident depending on their level of responsibility for the cause of one. While some incidents might seem like negligence on the part of a cargo loader, the FMCSA requires truckers to check specific aspects of their cargo.
The FMCSA requires drivers to check items such as the following periodically:
- Spare tires
- Equipment securing cargo
The FMCSA requires drivers to check their cargo to ensure it is secure and ready for safe transport. In many instances, it's the driver's responsibility to be the final decision maker on whether or not the cargo is ready for safe transport. However, in some instances, a driver will not be able to check their cargo. This might be true when they are transporting a sealed container and cannot verify that the contents are safely stored.
Liability for an accident can be split among parties depending on the situation. In some instances, a driver might be fully responsible for failing to confirm the safety of their loaded cargo. In other instances, a combination of cargo loaders, drivers, and truck companies can be responsible for unsafe transport procedures.
Poorly Planned Truck Routes
One of the top causes of accidents is drivers unfamiliar with the area they are driving in. When a driver is unfamiliar with a road, they not only can get lost but can become distracted while trying to navigate. Drivers of commercial motor vehicles often travel to new destinations where they will be unfamiliar with the route, which presents a serious risk. Many drivers will be tempted to look away from the road and down at maps or directions. The Large Truck Crash Causation Study found that approximately 22% of all crashes involving commercial motor vehicles are caused by drivers who were unfamiliar with the route they were driving.
One reason truckers fail to plan ahead is strict time constraints. If a driver does not have a global positioning device (GPS), it would be best to take the time and plan a route before they embark. Some drivers are even required to have paper proof of a route plan, such as drivers carrying hazardous materials, but that does not always happen. Ultimately, truckers must get their cargo to its destination on time. Although there are hours-of-service regulations so drivers can allot time to rest and plan routes, they often do not take them.
The Problem with Truck Navigation Devices
Some truck drivers are required to use GPS systems, including monitors that can record the amount of time a trucker is driving. While serving the purpose of safe navigation, these satellite navigation device allows truckers to stay on the correct route without looking at a map. They just have to follow the instructions of their GPS. However, since these devices are electronic, they are subject to malfunction. A malfunctioning GPS can cause a driver to become confused and lost. Not only that, but GPS devices can be distracting. When not designed for commercial trucks, they can even navigate truckers down roads that cannot handle big rigs.
Speeding Truck Drivers
Because big rigs are so large, truckers must operate their vehicles with the utmost care. Many drivers believe speeding isn't a serious crime—and while legal penalties for driving over the posted speed limit may not seem serious compared to penalties for drunk driving, the physical repercussions may be the same. Studies have shown that speeding over the legal limit while driving a large vehicle can cause serious injury or death.
What Is Speeding?
The obvious answer? Speeding is driving faster than the posted speed limit. However, speeding can also refer to driving too fast for current conditions. For example, there may be a 65 mph speed limit on a highway, which may be perfectly safe. However, it may be only safe to drive at 45 mph or slower during heavy rainstorms.
What Makes Speeding So Dangerous
Per the NHTSA, one out of three fatal accidents involves speed as a contributing factor. This has led to speed being named the third leading contributing factor to crashes in the nation. Part of what makes speeding so dangerous is that it is a habitual driving behavior—and while most people will state that they view speeding as a threat to their safety, they are also likely to admit that they themselves speed.
According to one recent study, there are several reasons that drivers speed:
- They are in a hurry to get somewhere.
- They are not paying attention to their driving.
- They are not taking traffic laws seriously.
- They don't think that they will get caught.
- They don't view speeding as dangerous.
For truck drivers, the answer is more nuanced. Regulations from the FMCSA restrict the number of hours truckers can be on the road. To meet pressing deadlines, many drivers press the limits of safety to make time. It is essential to look at all angles of the issue when making regulations that impact the trucking industry. With over 70% of American freight currently transported by big trucks and approximately 15.5 million of those trucks on the road, the problem isn't going away soon. It will take careful consideration and cooperation from all involved in this industry to make lasting changes that promote safety for truck drivers and other vehicles.
Speeding Big Rigs Put Tires Under Pressure
While most tires are built to only sustain speeds of 65 or 70 mph, the temptation to go faster is increasing as many states west of the Mississippi have raised highway speed limits to 75, 80, and even 85 mph. This includes Texas, Wyoming, Utah, and others. Some believe this dangerous move was made without consulting experts in the tire industry, as tire blowouts commonly occur above 75 mph—which should have discouraged such actions. Safety advocates and tire experts argue that continually driving at speeds higher than the tire is rated to handle can create excessive heat that damages the rubber, potentially leading to dangerous blowouts.
After a government document was discovered detailing an investigation on truck tire failures, the Associated Press quickly pointed out a disconnect between the states raising speed limits and the information that experts had on the prevalence of blowouts at such speeds. What did the states say about their decision to increase the limits? They either disregarded the tire safety ratings and warnings, refused to answer questions, or commented that they were unaware of such ratings. This indicates that many were simply unaware.
While states have the power to control speed limits, the NHTSA can raise tire standards. However, NHTSA believes the best way to prevent blowouts is not improved tire standards but regulation through devices that prevent truckers from going over 75 mph. Unfortunately, this measure has been stalled for years and is still not approved. The good news is that many truck companies and operators are already beginning to implement similar devices. This points back to the idea that many believe will resolve the issue: truck drivers must be responsible for their speeds. These drivers should be aware of the limitations on their vehicle and tires and make sure they comply with those safety standards, regardless of posted speed limits.
Truck Driver Alcohol & Drug Abuse
As far as alcohol and drug use in the workplace is concerned, truck drivers provide a good example. Research indicates that long-distance truck drivers are more likely to use amphetamines than the general population. This use is associated with drivers' work conditions as they enable drivers to stay awake and drive longer hours, thereby earning more money while keeping freight rates at a low level, which brings more work.
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 alcohol and drug use regulations. These regulations include prohibitions on the use of alcohol or controlled substances on the job and requirements for drug and alcohol testing of drivers.
Unsafe Lane Changing
As both trucks and passenger cars share the same roadways, specific rules and procedures should be followed to help keep everyone safe. Commercial trucks have 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 cause serious, life-changing semi-truck accidents.
Drivers 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 be involved in a catastrophic accident. Truck accident cases can involve more than just the driver but also the company, manufacturer, and other parties.
Aggressive Driving Behaviors
When people think about dangerous driving behaviors behind the wheel, they often think about obvious and even criminal behavior, such as driving while drunk. However, one of the most hazardous behaviors is not an action but rather a state of mind: aggressive driving. According to the NHTSA, aggressive driving can be defined as the operation of a motor vehicle in a way that will likely endanger others. There are two types of aggressive driving. The first type is unintentional aggressive driving, which involves habits that aren't byproducts of anger. Rather, these are habits that stem from poor training, impatience, or a general disregard for safety.
The second type is intentional aggressive driving, which 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
A study released by the NHTSA found that in roughly 47% of all fatal traffic accidents, at least one behavior was involved that could be classified as a form of aggressive driving. In 8% of fatal accidents, two aggressive driving behaviors were involved, and in 0.5% of all accidents, three or more behaviors were attributed.
So what were the primary forms of aggressive driving?
- 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%
What Is Road Rage?
Often used as a synonym with aggressive driving, road rage is criminal behavior where a driver is intentionally operating their vehicle in a way that will endanger 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.
Per the U.S. Department of Transportation, 25% of all traffic accidents are weather-related and occur during conditions such as rain, sleet, snow, or fog. This high percentage is because drivers have greater difficulty controlling their vehicles during bad weather. When the roads are slick and visibility is limited, even driving at otherwise permissible speeds 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 all vehicles' stopping time, particularly for large commercial trucks carrying heavy loads.
Are Companies Forcing Truckers to Drive Too Fast for Conditions?
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. Commercial drivers trying to make delivery deadlines may drive too fast for road conditions during adverse weather. A truck driver may feel pressure to deliver despite the adverse weather, leading to an accident as they speed through stormy weather. They may also drive too many hours because of a weather delay, which puts them on the road when dangerously fatigued. This behavior may put everyone else on the road at risk.
Dangerous Roads & Highways
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
- 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.
Who Is Liable for an Accident Caused by a Dangerous Road?
The state or local government may be responsible for the 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, laws may waive that immunity to a certain extent, such as the Federal Tort Claims Act.
Improper Reflector Usage
Trucks risk not being seen by other motorists without reflectors. Reflectors can save lives, 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 wholly fit off of the shoulder. As a result, some of the truck may stick out in the road. When a driver cannot 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.
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 snowstorm
- In tunnels
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 handle. 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 means 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
Truck Accident Causes: Common Questions
How can you determine what caused my truck accident?
When we investigate a truck accident, we work with investigators, accident reconstruction specialists, and experts in numerous applicable fields to identify 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 paints a clear picture of the truck's condition, cargo, driver, roads, and more. Then we can determine what caused the collision and who is responsible.
Do truck drivers cause most truck accidents?
Most traffic accidents are caused by driving behavior like drunk driving, recklessness, or speeding, but this does not necessarily mean that truck drivers cause all truck accidents. Many truck operators are experienced, careful, and excellent drivers. However, their abilities can be compromised if their employers pressure them 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 correctly. Getting to the bottom of a truck accident will shed light on what caused it to occur, regardless of the exact cause.
How can I prevent a truck accident?
There are so many causes of truck accidents that it is nearly impossible to prevent them entirely. However, this is not to say that actions cannot help improve safety. For example, while adverse weather conditions cannot be controlled, drivers can be advised not to drive in dangerous conditions. While drunk drivers 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, laws can ensure adequate testing and maintenance curb the problem.
Our Top-Rated Houston Truck Accident Attorneys Are Ready to Help
Pursuing your case in court may seem daunting—but don't worry. You are not alone. With the help of a Houston big rig accident 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.