Large Truck Crash Causation Study Reveals Driver Errors

According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, accidents involving 18 wheelers and other commercial vehicles are on the rise in the U.S. In 2010, 500,000 commercial trucks were involved in accidents. Over 100,000 serious injuries and over 5,000 fatalities occurred as a result of those accidents. Only 3,200 fatalities from large truck accidents occurred during the previous year. Additionally, the number of commercial trucks on the nation’s roadways is expected to increase by 20 percent by 2012, which will increase the possibility for accidents even further. In light of the serious consequences which result from commercial vehicle accidents, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), the division of the Department of Transportation responsible for trying to reduce the number of commercial vehicle accidents, has partnered with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and undertaken a major analysis of the causes of accidents involving commercial vehicles. The results of the Large Truck Causation Crash Study (LTCCS) indicate that truck drivers’ behaviors are a major issue in big-rig accidents. Details of the Study The FMCSA took a representative sample from the 120,000 large truck accidents that occurred between April 2001 and December 2003 and used that sample to study the causes of crashes. Each of the 963 accidents that the study selected for the sample involved at least one large truck and one passenger vehicle. The crashes resulted in 243 fatalities and 1,654 injuries. The study identified both the critical event and the critical reason that each of the accidents occurred. The critical event in the crash was the act or event that put the vehicles onto a path that made collision unavoidable. The study determined that three “critical events” provided the catalysts for the accidents:

  • The truck ran out of its travel lane, either off the road or into another lane
  • The truck driver lost control of the vehicle
  • The truck collided with the rear end of another vehicle in the truck’s travel lane

The “critical reason” is defined as the cause of the critical event. Researchers broke the critical reasons down into three main categories:

  • Driver
  • Vehicle
  • Environment

Researchers broke the “Driver” category down into further subcategories:

  • Non-performance: the driver was physically impaired in some way such as fatigue
  • Recognition: the driver failed to recognize danger because he or she was inattentive or distracted
  • Decision: the driver made a decision that led to the accident such as travelling too fast for conditions or following other vehicles too closely
  • Performance: the driver performed some driving act that caused the crash such as overcompensating after a turn

Study Findings The LTCCS demonstrated that the behavior of commercial truck drivers is a major factor in truck accidents. Of the accidents that the study reviewed, researches assigned the critical reason to the trucks 55 percent of the time. Of that percentage, 87 percent of the critical reasons for the crashes had to do with driver behavior. The largest single category of critical reasons for big-rig truck crashes was drivers’ decisions, accounting for 38 percent of accidents. The second most common reason for truck crashes involved driver recognition of danger. Twenty-eight percent of accidents in the study attributable to truck drivers resulted from distracted driving. Eight percent of all total accidents involving commercial vehicles occurred because the driver was distracted by something external and two percent occurred because the driver was internally distracted. In its report to Congress regarding the study’s results, FMSCA officials identified 10 critical issues that the FMSCA needs to focus on to reduce accidents involving commercial trucks in the future. Among the issues that the FMSCA cited were:

  • Driver fatigue and the Hours of Service (HOS) that drivers currently log
  • Conditions under which drivers work
  • Truck driver performance, including distracted driving

Dangers of Distracted Driving Distracted drivers of commercial trucks are a significant hazard. Distracted driving can be internal or external. External distraction happens when a driver loses focus due to an object, noise or other occurrence outside the vehicle. Internal distraction occurs when the driver loses focus due to some object or activity inside the vehicle. Such distractions include: talking on a cell phone, eating, reading, smoking, tuning a radio or adjusting a G.P.S. device. The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) recognizes three kinds of distracted driving:

  • Visual: those activities that cause a driver to take his or her eyes off the road
  • Manual: when a driver removes his or her hands from the steering wheel to perform a task
  • Cognitive: when a driver takes his or her mind off of the task of driving

The FMCSA has issued safety tips for drivers of commercial vehicles to help reduce the number of accidents involving large trucks. Importantly, the FMCSA advises commercial truck drivers to shut off cell phones while driving. A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine has confirmed that the risk of an accident for drivers talking on cell phones is four times greater than those not on phones. Using a cell phone while driving subjects a driver to all three forms of distracted driving: the driver has a hand off the wheel and on the phone, the driver’s eyes are off the road while dialing or answering the phone and the driver’s mind is on the conversation and not on the driving task. Accidents involving 18 wheelers and passenger vehicles can be catastrophic for those in the smaller vehicles. Commercial truck drivers need to be ever-mindful that they are operating huge pieces of equipment and shoulder the potential of causing fatalities at all times. When truckers fail to modify their behavior accordingly, others sharing the road with them are immediately at risk. If you or a loved one has been involved in an accident with a large truck, contact an experienced personal injury attorney who can help you obtain compensation for your injuries.