Truck accidents account for thousands of fatal and injury-causing accidents in the United States every year. While trucks make up only 4.3 percent of vehicles on the road today, the statistical likelihood of a truck causing a fatal injury is a far higher percentage. Why do big rigs seem to cause a disproportionate number of accidents and injuries? Today, we are taking a look at the statistics behind truck accidents and the reasons why they cause major damage on the highway.
Truck Accident Statistics in the United States
The reality is that commercial trucks are the most dangerous vehicles out on the road. The annual death toll from truck accidents is the equivalent of 26 plane crashes every year. The cost of these accidents exceeds $19 billion a year.
In 2011, there were 3,781 fatalities connected with truck accidents, and approximately 88,000 injuries, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. In both cases, passengers of small, conventionally-sized vehicles were at a much higher risk than the drivers and occupants of big rigs. Out of the 88,000 injuries that occurred in connection with truck accidents that year, only 23,000 victims were truck occupants. The remaining 64,000 were occupants of other vehicles, and an additional 2,000 were non-occupants, including cyclists and pedestrians.
Why Are Commercial Trucks So Dangerous for Other Drivers?
Trucks are not inherently dangerous—what makes them so is that something goes wrong, the results are magnified due to their size. Cars have minor mechanical issues all the time, but the same issue on a big rig could result in a deadly crash.
There are multiple reasons for why trucks are so dangerous. These include:
- Some of our highway infrastructure was not designed to support big trucks
- Big trucks are up to 4 or 5 times the size of a passenger car
- Fully-loaded big rigs can weigh up to 80,000 pounds
- Bigger trucks require more stopping time and braking power
- Big trucks make wide turns and maneuver poorly in small areas
- Cars can be easily hidden in a truck driver's blind spots
- Truck drivers are vulnerable to driving while drowsy
The other issue is failure to maintain. Mechanical issues can affect the safety of a truck so much that a driver is legally required to do an inspection before every trip. Like a pre-flight checklist, a truck driver has to test the brakes (both engine brakes and axle brakes), check the lights, ensure the cargo is secure, and complete other basic steps in car upkeep. Trucking companies are also required to maintain their fleet or risk being held liable for accidents that occur.
When the Problem Isn’t the Truck
The truck driver's margin for error is too small. What makes big rigs so dangerous is what separates a minor error from a catastrophe could be as simple as a couple hours of sleep, a minor mechanical problem, or even drug use.
In an international study (based in South America), a third of truck drivers admitted to using amphetamines while driving—the truth may be more because the study relied on self-reporting. Half of the same truck drivers surveyed admitted to drinking and driving. Ultimately, the truck is not the most dangerous instrument on the road; it’s the driver.
Drivers are responsible for ensuring that they are fit to drive by taking federally-mandated rest breaks and avoiding the need for substances at all. Companies are also responsible for ensuring drivers are fit to drive—they’re expected to hire drivers with safe records, provide training, and write schedules that don't require long stretches of driving.
If drivers or trucking companies fail to do this, they may only make errors that any driver would make—except that “any driver” is not in control of an 80,000 missile traveling at 55 mph or higher.
What Is the Future of Truck Safety?
In the words of one organization, “Bigger trucks mean more dangerous highways.” And trucks are getting bigger. When a truck collides with a car passenger, the results can be catastrophic. In the United States, approximately 70% of all freight is transported via trucks. An estimated 15.5 million trucks currently operate in the country, with over 3.5 million truck drivers nationwide. As the economy improves and more Americans utilize online shopping, trucks will continue to get bigger in order to accommodate increased demand. The time to promote truck safety is now.
Speak with a Truck Injury Attorney from Arnold & Itkin
Because thousands of trucks traverse across the country on public roadways each day, many people have personally experienced the results of a passenger car / truck accident. When unqualified drivers are behind the wheels of these trucks and have dangerous records, the drivers and the trucking companies can and should be held responsible. When trucks are not maintained to the degree that they should be, this factor can result in a crash too. These manufacturers and companies should be held accountable. We can fight for you. Call our truck accident lawyers now.