Anyone who has ever driven on a highway or interstate understands the risks posed by large commercial vehicles. Most tractor trailers and big rigs are huge, unwieldy vehicles with significant blind spots, sluggish steering and slow braking. According to the EPA, the average big rig truck weighs 35,000 pounds. The average car weighs 2,871 pounds.
It’s no surprise that passengers in commuter vehicles are so frequently injured or killed in crashes with trucks that are more than 10 times heavier than the vehicle in which they’re traveling.
There are advocates within the trucking industry and many truckers themselves who go above and beyond to operate vehicles as safely as possible. There will, however, always be outliers and people who fail to follow all safety regulations, often for the purpose of profit maximization.
According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, the majority of large truck accidents involving passenger vehicles can be attributed to:
Some of those errors are mistakes average commuters make on a regular basis, but the risk for severe catastrophic injury or death is much higher when the mistake is made by a tractor trailer operator.
In many accidents, multiple mistakes are occurring at the same time. It’s easy to imagine a truck driver unfamiliar with a local road getting turned around and being forced to make an unsafe multi-point turn to get back to where they need to go. The driver may be rushing through an illegal maneuver and inattentive to the surrounding traffic conditions while doing so.
It’s also no surprise truck drivers sometimes make inaccurate assumptions about another driver’s actions. Most daily commuters in the United States likely experience this every week – some driver jumps into your lane with no blinker and seemingly no regard for the safety of themselves or other drivers around them. You didn’t expect it to happen, but the other driver wasn’t thinking about your assumptions when making their decision. If that happens with a big rig truck, a careless action could result in catastrophic injury or death.
Distractions are certainly a risk that’s common among all drivers, not just tractor trailer drivers. We’ve written a lot of content about the dangers of distracted driving, and it stands to reason truck drivers are susceptible to these same risks.
Hopefully one of the few silver linings to come out of the coronavirus pandemic is a new appreciation for the people who make up the foundation of our economy – especially those who maintain the supply chains on which we all rely. Commercial truckers are some of the most indispensable professionals in this regard. They are operating round-the-clock to make sure products get from distribution centers to stores across the nation. Sometimes that never-ending stream of work leads to exhaustion.
A truck driver’s compensation is often tied to on-time deliveries and hours on the road. Variables like traffic congestion or weather conditions can put them behind schedule. This means many drivers are regularly put in positions where they could lose money by adhering to safety guidelines. Many end up breaking the rules, sometimes under pressure from their employer, to make up for delays.
In 2015, comedian Tracy Morgan was seriously injured in an accident involving a commercial truck. The truck accident investigation determined the driver who hit Morgan’s limo had been awake for an astonishing 28 hours. It’s hard to imagine how a truck driver who has been awake for that long could possibly operate their vehicle safely.
Truck accident injuries and deaths have not been falling over the past decade. The U.S. Department of Transportation’s latest large truck and bus trend analysis is from 2017, when 4,889 commercial trucks and buses were involved in fatality accidents. That number represented a 9 percent increase from 2016 and 42 percent from the most recent low in 2009, when only 3,432 large trucks were involved in fatal crashes.
Truck safety had been trending positively during the first decade of the 2000s. Between 2002 and 2009 injury accidents involving commercial trucks had decreased 41 percent to approximately 60,000 accidents. In 2017, injury accidents with tractor trailers, big rigs and busses were up to 116,000.
The increase in truck accident deaths and injuries has been attributed to: