Personal Injury

Five causes of commercial truck crashes and how they can be prevented

Months of studying, long hours on the road, and being held to the highest traffic safety standards make commercial drivers some of the safest drivers on America’s roads and highways. But even though the number of truck crashes is at its lowest level since 1950, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports there were still 3,380 commercial truck crashes involving fatalities in 2009. So what are the leading causes of commercial vehicle crashes?

As we have reported in the past, sometimes drivers of passenger vehicles are unaware of the special dangers big rigs present and follow trucks too closely or pull in front of them and stop too abruptly. Both behaviors, characteristic of aggressive or impatient drivers, may result in a crash and loss of life. But there are other crash causes that are within the realm of truck drivers and commercial carriers to prevent.

According to the National Transportation Safety Board, the number-one cause of commercial truck accidents is driver fatigue. In a recent survey conducted by Farmers Insurance, more than 10 percent of drivers said they have actually fallen asleep momentarily behind the wheel. More than 20 percent said they have momentarily dozed or nodded off while driving.

Fatigue is one of the most critical issues involving commercial truck and bus drivers, prompting the federal government to seek better ways of preventing fatigue-related accidents without overly restricting and encumbering commercial activity. New hours-of-service rules are being proposed and private industries are working on technologies that can detect driver fatigue and sound an alert. More than anything, however, it is important that commercial carriers not pressure their drivers to exceed legal driving limits for the sake of making a deadline or increasing profits.

The need to make deadline, an inflexible schedule, unexpected traffic jams, and severe weather are a few circumstances that can bring out the worst in drivers, and poor driving habits often contribute to traffic accidents. Hauling a heavy load through dangerous, inclement weather, speeding, and recklessly passing other vehicles to save time or make up for it on deadline often play a role in deadly commercial truck crashes. Again, it’s important for commercial carriers and independent drivers to avoid placing profits and deadlines above the safety of drivers and other motorists on the road.

As we have seen in the past, sometimes commercial carriers hire insufficiently trained drivers. Too often, independent drivers or business owners haul loads that they are unqualified to take on, exposing themselves and other motorists to a spectrum of dangers. A farmer hauling an excessively heavy or improperly secured load of hay or a commercial driver who lacks the proper training and license to carry flammable or other hazardous materials are a couple of examples we have seen create accidents in the real world.

Occasionally, improperly balanced and unsafely secured loads can cause accidents. Cargo that suddenly shifts while the vehicle is in motion presents a serious danger to the truck and surrounding vehicles, as does cargo that may become dislodged and separated from the truck, such as logs, pipes, and bails of hay.

Lastly, improperly maintained vehicles also present serious safety problems. Failure to properly maintain brakes, lights, and other safety defects can have deadly consequences. While federal and state commercial vehicle inspection programs check trucks for sub-standard maintenance issues, ultimately vehicle maintenance is a responsibility that falls on the commercial carrier and driver.