All vehicles can be potentially dangerous, but large, heavy trucks can pose particular safety issues for truck drivers and vehicle occupants. Unfortunately, truck accidents are more common than one may think.
- Out of the 30,800 fatal crashes in 2012, 3,702 (12%) involved at least one heavy truck.
- Out of the 5,584,000 nonfatal crashes in 2012, 367,000 (6.6%) involved at least one heavy truck.
- The estimated total cost for heavy truck crashes in 2012 was $99 billion; $40 billion in fatal crashes, $38 billion in injury crashes, and $21 billion in property-damage only crashes.
- 76,000 passenger vehicle occupants and 25,000 heavy truck occupants were injured in heavy truck accidents in 2012
- 2,843 passenger vehicle occupants and 697 heavy truck occupants were killed in heavy truck accidents in 2012
- Truck driving is America’s 8th most hazardous occupation.
The 4 Most Common Reasons for Heavy Truck Accidents
Large Load Hazards
Heavy trucks like ballast tractors and heavy haulers are designed to carry large amounts of cargo at a time, but even these vehicles have their limits. Heavy and very heavy trucks can be overloaded unsafely, presenting serious hazards for other vehicles on the road. An oversized load is a longer, wider, and/or heavier than the average load on an 18-wheeler.
When a load is not secure, or there is too much cargo loaded onto a flatbed truck, that cargo may fall off and present obstacles for other vehicles that are driving at high speeds. This is particularly dangerous when the truck is carrying hazardous materials, like harmful chemicals or metal. Sometimes, overloading is the result of a trucking company putting profits over safety. Other times, it is the result of a driver’s haste and negligence in the loading process.
In some cases, an improperly loaded truck may have a load shift during travel, upsetting the center of gravity and tipping the truck over. Because of the unbalanced load, it is extra important to keep the trailer lights and safety equipment operational. Additionally, a truck with an uncoupled trailer, which offsets the vehicle’s balance, will make the chance of tip-over greater. It is important to remember that as the vehicle becomes heavier, the longer the stopping distance needed.
Weight & Height Limitations
The sheer weight of a heavy truck can make the vehicle unable to travel on certain highways and bridges that cannot handle them. Many trucks are also too high to go under certain bridges and overpasses. For this reason, all their routes must be pre-approved by the Department of Transportation. When truck drivers run into unforeseen travel obstacles, disaster can occur.
Dangerous Driving Conditions
In many states, very heavy trucks need pilot cars to guide them, and in most states they are not allowed to travel at night. Considering that large trucks are already high-weight and hard to stop and control, driving with an over-sized load in risky weather conditions exponentially increases the risk of an accident. Indeed, slippery roads or reduced visibility can force a truck to maneuver or stop quickly, and the results can be disastrous. The threat of insecure driving conditions is magnified when the truck driver is fatigued from long distance driving.
About 87% of fatal and injury crashes are caused by the truck’s driver. 32% of heavy truck crashes occur because the truck runs out of the travel lane; 29% occur because of vehicle loss of control (traveling too fast, cargo shift, vehicle system failure, poor road conditions); and 22% occur because of a collision with the rear end of another vehicle in the truck’s travel lane.
Reasons for driver error are divided into 4 categories:
- Non-performance (12%)– the driver fell asleep or was physically impaired for another reason
- Recognition (28%)– the driver was inattentive, distracted, or failed to observe the situation adequately
- Decision (38%)– the driver was driving too fast, misjudged the speed of other vehicles, or followed the vehicles too closely
- Performance (9%)– the driver panicked, overcompensated, or exercised poor directional control
Some other factors associated with the crashes are prescription drug use, over-the-counter drug use, driver fatigue, unfamiliarity with the vehicle, and light deficiencies, among others. Brake failure is cited as a problem in almost 30% of truck accidents, while problems with the roadway itself is found in 16% of crashes. Weather conditions and other factors limiting visibility are present in almost 13% of the studied accidents as well.
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