Like any other auto accident, there numerous possible causes of truck accidents. However, the most common causes for truck accidents are quite a bit different than the common causes of auto accidents.
It is important to be alert to these causes. A number of the most common causes for truck accidents suggests possible negligence on the part of the truck driver.
The Department of Transportation Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s 2005 Report to Congress on the Large Truck Crash Causation Study provides interesting findings on the 20 most common causes. The full list can be found in the report.
Prescription Drug Use
Prescription drug use is the number one cause of truck accidents contributing to 26.3% of truck accidents according to the study. This is very important and should be investigated thoroughly.
Many prescription drugs come with warnings regarding driving, drowsiness and so on. Unfortunately, some of the worst culprits are those most commonly used by truck drives such as pain killers and muscle relaxants related to the back pain common to long distance truck drivers.
Truck companies are required to test for a wide range of prescription and illegal drugs. The failure to do so is negligent.
Traveling Too Fast for Conditions
Excessive speed is the second leading cause of truck accidents accounting for 22.9% of trucking accidents. This is one we are all familiar with as we see trucks speeding past us on the highways.
There is no excuse for this. Trucks are 20 to 30 times larger than passenger vehicles. They are hardly agile, maneuverable or easy to stop. Excessive speed is highly dangerous with catastrophic consequences associated with the inability avoid accidents.
Truck drivers often drive too fast for road conditions, which can lead to accidents. According to the Transportation Research Board’s (TRB) 2010 Report, “Trucking 101,”driving too fast for conditions accounts for about 23% of all truck accidents leading to over 30,000 trucking accidents each year.
Keep in mind that driving too fast for conditions does not necessarily mean speeding. Anyone that has had a large truck on his or her bumper in city traffic can attest to this. In fact, rear end collisions are one of the most common results of truckers driving too fast for conditions.
Investigating the Truck Accident to Determine Rate of Speed and Driving Conditions
Investigating this issue can be bit tricky since a truck driver is very unlikely to admit that he or she was driving too fast. This means that the information from the truck driver or truck company will not come easy in most cases.
Most but not all trucks have data recorders installed. Different data recorders will record different data. The data recorder will hold critical information regarding the accident.
If there is a data recorder, then it is important to get your hands on it. Even then, the data recorders may not be enough. Again, driving too fast for conditions does not mean speeding. As such, the data recorder may show driving within the posted speed limit, which will not necessarily reflect road conditions. So it may be necessary to get traffic conditions from available sources to get an idea of whether the driver was driving too fast.
In many cases, there will be witnesses to the accident. It is very important to get their statements regarding the cause of the accident. Most drivers have had truck drivers barreling down on them at one time or another. Many are more than happy to give statements about the driver’s negligent driving behavior. This may be the most valuable information if it is available.
In short, it is important to obtain every bit of information possible from any source to show that the driver was driving too fast. This may take some work but it is important to obtain. A truck rear-ending a vehicle is pretty much a slam dunk on negligence and liability. However, if the driver was reckless, it may be possible to obtain punitive damages as well.
Truck Accident Data Recorders
Most modern trucks will have data recorders. The technology has been around since the 70’s. It has been widely used since the early 90’s.
Data recorders record a host of important data. Each brand may record different data. Data recorders can record speed, brake usage, GPS, diagnostics coding, and a great deal of other trip/event data depending on the make and model of the recorder.
Although each make and model may record different data, even the most basic recorder should provide some useful information regarding the speed of the truck at the time of the accident. This is the basic building block for showing that the truck driver was driving too fast for conditions.
Over the Counter Drug Use
Another common cause that would indicate negligence is over the counter drug use which accounts for 17.3% of truck accidents. Just like prescription drugs, over the counter drugs can cause drowsiness with serious impairment of driving ability.
Fatigue and Work Related Pressure
Fatigue accounts for 13% of truck accidents while work related pressure accounts for another 9.2%. These will tend to be closely related.
Truck drivers work excessive hours by virtue of delivery pressures. Federal law allows 11 hour shifts, 77 hours in a 7 day week. This is clearly excessive and obviously the result of some pretty strong lobbying pressure from the industry. Even with these rather excessive allowable hours, many truck drivers and their companies exceed these allowable hours.
It is important to check the driver logs to determine whether or not the hours have been exceeded.
Illegal Maneuvers and Aggressive Driving
Illegal maneuvers account for 9.1% and aggressive driving accounts for 6.6% of truck accidents. A couple of examples of aggressive driving are ones we are all far too familiar with, tailgating and weaving.
Again, the size and lack of maneuverability of large trucks make these behaviors inexcusable.
The last driver error that we will address here is driver inattention. This is not much different than any other driver. Notably, this is less common in truck drivers than other drivers accounting for only 8.5% of truck accidents.
Driver inattention can be deadly in any auto accident. In the case of an inattentive driver of a large truck, the fatality rate is much higher by virtue of size of large trucks.
There are a number of equipment related causes for truck accidents. The most common is brake failure which accounts for 29.4% of accidents.
This is remarkable particularly when viewed in light of the other factors above which in combination with faulty breaks creates enormous risks for accidents.
For any truck accident, it will be important to check maintenance and repair logs. These may reveal a lack of proper maintenance and repair brakes and other essential equipment.
Alcohol and Illegal Drugs
Is it is noteworthy that alcohol and illegal drugs play a trivial role in truck accidents. Together they account for only 3.1% of truck accidents.
The truck industry has done a pretty good job addressing these issues. Perhaps most importantly, state laws on drinking, drugs and truck driving typically call for automatic revocation of commercial drivers’ licenses.. This consequence is a great deterrent while also getting the worst culprits off the roads completely.
Seek Experienced Legal Counsel
As mentioned, there are many other factors that may contribute to a truck accident. The ones noted are perhaps most indicative of negligence but all possible causes should be investigated.
If you are in a truck accident, it is important to conduct a thorough investigation. Many times responsibility and liability may be very clear. Other times, it may be more challenging to determine. A personal injury attorney experienced in truck accidents can help.