Study highlights common truck crash causes

Drivers of passenger vehicles can be easily intimidated by the huge commercial trucks that roam California highways. Even a veteran driver with decades of experience can feel somewhat unnerved when an 18-wheeler passes by or comes right up behind the smaller vehicle. Due to their size and speed, trucks can cause devastating accidents with catastrophic injuries. Are there common reasons for these destructive accidents?

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) put together an in-depth report called The Large Truck Crash Causation Study. They looked at a nationally representative sample of the 120,000 large truck crashes that occurred between April 2001 and December 2003. Each of the selected crashes resulted either in a fatality or injury.

A causation, as opposed to a correlation, is an element that exerted influence on the occurrence of the vehicle collision. In the study, the causation did not have to occur immediately preceding the event – but could still be traced as a factor in the wreck. For example, driver training could have happened months or even years before the accident, but if the training was deemed insufficient, it could be considered a causal event. Additionally, a manufacturing defect could have led to the accident when the piece was machined or installed years earlier.

The study found that 87 percent of the accidents could be connected to driver error such as decision-making errors or failures in attention. Ten percent of the accidents had causations tied to the vehicle itself such as tire blowouts or brake failure. The remaining 3 percent were environment-related such as poor weather or road-blow.

As the largest single group, the driver critical reasons for vehicle collisions were divided into four categories:

  • Non-Performance: including falling asleep, was disabled by a heart attack or was physically impaired for another reason.
  • Recognition: including driving distractions (eating, personal grooming, texting, talking on a cell phone) or failing to observe a situation for another reason.
  • Decision: including driving too fast for conditions, misjudging the speed of other vehicles or following other vehicles too closely.
  • Performance: including poor reactions such as overcompensating or exercising poor directional control.

Additionally, these truck accidents were categorized in the LTCCS study as falling into three major types of critical events.

  • Running out of the travel lane, either into another lane or off the road
  • Vehicle loss of control due to traveling too fast for conditions, cargo shift, vehicle systems failure, poor road conditions or other reasons
  • Colliding with the rear end of another vehicle in the truck’s travel lane

Trucks can include delivery vans, construction vehicles, 18-wheelers and other tractor-trailers. No matter the weather or your level of driving experience, it is wise to remain aware of your surroundings. Truck drivers and drivers of smaller passenger vehicles must perform vehicle inspections and regular maintenance on critical systems including tires, brakes and other safety features.