Truck accidents are much rarer than passenger car accidents but still far too common in the United States. According to data from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), more than 400,000 truck accidents occurred in the most recent data year. While the yearly rate of truck accidents fluctuates, the overall number of truck accidents has risen compared to data from 11 years ago.
Trucks account for 4 percent of all registered vehicles. However, semi-trucks are 20 to 30 times heavier than passenger vehicles, making them a much deadlier force compared to crashes that only involve cars. They can do a lot of damage—and when they do, you may need a truck accident lawyer near you to recover compensation for your injuries.
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Semi-Truck Accident Statistics in the United States
As reported by the National Safety Council (NSC), 9 percent of all fatal crashes involve a large truck.
United States truck accidents resulted in fatalities, injuries, and property damage according to the most recent FMCSA data. Fatal truck accidents are less common than those involving injuries and property damage.
Per the FMCSA’s Large Truck and Bus Statistics Report, semi-trucks were recently involved in:
- 4,842 fatal accidents
- 107,000 injury accidents
- 414,000 property damage accidents
More Passenger Vehicle Occupants Die in Truck Accidents Than Truck Drivers
The NSC reports that 4,965 people died in fatal truck crashes in the most recent data year. Of those who lost their lives, there were more passenger vehicle occupants than truck occupants and pedestrians/bicyclists.
The data indicates that 71 percent of the people killed in commercial truck accidents were occupants of other vehicles. Given the sheer force and weight that a large truck strikes with, it is not surprising that passenger vehicles receive the brunt of the damage. By contrast, only 17 percent of truck accident victims killed are truck occupants, and 12 percent are non-vehicle occupants like pedestrians or bicyclists.
Truck Crashes Injure Occupants of Other Vehicles More Often Than Truck Occupants
More occupants of passenger vehicles suffer injuries than truck occupants and non-vehicle occupants. The number of injuries reported by the NSC in the most recent year was 147,000. Roughly 68 percent of these injuries were sustained by occupants of other vehicles, 30 percent were sustained by truck occupants, and 2 percent were sustained by non-occupants.
The injury and fatality data highlights just how dangerous truck accidents are. The size and weight of these massive vehicles creates significant challenges for both truck drivers and drivers of other vehicles. Truck drivers take longer to stop, have much larger blind spots, and must use more care and concentration when operating their vehicles. Any slight error or misjudgment could cost them—or more likely others—their lives.
What Causes Truck Accidents?
A causation study from the FMCSA reports that 87 percent of large truck accidents are caused by driver error.
Those errors were broken down into four categories:
- Driver Decision: This refers to conscious choices the truck driver makes to perform a particular action. For example, the driver may have misjudged the distance between their truck and another vehicle or may have been driving too fast for the conditions on the road at the time.
- Driver Performance: In some cases, a driver has issues commanding their vehicle. This could include debating a turn, steering, overcompensating, or poor directional control.
- Driver Recognition: Recognition refers to the driver’s ability to see, perceive, or recognize something inside or outside of the truck. The driver may be inattentive or distracted, or they may have inadequately checked their surroundings before causing the accident.
- Non-performance: Non-performance errors occur when a driver causes an accident through inaction. The driver’s mental and physical faculties are usually impaired by something. The driver could have fallen asleep at the wheel, become debilitated by a heart attack, or lost their ability to react quickly due to the influence of drugs or alcohol.
Driver-Related Factors Contributing to Truck Collisions
Numerous driver-related factors contribute to a truck accident:
- Driver fatigue: The driver is too tired or exhausted to operate a vehicle, much less a large unwieldy one like a semi. Unfortunately, studies show that truck drivers only get an average of 4.8 hours of sleep a day. The FMCSA imposes hours of service rules to ensure drivers stay off the road for 10 hours after 11 hours of travel, but many truck drivers do not follow these guidelines.
- Distracted driving: Distracted driving is anything that takes the driver’s eyes off the road. Many truck drivers get distracted by things within the cab such as the dispatch radio, navigation, eating, or reaching for items in the truck.
- Speeding: Speeding of any kind is one of the most common driver-related factors in both passenger vehicle and truck accidents, according to the FMCSA.
- Traveling too fast for road conditions: Truck drivers and car drivers must be mindful of their speed at all times. Just because they are not exceeding the speed limit does not mean they are not going too fast. The danger of this is increased with large trucks because they take longer to stop.
- Tailgating: It is illegal to follow another vehicle too closely. Further, it increases the risks of a rear-end crash. Drivers of all types of vehicles need to leave enough space for the leading car to stop safely. Drivers following commercial trucks especially need to provide distance as the large size of the tractor-trailer hides smaller cars from the truck driver.
- Substance abuse: Truck drivers are more prone to using stimulants, narcotics, and marijuana than other types of drugs.
Inadequate assessment of surroundings: Truck drivers may fail to see another vehicle because they did not properly assess their environment. Truck drivers have large blind spots, so even if a driver has carefully surveyed their surroundings, they still may not see a vehicle that is too close to them on either the left, right, or rear.
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Where Do Truck Accidents Occur?
Fatal truck accidents typically occur in rural areas rather than in urban or suburban locations. Many of these crashes occur on interstate highways. About 54 percent of fatal crashes that involve commercial trucks occur in rural areas.
The FMCSA indicates that 27 percent of fatal truck crashes happen on interstate highways and 13 percent of deadly truck accidents overlapped in both categories, occurring on rural interstate highways. However, more fatal commercial truck crashes happen on major roads that are not interstate highways or freeways.
When Do Truck Accidents Occur?
It may be surprising to learn that more deadly truck accidents take place in the daytime than at night. Forty-eight percent of truck accident fatalities occur between the hours of 6 a.m. and 3 p.m. according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). This contrasts sharply with the 28 percent of fatal crashes not involving trucks that occur during the same hours.
While more deaths occur during the day, the number of deadly semi-truck accidents is significant during nighttime hours. According to FMCSA, 37 percent of fatal truck accidents, 24 percent of injury truck accidents, and 20 percent of property damage truck accidents occur between the hours of 6 p.m. and 6 a.m.
The majority of crashes involving tractor-trailers occur on weekdays. Approximately 82 percent of fatal crashes and 87 percent of nonfatal truck crashes happen from Monday to Friday.
Filing a Truck Accident Claim
Truck accidents usually result in devastation for victims. If you or a loved one were involved in a semi-truck collision, the prospect of mounting medical bills, mandatory time off work, and supporting yourself can look daunting. If the accident wasn’t your fault, you could obtain compensation from the at-fault party.
A successful claim will take into consideration all of your financial, physical, and emotional losses.
You can recover compensation from the truck driver, their employer, or another liable party if you have damages, such as:
- Medical expenses, such as hospital bills, prescription drugs, and doctor’s visits
- Lost income
- Reduced earning potential
- Mental health therapy costs
- Physical therapy
- Occupational therapy
- Travel costs, including transportation and related living accommodations
- Emotional distress
- Physical trauma
- Reduced enjoyment of activities
- Diminished quality of life
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Building Your Truck Accident Case
Recovering compensation for these losses requires you to build a case that demonstrates that another party was responsible for causing the collision. Except in cases where the truck driver or other liable party has violated the law or intentionally caused harm, you would need to prove they were negligent.
Establishing negligence involves proving the at-fault party:
- Owed you a duty of care: The truck driver has a responsibility to drive safely and follow the rules of the road.
- Failed to exercise reasonable care in operating a large vehicle: The driver breached their duty to drive carefully. They may have taken their eyes off the road or failed to maintain a safe distance behind your vehicle.
- Caused your accident and the resulting injuries: Their careless actions were the proximate or most immediate cause of the crash that led to your injuries.
- Left you with damages: You suffered physical injuries, financial losses, or emotional harm due to the collision.
Who’s Responsible for Paying You Compensation in a Truck Accident?
After a truck accident, the liable party should compensate you. Given that driver error is a contributing factor in the majority of semi-truck accidents, the truck driver may be the at-fault party. If so, the trucker’s employer is likely to bear the financial costs of the accident, including any damages the victims suffer.
The motor carrier is required by law to have insurance protection between $750,000 and $5 million, depending on the size of the truck and the cargo it carries. It is possible that another party caused the truck accident due to other issues with the truck.
Liable Parties in a Truck Accident
Potentially liable parties in a truck accident include:
- The truck driver. If the truck crashed due to driver error, regardless of whether there is insurance, the truck driver can always be held responsible in a trial. If the truck driver is an independent contractor or if they own their own motor carrier company, they are their own employer and are responsible for the damages either way.
- The trucker’s employer. Many truckers drive for a motor carrier that they do not own. In this case, the truck accident is their employer’s legal responsibility due to vicarious liability laws. The motor carrier’s insurance is usually the first option for recovering damages.
- Truck loading company. If the truck was overloaded or improperly loaded, the loading company may be at fault, assuming a separate company was involved.
- Tractor-trailer fastening company. Many trucking operations have a separate company for hitching the trailer. If it turns out that the trailer was incorrectly fastened and this contributed to the crash, the company that hooked it up may bear the blame.
- Truck leasing company. Sometimes motor carriers contract their trucks from a leasing agency rather than owning them outright. If defects or malfunctions with the truck contributed to the accident, you could hold the truck leasing company liable.
- Truck manufacturer. Depending on the origin of the truck problem, the truck manufacturer could be responsible for it.
- Equipment or parts manufacturers. Defective trucking equipment or parts not made by the truck manufacturer are the responsibility of the manufacturer who made them.
- Freight broker. The broker company is the middleman who coordinates the transport of the goods between the manufacturer or distributor and the end recipient—for example, a retail store. The freight broker selects the trucking company, loading company, hitching company, or other companies and contractors involved in transporting the cargo. If there was an issue with any of these companies that caused the accident, it’s possible that you can trace them back to a failure on the freight broker’s part.
Hold the Right Party Accountable and Get the Compensation You Deserve
Any one of the above parties could be liable for damages in a truck accident claim. Either way, a lawyer can help you determine the proper party to pursue. Truck accidents are common enough in the U.S. that many injury lawyers have a special focus on handling these types of claims.