Common Causes of Truck Accidents

Jun 2, 2017


The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) released a study in December 2016 to determine the most common causes of truck accidents. The IIHS notes that, although truck driving has gotten progressively safer for decades, 3,852 people died in large truck accidents in 2015 alone. The report examines 197 crash and control pairs and highlights several risk factors, including defective vehicles, fatigued truck drivers and short-haul exemptions.

Defective vehicles pose a significant threat on the road. Vehicle defects were found in nearly three-quarters of the crash-involved trucks in the study during a post-crash inspection. Trucks with brake violations were 50 percent more likely to crash, and out-of-service brake violations tripled the risk of crash. Trucks with any kind of out-of-service violation were more than four times as likely overall to be involved in a crash. Eric Teoh, the main author of the study, therefore calls for close inspection to keep defective trucks off the road: “highway patrol officers and roadside inspectors serve as the front line of defense when it comes to spotting unsafe trucks, and these efforts should continue.”

The study also examined the relationships between carriers and crashes. The study found that carriers with higher past crash rates tended to have a higher current crash risk. More specifically, carriers with at least 100 crashes per 1,000 trucks within the past two years had a 72 percent higher risk of crashing. Teoh noted that “some trucking groups have suggested that carriers shouldn’t be penalized for crashes that weren’t the fault of the driver or were unpreventable, but these results show counting all crashes is meaningful. We don’t always know who was at fault in crashes, and if something about a carrier’s operation puts them at high risk for not-at-fault crashes, that’s important to know too.”

Truck driver behavior also plays a significant role in crash risk, the study found. One significant problem for truck drivers is lack of sleep. Federal regulations allow shifts of 11 hours or less and up to 77 hours of driving per week to give drivers adequate time to rest. Drivers who reported driving at least twelve hours since sleeping were 86 percent more likely to crash than drivers who had been awake for less than eight hours. This problem is particularly present in drivers using short-haul exemptions. Short-haul drivers must comply with federal work and rest time regulations, but don’t have to record their service hours. Drivers using a short-haul exemption were nearly five times as likely to crash as those who weren’t using the exemption.

The study results suggest that federal regulations may not be strict enough to prevent crashes, or are not being widely followed. Drivers currently must log their hours in paper logs, which makes it easy for drivers to incorrectly record their driving time. Electronic logging devices may help to reduce crashes due to driver fatigue by making it more difficult for drivers to record inaccurate driving times, and these devices are required in all trucks by December 2017.

Other technological advancements, such as electronic stability control and collision warning systems, can also help to prevent truck accidents. We explored these technologies in an earlier blog post.

Contact a Truck Accident Lawyer

If there’s one major takeaway from the IIHS study, it’s that truck accidents are a real danger on today’s roads. If you or a loved one have been the victim of a truck accident, we can conduct an investigation to help you receive full compensation. Schedule a free case evaluation online or call us at: