Tractor-Trailer Accidents: What Are the Reasons?
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), in 2013 (the last year for which there are complete data) large trucks were involved in 6.5% of all fatal accidents on South Carolina highways. While this percentage is lower than the 2013 national involvement average of 8.7 percent, it could still stand improvement. A total of 65 people died in South Carolina in large truck accidents in 2013. Nationally, that figure was 3,964.
Most of those who died were not the ones in the trucks. Of the 2013 fatalities, 71 percent were occupants of other vehicles, and 11 percent were non-occupants of any vehicle. With the total gross vehicle weight of large combination trucks being capped at 80,000 pounds and the average weight of a passenger vehicle being between 3,000 and 5,000 pounds, it is no wonder that accidents involving trucks tend to be very serious, often leading to fatalities or incapacitating injuries.
With regard to injuries, in 2013, the NHTSA estimates that 95,000 people were hurt in large-truck accidents. Approximately 72 percent were occupants of other vehicles, and 2 percent were non-occupants of any vehicle.
Because of these dangers, there are strict licensing standards for commercial drivers, and South Carolina’s legislature has enacted laws to help prevent truck accidents. But despite state laws and federal regulations designed to encourage safety, truck accidents happen every day in South Carolina. Most of these truck accidents are avoidable. Many are caused by the careless or negligent behavior of the truck driver and/or the trucking company.
So we are still left to ask the question: Why are these accidents happening?
Driver Behaviors than Cause Accidents
Because accidents can be attributed to more than one cause, the question of numbers and percentages assigned to driver behaviors as causes of accidents can be complex. We end up talking statistical terms like relative risk, which are not easy concepts to explain.
Still, it is clear that driver-related factors, when taken as a group, are the leading cause of truck accidents. For 55 percent of the large-truck drivers involved in single-vehicle crashes, and for 27 percent of large-truck drivers involved in multiple-vehicle crashes, driver-related factors were No. 1. The top causes of accidents that are driver-related are:
- Speeding, including driving too fast for the weather and road conditions
- Driver distraction or inattention, including the use of cell phones (texting) and other interactive devices with screens
- Over-the-counter or prescription medication
- Illegal drugs
- Following too closely or other illegal driving maneuvers
- Lack of familiarity with the road or route
- Inadequate training or inexperience of the driver.
Another factor which has a bearing on a truck driver’s safety on the road is his or her own health. In January 2014, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health reported the results of a survey of nearly 1,700 long-haul truck drivers. Of those questioned, obesity and smoking were enormous risk factors, with rates at about twice that of the general population. Seven in ten drivers were considered obese (69 percent, versus 31 percent of the general U.S. population). A little over half of all drivers (51 percent) smoked, versus 19 percent of the general U.S. population. Considering the long hours that truck drivers spend sitting in the driver’s seat, and the fact that truck stops aren’t known for having healthy menu choices, it’s not surprising that we hear about accidents caused by a medical crisis like a heart attack.
Vehicular-Related Reasons for Large Truck Accidents
It’s important to note that the driver is not always at fault, especially if he or she is driving a truck owned by someone else who is responsible for maintenance. Sometimes a truck accident results from equipment failure or the characteristics of the vehicle itself. Brake failure was found by the FMCSA to be the most common vehicle-related cause of accidents involving large trucks. Rollovers may happen due to the truck’s high center of gravity. Trucks have large blind spots, or no-zones, which limit a driver’s view of other vehicles nearby. And the height of the trailer worsens the impact for a smaller vehicle which rear-ends a truck, increasing the risk of under-ride fatalities. The most common equipment or mechanical reasons for large-truck accidents are:
- Brake failure. This is the No. 1 equipment-related cause of large-truck accidents and can cause devastating accidents.
- Tire problems or failure (blowouts).
- Cargo shifting, overloading, or improperly-loaded cargo.
It is essential that large trucks undergo pre- and post-trip inspections. In fact, it’s the law. Before driving a commercial vehicle, the driver is required to check and service the brakes, steering, lighting and reflectors, tires, horn, windshield wipers, mirrors, emergency equipment and coupling devices. He or she is also supposed to check the cargo to make sure it’s secured and loaded properly.
In addition, the driver is supposed to review the previous driver’s post-trip vehicle inspection report and sign off on it to ensure that any noted deficiencies were addressed. Every time a truck driver makes a stop, the tires should be checked. And, at the end of each day’s work, a post-trip inspection must be completed.
Have You Been a Victim?
Truck accidents often leave suffering victims because of the negligence or careless behavior of the truck driver, or because of the person or company responsible for maintenance. Victims of truck accidents, or the surviving family members of those killed in truck accidents, can file a personal injury lawsuit against those responsible for the accident. In South Carolina, the trucking company may be sued if a driver is careless or fails to act with reasonable care when behind the wheel. Trucking companies can also be held responsible for their own negligence, such as the failure to properly maintain their equipment, pushing drivers to break hours-of-service rules, or hiring unsafe drivers.
Because of the high risk to those of us in smaller vehicles, truck safety should be a concern for every person on the road, whether in a privately owned vehicle, on a bicycle or motorcycle, or walking on the sidewalk.
When life goes wrong, we fight for what’s right.
Truck accidents can be complex, both because of the large amounts of money that may be involved due to the seriousness of the accident and because of the potential for multiple defendants. It is important to consult with a qualified South Carolina tractor-trailer accident lawyer to make sure your rights are protected.
Based in Columbia, the Louthian Law Firm has represented injured South Carolinians in personal injury suits since 1959. If you have been injured in a truck accident, you deserve to receive the maximum compensation that the law allows. For a free consultation and claim evaluation, contact the Columbia truck accident lawyers at the Louthian Law Firm by calling us toll free at (803) 454-1200. If you prefer, you can also fill out our convenient online contact form.