Why Are Truck Accidents So Deadly?

deadly truck accident

Extremely heavy weight, longer stopping distances, and taller profiles make large trucks especially deadly in road-going truck accidents. Many also travel on highways and freeways that enable greater speeds. The faster any vehicle moves, the potentially deadlier an accident could be. 

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) reports that 5,237 large trucks or buses were involved in fatal accidents in 2019. That is a two percent increase from 2018. 

Despite a slight rise in fatalities in 2019, the FMCSA says the fatality rate for accidents with large trucks and buses is at its lowest rate so far in the 21st century. Advancements in vehicle safety systems likely account for that fortunate occurrence. 

Truck Accident Injuries Often Are Catastrophic and Costly

The FMCSA says police-reported accidents involving large trucks numbered about 510,000 in 2019. Those accidents included 4,479 fatal accidents, which accounts for about one percent of reported accidents. 

About 114,000 accidents with big trucks caused injuries. That accounts for about 29 percent of all trucking accidents. 

With approximately one percent of accidents with big trucks causing death and 29 percent resulting in injuries, just under a third of all accidents with large trucks result in physical harm.

Surviving an accident with a big rig is no small feat. The personal injuries suffered often are catastrophic and life changing. Injuries caused by accidents with large trucks and buses often include:

  • Traumatic brain injuries
  • Amputations of limbs or appendages
  • Spinal cord injuries and paralysis
  • Burn injuries
  • Blunt force trauma to the head or body

The FMCSA says accidents with larger trucks caused an average of $3.6 million in costs per fatality in 2005. Given recent and current inflationary rates, that cost easily could surpass $5 million in 2022. Bodily injuries cost an average of $195,258 in 2005. That cost now exceeds $200,000, accounting for inflation. 

The cost of trucking accidents greatly surpasses similar costs arising from private passenger vehicles. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) says the average injury claim from a car accident was $15,443 in 2013. Inflation likely is pushing that average to closer to $20,000 in current dollars. 

Weight and Speed Make Large Trucks Dangerous

Truckers haul about two-thirds of all goods used in the United States. That makes them an integral part of the nation’s supply chain. The FMCSA says truckers in 2012 hauled more than nine billion tons of goods. 

A typical large truck weighs anywhere from about 10,000 pounds to 80,000 pounds while fully loaded. That compares with approximately 4,000 pounds for the average private passenger vehicle on the nation’s roadways. 

Weight disparity alone makes it very dangerous for a typical car, pickup, SUV, or van to collide with a tractor-trailer or other large commercial vehicle. Factoring in potential speeds while driving on most highways or freeways makes it especially dangerous and potentially deadly to get into an accident with a typical commercial truck or bus. 

What Makes Big Trucks Deadly in Accidents?

Big rigs that carry heavy loads require a much longer distance to stop safely. If you were to pull in front of a heavily laden truck while approaching a stoplight, you need to give it more space than you would another vehicle. 

When traveling at 65 mph, a typical private passenger vehicle can come to a safe stop in about 300 feet. The FMCSA says a fully loaded truck would take nearly twice that distance to stop from the same speed. Also, if you are on a freeway in a state that allows tractor-trailers to travel at even higher speeds, that safe stopping distance is even longer. 

A commercial truck usually has much larger tires and a much taller cabin and bed than a typical car. If you were driving a typical sedan and got into a head-on collision with a semi, the truck’s center of gravity likely would cause it to demolish the passenger cabin and the rest of your vehicle. That could be especially deadly. 

Tractor-trailers and other commercial trucks also have relatively large blind spots when traveling. Most do not have a rearview mirror and rely on side mirrors to see vehicles on either side or behind them. Newer models might have a video camera that enables them to see what is behind the truck. 

However, the majority of large commercial vehicles have significantly large blind spots. Those blind spots could hide your entire vehicle and make you virtually invisible to truck drivers. Therefore, you need to pay attention and pass quickly to prevent traveling in a blind spot of a big rig. 

Common Causes of Trucking Accidents

Driver fatigue is the most common cause of accidents that involve large trucks. The FMCSA reports that 13 percent of truck accidents are caused by driver fatigue. The truck driver might make a driving error after several hours behind the wheel. If a driver is sick or not getting a good amount of rest between driving shifts, fatigue could lead to an accident-causing error. 

Other common factors that contribute to accidents with large trucks include:

  • Exceeding the speed limit or driving too fast for road conditions
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Defective equipment
  • Cargo loaded unevenly
  • Improper lane changes

The FMCSA says there are two general types of trucking accidents. Those types are critical events and critical reasons. 

Critical events happen when one vehicle suddenly does something that makes it impossible to avoid an accident. A sudden loss of traction could be a critical event. 

A critical reason is an underlying cause that led to the critical events. That is where human error and negligence come into play. If a driver were distracted and drifted into an oncoming lane of traffic, that would be a good example of a critical reason causing a critical event. 

The FMCSA says nearly a third of all critical events happen when a large truck leaves its travel lane. Another 29 percent are due to a loss of control, including traveling too fast for road conditions, vehicle systems failures, and shifting cargo. About 22 percent of critical events involved rear-ending a vehicle in the large truck’s lane of travel. 

It is important to note that critical reasons and critical events that result in accidents could be caused by truck drivers or other motorists. In addition, fault often is not readily apparent. 

Poor Maintenance and Skipped Inspections Imply Neglect

A lot of truck drivers are employees of a trucking firm. The trucking firm might lease rather than own the fleet of commercial trucks used to transport goods across the nation. 

The owners and operators of trucks have a duty of care to ensure the vehicles are in good condition. The owners must maintain them regularly and initiate repairs when needed to keep the trucks safe. 

Drivers are required by law in virtually every state to inspect the trucks, trailers, and loads to ensure everything is in good shape. If a tire looks worn out and the driver ignores it, that could lead to an accident. If a load is unbalanced or loaded loosely, it could shift and cause a rollover accident. 

Whenever a commercial truck is improperly maintained, that suggests negligence by its owner. If a driver does not properly inspect the truck and load, that also could indicate negligence that would make the trucker and trucking company liable for injuries and damages caused by an accident. 

Potential Issues with Truck Accident Claims

Because a commercial truck might be owned, leased, maintained, or driven by different parties, liability from an accident is not always simple to solve. There could be many layers of potentially liable parties. 

The driver would be liable for any driver errors and faulty vehicle inspections that might contribute to an accident. Maintenance issues that cause an accident might be the fault of the owner, lessee, or a third party who was paid to perform full vehicle inspections, maintenance, and repairs. 

If a truck is owned, maintained, and driven by workers for the same employer, that greatly simplifies matters. However, when multiple parties are responsible for putting a commercial truck on the road, you likely would need the help of an experienced truck accident lawyer to help sort out the possible liability claims. 

Baltimore Truck Accident Lawyers at LeViness, Tolzman & Hamilton Help Clients Involved in Trucking Accidents

If you or someone that you love was involved in accident with a large truck or bus, reach out to the Baltimore truck accident lawyers at LeViness, Tolzman & Hamilton. Our experienced legal team can help to hold liable parties accountable for injuries and damages. Call us today at 800-547-4LAW (4529) or contact us online to schedule a free consultation.

Our offices are conveniently located in BaltimoreGlen Burnie, and Prince George’s County, where we represent clients throughout Maryland, including those in Anne Arundel CountyCarroll CountyHarford CountyHoward CountyMontgomery CountyPrince George’s CountyQueen Anne’s CountyMaryland’s Western CountiesSouthern Maryland and the Eastern Shore, as well as the communities of CatonsvilleEssexHalethorpeMiddle RiverRosedale, Gwynn OakBrooklandvilleDundalkPikesvilleParkvilleNottinghamWindsor MillLuthervilleTimoniumSparrows PointRidgewood, and Elkridge.