Common Causes of Truck Accidents

Trucking accidents are on the rise in the United States. In 2020, 4,965 people died in truck collisions, and another 146,930 were injured. The majority of fatalities and serious injuries in truck crashes involve occupants of smaller vehicles. This is not surprising considering the vast size and weight of commercial trucks compared to passenger vehicles. 

Truck drivers owe an extra duty of care to other motorists. They are professionally trained to maintain safety standards on the road. When they negligently cause accidents, the results are devastating.

Truck Accidents Are Preventable

Road conditions, mechanical defects and other factors outside the driver’s control can contribute to truck and car accidents, but 87 percent of truck accidents can be traced back to human error.

What kind of truck driver errors cause accidents?  

Truck driver errors can be categorized as follows:

  • Non-performance – The driver fell asleep or had a sudden medical event.
  • Recognition – The driver was inattentive or distracted.
  • Decision – The driver made poor decisions, such as speeding or following too closely.
  • Performance – The driver panicked, overcompensated or exercised poor directional control.

Inadequate Driver Training and Lack of Experience

The trucking industry is facing a severe shortage of drivers in the midst of supply chain disruptions brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. The American Trucking Association estimates a shortage of 80,000 truck drivers as of October 2021, and if the current trend continues, this figure will double by 2030.

Although new truck drivers are required to undergo training, many trucking companies that are pressured by the shortages dispatch new truck drivers before they are ready. These drivers are ill-prepared to handle emergencies, more likely to misjudge distances and at risk of forgetting to account for blind spots.

This is a recipe for disaster, as was seen in the case of an inexperienced Colorado trucker whose brakes failed as he was going downhill. The resulting collision killed four car drivers.

Driver Fatigue

Driving while drowsy is as dangerous as drunk driving and even worse if the driver falls asleep. Trucking companies adhere to strict schedules and require their drivers to work long hours and drive long distances to meet these demands. 

How many hours can truck drivers work?

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration allows cargo-hauling truck drivers to drive for up to 11 hours after at least 10 consecutive hours of off-duty time. Drivers may not drive beyond the 14th consecutive hour after coming on duty. These extended work hours create high risk for driver fatigue.

Unfamiliarity with the Roadway

While some truck drivers drive the same routes every day, many do not. Driving in unfamiliar areas can create distractions if the driver uses navigational devices or places phone calls for directions. Many do not pull over because of company pressure to meet delivery deadlines.

Unfamiliar roads also create confusion. Urban interchanges can be difficult to navigate for those not from the area, resulting in such mistakes as driving the wrong way or missing a traffic control device. Additionally, some truckers face highways that are curvy, narrow, hilly and dangerous.


Speeding is a major factor in large commercial vehicle accidents. Many truck drivers speed because they are under pressure from their employers to meet delivery quotas. They are expected to drive a minimum number of miles per day, but they are limited to 11 hours of drive time. Truck drivers often encounter hours-long delays during deliveries, which increases the pressure to speed. 

Truck driving is a solitary profession, and many drivers spend weeks away from their families while on the job. This can create the temptation to text or talk on their cell phones. Truck drivers also talk to each other over CB-style radios. 

The long hours can cause drivers to go on autopilot and stop paying attention to the roads. They may get bored and play with the radio, view social media or join video chats instead of watching the road.

Drunk Driving

Drunk driving is another major factor in truck crashes. Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs is especially dangerous when driving a large truck because big rigs can easily lose control. Commercial drivers are considered over the legal limit if their blood-alcohol content equals or exceeds 0.04 percent while operating a commercial motor vehicle. 

This limit only applies while driving a commercial vehicle. CDL drivers are subject to state-imposed limits while driving their personal vehicles. Most states impose a legal limit of 0.08 percent for drivers of non-commercial vehicles.

Do truck drivers lose their CDL if they get a DUI?

Driving under the influence of alcohol or controlled substances is a major offense under federal regulations, whether the offense occurs while driving a personal vehicle or a commercial truck. The first offense results in the revocation of the Commercial Drivers License (CDL) for one year for regular CDL drivers and three years for drivers hauling hazardous substances. 

A second offense results in a lifetime revocation of CDL driving privileges under federal law. Truck drivers are required to notify their employers within 30 days of any license revocations. Many states have an automated notification system in place.

These penalties are in addition to the penalties that may be imposed by the state. State penalties for DUI offenses generally include a combination of suspension of the non-CDL license, fines and jail time.

Following Too Closely

The average tractor-trailer is 70 feet long. At speeds below 40 mph, at least one second for every 10 feet of vehicle length should be maintained between the truck and the leading vehicle. An additional second should be added when traveling at speeds above 40 mph. In adverse weather, this distance should be increased.

The average stopping distance for a truck is 196 feet, but only 133 feet for a car. Passenger cars cannot withstand the force of a rear-end crash with a large truck. These crashes are often deadly.

Mechanical Defects

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration requires that all motor carriers comply with strict regulations concerning inspection, repair and maintenance of vehicles. Mechanical defects or failures may cause serious injury to others on the road.

What are common truck problems?

The most common mechanical problems that lead to traffic accidents are brake issues and tire blow-outs. The Department of Transportation requires truck drivers to perform detailed inspections at the end of every shift. Any maintenance issues that are discovered must be noted on the Driver Vehicle Inspection Report

A pre-trip inspection must also be informed, which includes a review of the post-trip inspection and confirmation that mechanical issues have been repaired. If any issues are not repaired, the truck must be placed out of service.

What's included in a truck inspection?

Most of the mechanical errors that occur on the road can be prevented by performing the required inspections of the following components:

  • Service brakes, including trailer brake connections
  • Parking brake
  • Steering mechanism
  • Lighting devices and reflectors
  • Tires
  • Horn
  • Windshield wipers
  • Rear vision mirrors
  • Coupling devices
  • Wheels and rims
  • Emergency equipment

How does negligent truck maintenance contribute to accidents?

Time pressures imposed often result in truck drivers taking shortcuts during inspections or skipping them altogether. This negligence by trucking companies means that many of the mechanical issues that cause devastating and sometimes fatal crashes can be traced back to human error.

Improper Cargo Load

When truck cargo is overweight or loaded improperly, the truck can become difficult to maneuver, even for the most experienced driver. Overweight cargo adversely impacts braking, steering and maneuverability, causing the truck to jackknife or lose control. An unevenly distributed or unsecured load could cause the truck to tip over.

Rural Roads

Most truck accidents occur on rural roads, which have higher speed limits. Truckers often exceed even these speeds while paying less attention. Rural roads tend to have just two lanes and narrow shoulders, making head-on collisions more likely. The Permian Basin in West Texas is home to three highways with an especially high death toll. Locals have nicknamed one “Death Highway.”

Weather Conditions

Weather conditions reduce traction and visibility. Truckers tend to drive too fast for these conditions due to company pressure to comply with delivery schedules. The most hazardous conditions for semi-trucks are as follows: 

  • High winds – Strong crosswinds can blow trucks into other lanes and even cause rollovers, especially if their cargo departments are empty.
  • Fog – The reduced visibility combined with the longer stopping distance creates a serious risk of collisions.
  • Snowy and icy conditions – Truck drivers often drive too fast for winter conditions
  • Dust storms – Dust storms are so dangerous that truck drivers should avoid driving at all when they occur. Deadly pile-ups such as the one in Picacho, Arizona, are not uncommon.
  • Rain – When rain first begins, it creates an oil slick on the roads. It also decreases visibility and increases stopping distances, increasing the likelihood of accidents.

Experienced Truck Accident Attorneys

Established in 1990 by Mark Lanier, The Lanier Law Firm has offices in New York City, Houston and Los Angeles. We handle truck accident cases nationwide. Our personal injury attorneys have extensive experience helping truck accident victims. Contact our truck accident lawyers today to schedule a free consultation.

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