Causes of Truck Accidents
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) reports more than 4,000 fatal crashes and over 100,000 injury crashes involving large trucks occurred nationwide in one recent year. If a large truck crash injured you or a loved one, you might be able to seek compensation from the at-fault party. Therefore, you need to determine the cause of the accident and who is responsible. How do you do that?
The causes of truck accidents can vary and be difficult to determine. An experienced, knowledgeable truck attorney can investigate the accident, gather helpful evidence, and prepare a compelling case in your favor. This page discusses how lawyers prove liability in truck crashes and some common causes of truck accidents. That way, you can better understand whether you need to speak to a truck crash attorney.
How to Determine the Cause of a Truck Accident
While truck accidents often leave behind significant amounts of evidence and data, you need an experienced lawyer to interpret this information.
A knowledgeable attorney may seek the following evidence to investigate the cause of a truck accident:
- Photos of the accident
- Surveillance footage of the accident, such as from a police dash camera, traffic camera, or nearby security camera
- Police officer’s crash report
- Eyewitness testimony
- Accident victims’ recollections of the accident
- Data from the truck’s event data recorder
- The truck driver’s licensure, training, driving, hours-of-service, phone, and drug testing records
- The truck’s maintenance logs
- Expert testimony
- Accident reconstruction
Once gathered, an attorney will analyze the evidence to identify who is responsible and determine all possible sources of income. Depending on the strength of the evidence, the liable party may feel inclined to settle the case out of court. If the responsible party does not settle for a fair amount, the truck crash victim and their attorney can file a lawsuit to seek compensation.
Common Causes of Truck Accidents
The FMCSA conducted a causation study on two years of extensive truck crash data. The study defines causation as factors most likely to increase the risk of a large truck crash. Numerous factors often influence the occurrence of a truck crash, including some that occur days or even months before the crash and others in the moments just before the crash. You need a seasoned attorney with experience investigating these incidents to identify and prove the cause of a truck crash.
Unqualified or Inexperienced Truck Driver
Driving a commercial motor vehicle (CMV) like a large truck requires specialized knowledge, experience, skills, and physical abilities. Each CMV driver must obtain a commercial driver’s license (CDL) from their state.
The FMCSA sets minimum standards for CDLs, but the process and requirements for obtaining one differ from state to state. Most states require a combination of:
- Passage of a basic knowledge test covering 20 general areas outlined in federal standards
- Successful completion of a knowledge test containing at least 30 items
- Medical examiner’s certificate affirming the driver’s physical ability to operate a CMV
- Checking the state’s databases, the Commercial Driver’s License Information System, and the National Driver Registry to ensure the driver’s qualification for licensure
- Checking the driver’s 10-year driving record
Employers are responsible for ensuring drivers have the proper training and qualifications to perform their jobs safely.
Unfortunately, many truck drivers involved in fatal crashes are not properly licensed to drive, as the following data from FMCSA demonstrate:
- More than 1,000 truck drivers involved in fatal crashes did not have CDLs in one recent year
- Over 20 truck drivers had a suspended license that same year
- Nearly 60 truck drivers had revoked, expired, canceled, or disqualified licenses that year
Consult a truck accident attorney if you suspect an unqualified or inexperienced truck driver caused your accident. They can help you understand your rights and explore your legal options for seeking compensation from the driver or their employer.
Improperly Loaded Cargo
Commercial trucks haul thousands of pounds of cargo, which drivers must load and secure correctly to avoid shifting while driving. Often a separate entity or multiple entities load a truck, but ultimately, the driver is responsible for ensuring the truck is safe to drive.
The driver must inspect the load and ensure it is properly distributed and adequately secured multiple times during a trip, including:
- Before the trip begins
- Within the first 50 miles after beginning a trip
- Whenever a driver’s duty status changes
- At each three-hour or 150-mile interval, whichever comes first
Many truck crashes occur when cargo is improperly loaded, which can include:
- Distributing the cargo unevenly
- Loading over the legal weight limit
- Obscuring the driver’s view
- Failing to secure one or more tie-downs
- Utilizing worn-out, defective, or too few tie-downs
If a cargo loader improperly loads a truck and the driver fails to inspect it, the following types of accidents could occur:
- Jackknife accidents
- Rollover accidents
- Swerve or side-swipe accidents
- Spill-out accidents
- Flying debris accidents
Driving on a Dangerous or Prohibited Road
Government agencies may restrict commercial trucks from driving on certain roads because of their cargo size, weight, or contents. For example, a bridge may not withstand the weight of a fully loaded 18-wheeler, or roads with low clearances may not accommodate a tractor-trailer’s height. Furthermore, some roads are just too dangerous for large trucks. For example, trucks driving on curvy, narrow, or steep roads are at grave risk of accidents.
If a truck driving on a dangerous or prohibited road causes an accident and you get injured, you should consult an attorney about how you can hold the driver responsible.
Failure to Check Blind Spots
A blind spot is an area where a driver cannot see objects or other motorists. All vehicles have blind spots, but commercial trucks’ blind spots are significantly larger than passenger vehicles.
A large truck’s blind spots are:
- 20 feet in front of the cab
- 30 feet behind the end of the truck
- Left side under the driver’s mirror and extending back approximately half the distance of the truck’s trailer in the adjacent lane
- Right side under the driver’s mirror and extending back at least the entire length of the truck and trailer of the two adjacent lanes
Drivers are responsible for checking their blind spots before changing lanes or merging. If a truck driver fails to check their blind spot and causes an accident, you may be able to pursue compensation for your injuries and associated losses. Contact an attorney to review your legal options.
Drunk, Drowsy, or Drugged Driving
Truck drivers must comply with strict rules about driving while drunk, drugged, or tired.
Employers must receive a negative drug test before permitting new CDL drivers to operate a truck on public roads. After an accident resulting in a fatality, serious injury, or disabling damage to the vehicle that results in a traffic citation, employers must also drug and alcohol test drivers. Employers must also randomly drug test their drivers throughout the year, and any time they reasonably suspect a driver is under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
Drivers cannot consume or be under the influence of alcohol within four hours of going on duty or operating a CMV. Being “on duty” includes waiting at a loading dock, inspecting or maintaining the truck, loading or unloading cargo, or making repairs. Furthermore, drivers may not use alcohol or have any measured alcohol concentration while on duty or operating a CMV.
Drivers are subject to numerous hours-of-service regulations meant to prevent fatigued driving.
These regulations include:
- An 11-hour driving limit during an on-duty shift, if preceded by 10 consecutive hours off duty
- A 14-hour on-duty limit, if preceded by 10 consecutive hours off duty
- A 30-minute driving break after eight cumulative hours of driving
- A 60-hour driving limit in seven consecutive days or a 70-hour driving limit in eight consecutive days, with at least a 34-hour break before restarting
- A driver may split a 10-hour off-duty shift as long as one off-duty period is at least two hours long and the other involves at least seven consecutive hours in the sleeper berth
Unfortunately, some drivers flout these rules, as evidenced by these FMCSA crash statistics:
- Nearly three percent of truck drivers involved in fatal crashes had a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08 or more, above the legal limit
- Nearly 300 of the 4,778 truck drivers involved in fatal crashes tested positive for at least one drug, although 57 percent of them were not tested
- About 250 impaired truck drivers caused fatal crashes
If a drunk, tired, or drugged driver injured you in an accident, you could hold them accountable by pursuing a personal injury claim. A truck accident lawyer can assist you with the legal process.
Failure to Maintain the Truck
Thousands of separate moving parts comprise any one CMV, and each requires periodic and consistent maintenance to stay in good working condition. Trucking companies and their drivers are responsible for ensuring the proper inspection, repair, and maintenance of their trucks. The company must keep detailed maintenance records for any vehicle it controls for 30 consecutive days.
The driver must inspect and report daily on the condition of their truck, including:
- Service brakes and trailer brake connections
- Parking brake
- Steering mechanism
- Lighting devices and reflectors
- Windshield wipers
- Rear vision mirrors
- Coupling devices
- Wheels and rims
- Emergency equipment
The trucking company must repair any defect or deficiency found by its driver on their inspection report and certify its repair before a driver operates a truck again. The trucking company must also inspect all of its trucks annually utilizing qualified inspectors. Failure to uphold these regulations may result in devastating truck crashes.
Violating the Rules of the Road
Truck drivers must obey the same traffic rules as other motorists, but the consequences of breaking traffic laws can be far more catastrophic in truck crashes.
According to FMCSA data, several traffic violations led to fatal crashes in one recent year:
- More than seven percent of truck drivers involved in fatal crashes were speeding, either by exceeding the speed limit or driving at a speed that was unsafe for the conditions
- More than five percent of truck drivers in fatal crashes were inattentive to their driving activity because they were using their cell phones, eating, or otherwise distracted
- More than four percent of truck drivers in fatal crashes failed to yield the right-of-way
The following traffic violations can lead to severe injuries for occupants of passenger vehicles involved in truck accidents:
- Distracted or inattentive driving
- Failing to yield the right-of-way
- Running a red light or stop sign
- Following too closely
- Improper lane change
If a truck driver commits a traffic violation and injures you in an accident, you should consult an attorney about filing a personal injury claim against the at-fault driver.
Part Defect, Failure, or Malfunction
Even if a trucking company and driver comply with required safety inspections, maintenance, and repair, a part defect or malfunction may cause a tragic accident. For example, a defective part in the truck’s braking system could lead to a total loss of braking. Imagine the devastation that an 80,000-pound truck traveling 55 miles per hour might wreak if the driver cannot stop due to faulty brakes.
The manufacturer might be responsible for your injuries if a defective truck part caused your accident. You should contact a truck accident attorney with experience handling product liability cases.
Contact a Truck Accident Lawyer After an Accident
If the actions of a truck driver or a trucking employee cause an accident, you may be able to pursue compensation for your injuries and other accident-related losses. While the trucking industry must comply with numerous rules and regulations, holding a company or driver accountable for their violations can be challenging.
As soon as possible after an accident, consult a knowledgeable truck accident attorney about your case. They can gather the evidence necessary to hold the driver or their employer accountable for your financial, physical, and emotional pain and suffering.