Over the past decade, fatal crashes involving large trucks have surged by 43% in the United States. In 2019, the National Safety Council says 5,005 big rigs were involved in fatal motor vehicle accidents, a 2% increase over 2018.
Large trucks are those with a vehicle weight greater than 10,000 pounds, and the agency includes commercial and noncommercial vehicles. Overall, big trucks account for just 4% of all registered vehicles on the road but involved in 10% of all fatal crashes.
Human error is the most common reason for truck crashes
Training is crucial as truck drivers pilot rigs weighing as much as 80,000 pounds and can deliver lethal force. Research by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) shows the most common mistakes are human-caused:
- Driver performance: Mistakes by drivers are, by far, the leading cause of truck accidents. Drivers who can work up to 14 hours a day and 60 hours over seven days often don’t get enough sleep and lose focus while driving.
- Equipment failures: Old or defective tires, poorly maintained brakes and other equipment hazards often lead to accidents. Some trucking companies and drivers falsify maintenance records.
- Poor weather: While drivers and trucking companies aren’t responsible for the weather, many don’t consider these conditions when delivering cargo under deadline pressure.
- Loading mistakes: Cargo loaded improperly or unbalanced on a truck’s trailer poses a risk for shifting during transport. Unsecured cargo can also fall off and into the path of other motorists.
- Lack of experience: Many trucking companies are understaffed and have a tough time recruiting new employees. That leads some to put inexperienced drivers on the road with inadequate training.
The FMCSA also recognizes the need for a new “Large Truck Causation Study,” published in 2006, to better gauge factors associated with truck accidents. The agency says it needs additional data to account for the many changes in vehicle safety, technology, roadway design and driver behavior in the past 15 years.