Common Causes of Truck Accidents

A crash involving three semi-trucks on I-70 killed one person, according to a news report. The accident occurred in the early morning hours after one of the tractor-trailers rear-ended another. The rear-ended truck then traveled into the opposite lane of traffic and overturned. A third truck hit the one that had overturned and exploded on impact. The driver of the third truck died in the accident.

The U.S. economy relies on trucks that deliver products from one region to another every day. In fact, in 2016, 68 percent of all goods in the United States were delivered via semi-truck. However, due to their large size and heavy weight, semi-trucks—also known as 18-wheelers or tractor-trailers—pose serious a danger to other people traveling down the roadway with them.

Semi-trucks, when fully loaded, can weigh up to 80,000 pounds. The average car weighs around 4,000 pounds or less, meaning that it is often no match for a semi in an accident. If you‘ve been injured or have lost a loved one due to a crash incident with an 18-wheeler, you should contact an attorney regarding your eligibility to seek compensation. An experienced truck accident or wrongful death attorney can help you to understand your legal options.

What Are the Nine Most Common Causes of Truck Accidents?

According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, from 2016 to 2017, accidents involving large trucks increased by 10 percent, from 4,251 to 4,657. While not all of these accidents involved an at-fault truck driver, many of them did. Inattentiveness is a common cause of crashes. Truck crashes have several different potential causes listed below:

1. Fatigue

Drowsy driving is a problem for people in many occupations, including those who work night shifts, as well as those with sleep disorders. The problem became such a concern for truck drivers that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration instituted Hours of Service regulations intended to prevent drivers from traveling too far for too long without taking breaks. Drowsy driving results in drivers paying less attention. These federal regulations were adopted to reduce the number of overworked and fatigued drivers on the roadway. Some of the highlights of these regulations include:

  • Truck drivers can only drive for 11 consecutive hours after 10 consecutive hours off duty.
  • Drivers must take an off-duty or sleep berth break of at least 30 minutes every eight hours.
  • Drivers must not drive more than 60/70 hours during a consecutive 7/8 days, and they must take an off-duty time of at least 34 hours before driving again completing their workweek.

Although drivers and the companies who employ them face penalties and fines for violating Hours of Service regulations, some drivers still violate the regulations and drive more hours than allowed. Fatigued driving hurts a driver’s ability to pay attention to the road, slows a driver’s reaction time when needing to brake or steer suddenly, and derails a driver’s ability to make good decisions. Transportation companies need to be held accountable if they are putting unreasonable time/distance expectations on drivers.

2. Poor Driver Training

With a shortage of drivers and the implementation of the Hours of Service regulations, trucking companies are scrambling to find employees able to haul products. Unfortunately, the shortage of drivers can tempt transportation companies to cut corners when it comes to driver training. While a Commercial Driver License (CDL) is required to operate an 18-wheeler, the training provided to obtain a CDL is not always adequate for the real-life conditions that a truck driver faces. Some of these conditions require a newly-licensed truck driver to know:

  • Different types of brakes, transmissions, and other vehicle systems
  • How to deal with blown tires in the safest way possible
  • How to drive a large truck on narrow city streets in traffic congestion
  • How to handle inclement weather, such as snow, ice, or rain
  • How to make narrow turns, such as those often present in cities

3. Faulty Parts or Poor Truck Maintenance

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration requires truckers and trucking companies to have their vehicles systematically inspected, repaired, and maintained. They can do the work themselves, or they can hire someone else to handle truck maintenance for them. Either way, the truck must be in safe and proper operating condition to use it for transport. Equipment failure is a common cause of accidents involving big rigs. Regular and rigorous inspections by drivers and supervisors can often prevent faulty part failure. Some parts that have been known to fail and create dangerous situations include:

  • Worn brake pads
  • A failed electrical system
  • Tire pressure or worn tires
  • Faulty steering

While trucking companies must maintain their fleet and keep records as to the maintenance that has been performed on all of their vehicles, safety inspections cannot always prevent an accident caused by faulty parts. Manufacturers and distributors of truck parts are required to ensure that the parts they produce, when used appropriately, will function properly and safely. If these parts do not perform as they should, the manufacturer or distributor may be held liable for any damages caused in an accident.

4. Speeding

Speeding is a major cause of accidents in any motor vehicle crash. However, accidents caused by a truck weighing up to 80,000 pounds and going too fast for the conditions of the road is a particularly deadly situation for these reasons:

  • The distance needed to stop: Even when operating a tractor-trailer at the speed limit, a vehicle that size requires more space to stop safely. Speeding increases this distance and decreases the time that the driver has to react to obstacles on the roadway.
  • Lack of control of the vehicle: Speeding reduces the control that a driver has over any vehicle. A large tractor-trailer already lessens the control that the driver has, simply due to size.
  • The inability to navigate curves: Drivers should slow down for sharp curves due to the high center of gravity present in big rig trucks and the chance of rolling over.
  • The tires were not rated for excessive speed: Most truck tires are only rated for speeds of 75 miles per hour or less. Driving faster than that can increase the risk of the tires not holding up or performing as expected.
  • An increased likelihood of a jackknife or rollover: Due to their high center of gravity, semi-trucks are already at an increased chance of rolling over. Shifting cargo caused by the loss of control a speeding driver may experience further increases the risk of a rollover. The coupling between the tractor and trailer may cause the tractor and trailer to fold in on themselves—known as a jackknife, which furthers the loss of control experienced by the speeding driver.
  • Weather conditions: Weather conditions present certain risks for truck drivers. A speeding truck driver faces a risk of sliding and striking a vehicle in front of or on the side of the truck, or sliding on top of a vehicle.

Even if the driver is driving within the speed limit, weather and other conditions may cause the speed he or she is traveling at to be too fast to control and stop the vehicle safely.

5. Distraction/Inattentiveness

Distractions are everywhere, for all drivers, both in the vehicle and outside of it. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration noted that 71 percent of large truck crashes occur when the driver is doing something else in addition to driving the truck (multi-tasking). There are higher performance expectations for commercial drivers simply because they are driving enormous vehicles.

Some examples of distracted driving that can lead to truck accidents include:

  • Texting or reading texts
  • Talking on a cell phone
  • Other cell phone use, such as browsing the internet or looking at social media

Inattentiveness is the failure to pay close attention while behind the wheel. Inattentiveness can include distracted driving but includes all driving behaviors that contribute to the driver not paying full attention to the road.

  • Using a laptop or tablet
  • Using electronic equipment, such as a portable DVD player or music device.
  • Adjusting instrument controls
  • Adjusting the GPS device
  • Eating or drinking
  • Smoking
  • Engaging in work-related paperwork
  • Reaching for something in the truck
  • External distractions, such as billboards, previous accidents, or people

6. An Unfamiliar Roadway

Truck drivers often find themselves in cities that are far away from home. While this may make the workday particularly long, unfamiliar roadways may present unexpected scenarios. Some of the dangers that arise when truck drivers are on unfamiliar roadways include:

  • Increased reliance on and attention given to GPS systems, which could cause the driver to become distracted
  • An attempt to suddenly change direction due to a missed turn or exit
  • The driver’s lane of travel unexpectedly turns into an exit lane, causing the driver to brake suddenly or veer into another lane

7. Inclement Weather

Truck drivers sometimes fail to adequately prepare for inclement weather, which increases their chances of an accident. Some of the proper preparations that should be made include paying attention to the weather forecast and selecting an alternate route, if possible. Drivers should also pre-inspect the tractor and trailer to ensure that the vehicle is ready to travel in bad weather conditions.

If the truck driver ventures forth into inclement weather, several hazards exist, including:

  • Speeding: Speeding reduces driver control; even more so when speeding in a large truck on bad road conditions.
  • Continuing when the driver should have stopped: Truck drivers are encouraged, in conditions that include slick roads and poor visibility, to pull over and stop until conditions improve. However, with strict deadlines to meet, not all drivers feel they can do this. Continuing when they should have stopped can lead to drivers having an accident or causing one if they get stuck in snow.
  • Too heavy on the brake or acceleration: Pushing on the brake or the accelerator too quickly for the conditions of the road may cause the truck to slide, and slide into other vehicles.
  • Failing to recognize black ice: Drivers in wintertime may see what appears to be a wet area on the road. However, the road may not be wet but rather covered in black ice, which reduces traction and increases the risk of sliding or being unable to stop. By definition, black ice is very difficult to see. When the temperatures are low and the pavement is wet, we all have to anticipate that black ice is a possibility.
  • The danger of an empty trailer: Empty trailers can transform a large and heavy truck into a large truck with a high center of gravity and a greater chance of being blown over by a hard wind.

8. Tailgating

Tailgating, or following too closely, carries the obvious risk of rear-ending the vehicle you’re following. For trucks, additional space is required to stop safely, making tailgating a cause of many truck accidents. Unfortunately, it is often difficult to avoid following a vehicle too closely when in heavy bumper-to-bumper traffic congestion. The rule of thumb for truck drivers is to allow a full truck-length worth of space between themselves and the car in front of them for every 10 miles per hour. Even more distance is required on icy or wet road conditions. All drivers in heavy traffic have to be considerate of other vehicles and especially large trucks. For safety reasons, it is never a great idea to cut in front of a large truck and “hope” they slow down or stop.

Drivers often will increase their speed when traveling downhill to gain momentum for climbing the next hill. However, this is a dangerous practice, as it may lead to a truck driver cresting the top of a hill only to find themselves tailgating a vehicle that they didn’t see until they were right behind it. Slamming on the brakes may result in hitting the vehicle in front anyway or jackknifing the truck in an attempt to avoid the rear-end collision.

9. Improper Cargo Loading

Truck drivers are required to know what they are transporting, including the weight of the load, its placement within the trailer, and how it is secured. Unless the trailer is sealed and the driver has been instructed not to open the seal, he or she must conduct a visual inspection of the load before transporting it.

The larger the load, the warier the driver should be, as the weight of the truck affects both the ability to stop and control. An overloaded truck poses such risks as failed brakes, suspension, drive train, cooling system, and additional stress on the tires. The driver also runs the risk of violating federal or state regulations on vehicle weight if his or her trailer is overloaded. Federal and state governments have enacted strict weight regulations for semi-trucks in an attempt to improve highway safety and decrease the number of serious accidents that involve semi-trucks.

Were you injured or did you lose a loved one due to an accident with a semi-truck? If so, a consultation and case review with a truck accident lawyer can answer your questions and help you determine your eligibility to seek compensation for any losses sustained in the accident.

Contact Us Today

The Cagle Law Firm serves accident and injury clients throughout St. Louis and the greater St. Louis metropolitan area, including the eastern Missouri and southern Illinois communities. If you or a loved one needs legal assistance with your personal injury case, call The Cagle Law Firm at (314) 276-1681 or use our online contact form to schedule a free consultation.

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