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Common Causes of Truck Accidents

Truck Accident Statistics

Like all accidents, truck crashes can be caused by a variety of factors and circumstances. If you or a loved one were involved in a crash with a large commercial truck or vehicle, our Florida truck accident attorneys can help. According to trucking accident statistics:

  • National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) statistics indicate that, in 2017, trucking fatalities reached their highest level in 29 years. While overall motor vehicle fatalities declined by 2% from the previous year, fatalities from large truck accidents rose 9%.
  • Truck drivers may make poor decisions about, for example, changing lanes, yielding the right of way, following too closely, or exceeding the speed limit. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) says that speeding remained the number one cause of fatal truck crashes in 2017, even though truckers who speed are getting ticketed more often.
  • The same poor decisions may be made by passenger car drivers and other motorists on the road. Some NHTSA studies indicate that in as many as 80% of car-truck collisions, blame was assigned to passenger vehicle drivers. (In 10% of the accidents studied, fault was attributed to both car and truck drivers.)
  • While drunk driving can be a factor in large truck crashes, the NHTSA reports that, in 2017, only 3% of truck drivers involved in fatal crashes had a blood alcohol concentration level beyond the legal limit of .08 grams per deciliter. Alcohol impairment accounted for 28% of all motor vehicle fatalities that year.
  • In contrast, looking at other kinds of vehicles involved in fatal crashes that year, the percentage of drivers over the legal blood alcohol limit was 21% for drivers of passenger cars, 20% for drivers of light trucks, and 27% for motorcyclists.

The NHTSA and the FMCSA recognize that all motor vehicle crashes are complex events, usually involving two or more vehicles, and influenced by such elements as driver training and experience, vehicle design and manufacture, adherence to safety and maintenance recommendations, and road and weather conditions.

NHTSA’s 2017 Traffic Safety Facts reports that 63% of fatal crashes involving large trucks were multiple-vehicle crashes, compared with 60% of fatal crashes involving passenger cars, 53% involving SUVs, and 58% involving pickup trucks.

In an earlier study of truck crash causation, the FMCSA found that of large trucks involved in all crashes – both single- and multi-vehicle – 55% of the trucks or their drivers were the “critical reason” for the crash. In two-vehicle crashes, trucks or their drivers were the “critical reason” in 44% of the crashes.

Here are examples of how the FMCSA categorizes “critical” or causative reasons assigned to truck drivers

  • Non-performance: Driver fell asleep, disabled by heart attack or seizure, or disabled for another reason.
  • Recognition: Driver inattention, distracted by inside or outside factors, failed to observe the situation.
  • Decision: Driving too fast for conditions, misjudged speed of other vehicles, followed too closely.
  • Performance: Driver panicked, overcompensated, or exercised poor directional control.

In FMCSA’s annual studies, “associated factors” are identified as elements related to large trucks and their drivers that may have contributed to the crash but were not necessarily the cause:

  • Brake problems
  • Traffic flow interruption (congestion or previous crash)
  • Prescription drug use
  • Traveling too fast for conditions
  • Unfamiliarity with road
  • Roadway problems
  • Traffic control device or crosswalk requiring a stop
  • Over-the-counter drug use
  • Driver inattention
  • Driver fatigue

Top Factors Contributing to Truck Accidents

Distracted Truck Drivers

Operating a truck takes tremendous skill, experience and concentration, and drivers cannot afford to be distracted while behind the wheel. One mistake can end in tragedy.

Statistics compiled by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) indicate that:

  • Truck drivers who are texting are more than 23 times more likely to be involved in a crash, veer out of their lane, make an unexpected move that jeopardizes other vehicles on the road, are cause another “safety critical” event.
  • Drivers of large trucks are six times more likely to be involved in a crash while dialing a hand-held cell phone.
  • Truckers are three times more likely to have an accident while reaching for an object in the truck.

And yet, during the more than 40 years since our founding, the attorneys at Searcy Denney have seen the numbers of distracted driving accident claims skyrocket in Florida. In every case, these truck crashes were preventable if the truck driver would have paid attention and the trucking corporation had implemented more effective training and driver safety policies. Our legal team is here to help you recover damages resulting from a distracted truck driver.

Distractions While Behind the Wheel of a Truck

Long hours on the road can lead to boredom, fatigue and loneliness for long-haul drivers. Drivers may engage in inappropriate tasks as they maneuver their tractor-trailer at high speed on Florida’s highways and through our small towns.

Although much attention is given to texting and phone use, 2017 FMCSA analyses confirm that dangerous driving distractions include a wide range of other activities:

  • Reading a GPS or map
  • Surfing the Internet
  • Watching videos
  • Using social media such as Facebook, Twitter or Instagram
  • Distraction by an outside person, object or event
  • Eating or drinking
  • Grooming such as shaving or brushing hair
  • Reaching for an object in the passenger seat
  • Adjusting vehicle devices such as climate controls
  • Looking at something along the highway
  • Searching for a street name or address
  • Daydreaming

Laws for Commercial Drivers Prohibit Texting While Driving

A majority of states now ban all drivers from texting while behind the wheel, whether in a car or a truck. And it’s a good thing, because texting takes a driver’s eyes of the road for 4.6 seconds – the same as driving the length of a football field blindfolded at 55 miles an hour!

Since January 2012, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has banned truck drivers from texting or talking on a handheld phone while operating commercial vehicles. The law applies to drivers of buses, tractor-trailers, delivery vans, heavy machinery, sanitation equipment and other vehicles of a specific size and weight. A majority of states now ban all drivers from texting while behind the wheel – but even in a state that does not, the federal texting ban still applies to truck drivers.

Under the FMSCA provisions, drivers cannot:

  • Use a hand to hold a cell phone to place or receive a call;
  • Dial the cell phone by pressing more than one button;
  • Reach for the phone in such a way that requires the driver to move out of a seated and seat-belted position;
  • Write, send or read a text message;
  • E-mail;
  • Instant message;
  • Engage in any other form of electronic communication.

Drivers who violate these laws face fines of up to $2,750 and driver’s license suspension for up to 120 days for repeat offenses.  Employers may also be fined up to $11,000 for knowingly tolerating or requiring cell phone use or texting while behind the wheel. In addition, the FMCSA has amended its commercial driver’s license certification process to include among disqualifying offenses a conviction in any state or local jurisdiction that bans texting while operating a commercial vehicle.

Truck Drivers Need to Make Sure They Don’t Cause Accidents

Consumer organizations and industry associations work to educate truck drivers about assuming responsibility for preventing distracted driving accidents.  Here are some tips for truckers:

  • Keep your cell phone in the glove box of the big rig, not on the seat or next to you where even reaching can cause you to veer off the road.
  • Make sure the GPS system is calibrated before you start your trip.  Do not use paper maps that can become a distraction.
  • Keep your eyes on the road and don’t focus on outside distractions such as billboards, buildings, or people. The NHTSA reports that an estimated 11,000 truck crashes can be blamed on outside distractions that interrupted the driver’s concentration.
  • If you see a driver of another vehicle engaging in distracted behavior, take the license plate number and alert the highway patrol.  

Fatigued Truck Drivers

Our fast-paced culture demands products and services immediately. Truck companies have responded by pressuring drivers to make deliveries in unreasonable timeframes. These companies often knowingly put sleep-deprived drivers behind the wheel or create a corporate culture in which driving while tired is widely accepted and even expected.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety notes that more than 4,000 people died in crashes with commercial vehicles in 2017 and cites tired driving as a leading cause. Tired drivers themselves often die in these horrific and unnecessary accidents, but others are at risk, as well.  Of the 4,102 people killed in 2017 truck crashes, 17% were truck drivers, 68% were drivers and other occupants of passenger vehicles, and 14% were pedestrians, bicyclists or motorcyclists.

Searcy Denney has represented Florida drivers injured in vehicle crashes for more than 40 years. Our legal team has the experience and resources to pursue not only a fatigued truck driver who may have caused a crash, but also the large trucking corporation responsible for an accident involving its fleets and drivers.

Hours of Service Rules

FMCSA regulations govern the numbers of hours commercial drivers are permitted to work and drive, and mandate periodic rest breaks. The hours of service (HOS) rules also require drivers and their employers to keep logs of their driving, working and rest periods.

Generally, these rules regulate truck drivers:

  • Drive time: May drive up to 11 hours after 10 consecutive off-duty hours.
  • Workday: May not drive beyond the 14th hour from the time he or she came on duty.
  • Rest requirement: Must take at least a 30-minute rest period after eight hours of consecutive drive time, with exceptions for short-haul drivers.
  • Workweek: 60 and 70-hour driving limits apply to seven and eight-day workweeks.
  • Sleeping birth provisions: A driver who sleeps in the sleeping birth must do so for at least eight hours, plus a separate two hours off duty, which may be spent in the sleeping birth

Bus drivers are subject to similar HOS rules, including:

  • Drive time: May drive up to 10 hours after eight consecutive off-duty hours
  • Workday: May not drive beyond the 15th hour from the time she or he came on duty
  • Workweek: 60 and 70-hour driving limits apply to seven and eight-day workweeks
  • Sleeping birth provisions: A driver who sleeps in the sleeping birth must do so for at least eight hours, which can be split between two periods provided neither is less than two hours.

The introduction of electronic logging devices and their ability to accurately record hours of service prompted requests from members of Congress and the trucking industry to revise HOS regulations. The FMCSA convened five listening sessions in 2018 to discuss suggestions for how to provide greater flexibility for drivers without sacrificing safety. More than 5,200 comments were received on proposals for:

  • Expanding the current 100 mile “short-haul” exemption beyond the current 12 hours on-duty;
  • Extending by two hours the current 14-hour on-duty limit when there are adverse driving conditions;
  • Revising the 30-minute mandatory break for drivers after eight hours driving; and
  • Reinstating tan option for splitting the mandatory 10-hours off-duty rest break for drivers of trucks equipped with a sleeper berth.
  • A petition from the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association related to rest breaks;
  • Another petition from Trucker Nation requesting a change in off-duty and break requirements.

Although the FMCSA had hoped to announce results in June 2019, an anticipated notice of proposed rulemaking for truck drivers’ hours-of-service regulations remains under review at the Office of Management and Budget.  

Electronic Logbooks

Typically, the trucking corporation provides its own documentation of driving, shift and rest hours.  For many years, truck drivers kept paper logs, entering hand-written data every day.  But in December 2015, federal law required all trucking companies to use an electronic logging device, called an ELD, that automatically records driving time and monitors engine hours, vehicle movement, miles driven, and location information.

The FMCSA believed that requiring electronic logs would strengthen commercial truck drivers’ compliance with hours-of-service regulations that prevent fatigue. In addition, roadside safety inspectors have been able to detect violations of the law that could endanger the lives of other drivers, passengers, and pedestrians.

Why Tired Driving Is Dangerous

Tired drivers are a menace on the road. The effects of sleepiness and fatigue substantially increase the risk of serious accident. Studies have shown that drowsiness results in:

  • Less attentiveness
  • Slower reaction time
  • Impaired judgment and decision-making
  • Nodding off behind the wheel

The NTSA’s 2017 data indicates that 16% of all fatal vehicle crashes involve drowsy driving. Harvard Medical School researchers and National Heart Lung and Blood Institute staff have associated sleep apnea (OSA) as a cause of truck driver fatigue. OSA occurs when a person’s airway collapses or is blocked while sleeping and results in insufficient sleep. A major risk factor for sleep apnea is obesity, and as many as 40% to 50% of commercial drivers are obese.

The number of catastrophic truck crashes attributed to sleep deprivation in the last few years has made headlines illustrating just how dangerous a tired driver can be. Just three examples:

  • In April 2015, a big rig in Georgia smashed its way into a line of passenger cars waiting for another accident to clear, killing five people. The driver was discovered to have a history of sleep apnea.
  • In January 2014, a big rig on the Ronald Reagan Memorial Tollway outside of Chicago barreled into a disabled truck that had pulled off the road. The rig driver, who was asleep at the wheel, was killed; his companion was injured, and a state trooper who had stopped to help was set on fire when his car’s gas tank exploded.
  • In a March 2013 fatal truck crash in Kentucky, a truck driver rear-ended a passenger car and killed six people. Investigations by the FMCSA revealed that the driver had been driving well beyond hours-of-service regulations and had falsified his records – both at the demand of the company that owned the truck.

Unsafe Lane Changes

On I-10, I-95 and other major highways throughout Florida, commercial truck accidents are a routine occurrence. Many of these accidents are the result of unsafe lane changes, with truck drivers merging suddenly and unexpectedly in front of (or into) other vehicles.

These unsafe maneuvers often leave other drivers with no place to go. In many cases, they force other drivers to slam on their brakes or swerve out of the way, but even these efforts will often not be enough to avoid a dangerous collision. As a result, drivers and passengers routinely suffer serious injuries in these types of accidents, and many endure a lifetime of pain and suffering.

5 Facts About Commercial Truck Accidents Involving Unsafe Lane Changes

  1. Commercial Truck Drivers Are Subject to the Same Rules as All Other Drivers.

While 18-wheelers and tractor trailers are heavy and difficult to maneuver, this does not excuse commercial truck drivers from observing the rules of the road. If your accident was the result of truck driver negligence, you deserve to be fully compensated.

  1. Commercial Truck Drivers and Trucking Companies Are Subject to Enhanced Safety Standards.

Not only are truck drivers subject to the same rules of the road as other drivers, but they are also subject to enhanced federal safety standards. Federal regulations that limit truck driver hours and impose other requirements are designed to prevent the mistakes that can lead to dangerous accidents.

  1. Unsafe Lane Changes Can Leave Drivers With No Way Out.

After an accident involving a commercial truck, it is important not to assume that you played a role in the crash. Could you have done something to avoid the collision? Maybe. But, maybe not. Oftentimes, truck drivers’ mistakes leave other drivers with no way to protect themselves from serious injuries.

  1. Truck Drivers Need to Check Their Blind Spots.

Many accidents involving unsafe lane changes occur because truck drivers fail to check their blind spots. Truck drivers must always check their blind spots before changing lanes; and, if they are unsure whether it is safe to change lanes, they should remain in their lane until they know they have plenty of room.

  1. As an Accident Victim, You Are Entitled to Full Compensation.

If you were injured in a commercial truck accident, you are entitled to full compensation for all  your accident-related losses. This includes not only the damage to your vehicle and your outstanding medical bills, but also your future medical expenses, loss of income, pain and suffering, and various other financial and non-financial losses.

Brake Failure, Tires and Other Vehicle Problems

Brake failure, blown tires, and other mechanical or parts breakdowns that contribute to large truck crashes most often happen because big trucking companies fail to follow federal safety rules for regular truck inspection, repair and maintenance. Trucking companies must keep meticulous records of the dates and nature of these inspections.

Vehicle-related factors were coded for 5% of the large trucks involved in fatal crashes in 2017, compared with 3% of the passenger vehicles involved in fatal crashes. “Other Working Vehicle” (2%) and “Tires” (1%) were the most common vehicle-related factors for large trucks in fatal crashes.  

In addition, trucks transporting hazardous materials onboard can play a large role in catastrophic accidents., spilling toxic and flammable materials that may not have been loaded and secured safely. In June 2017, in 3,282 U.S. inspections by the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance, the top five violations related to cargo securement were:

  1. No or improper load securement (423)
  2. Failure to secure vehicle equipment (379)
  3. Leaking, spilling, blowing, falling cargo (281)
  4. Insufficient tiedowns to prevent forward movement for load not blocked by header board, bulkhead or cargo (256)
  5. Failure to secure load (178)

Truck safety advocates recommend that truck companies purchase new trucks that are equipped with antilock braking systems and load-proportioning brake valves. There is substantial evidence that antilock brakes prevent wheel lockup and skidding, as well as directional control. But CVSA inspections have found that warning lights for antilock brake malfunctions often fail.

And even with good brakes, it takes a large truck 40% longer to stop than an average car: about 335 feet – or a little longer than a football field.

Traffic Flow

Summer Vacation Driving

The kind of traffic congestion found on Interstate 95 in Florida is a good example of how a previous accident or traffic jam can become a recipe for disaster for trucks and passenger cars, especially when traffic must be diverted to another lane or gawkers slow to see what happened.

When traffic is stopped suddenly, rear-end collisions are rampant. In the 2017 NHTSA analysis of large truck crashes, trucks were struck in the rear about three times as often as were other vehicles (22% compared to 7%).  Other perils of traffic flow included unsafe passing, failure to merge safely, changing lanes suddenly, and misjudgment of a truck’s speed or a trucker’s reaction time.

Another factor that affects traffic flow is day of week and time of day, when different patterns of speed and congestion are present. About 35% of all fatal truck crashes in 2017 occurred at night, between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m. when visibility may have been hampered.  The majority of fatal truck crashes (83%) in 2017 occurred on weekdays, when streets and highways across the country must be shared with cars transporting people to work or school or other daily activities.

 

Prescription and Over-the-Counter Drug Use

While a truck driver under the influence of alcohol is rare in a large truck crash, prescription and over-the-counter drugs are major causes of tragic trucking accidents. One study indicates that prescription drug use is an “associated factor” in 28.7% of truck crashes, even though federal regulations for drivers of commercial motor vehicles prohibit use of anti-seizure medications, methadone, amphetamines, and narcotic and other habit-forming drugs.

Large truck drivers killed in fatal crashes rarely have high blood alcohol concentrations (BACs). Truck drivers are subject to strict government regulations concerning drinking and driving. Four percent of fatally injured large truck drivers in 2017 had BACs at or above 0.08 percent, down from 17 percent in 1982. For comparison, 29 percent of fatally injured passenger vehicle drivers in 2017 had BACs at or above 0.08 percent, down from 51 percent in 1982.

One of the challenges in identifying drug use in truck crashes and in enforcing rules is that medications used for depression or anxiety, high blood pressure or high cholesterol, and many other common conditions have unanticipated side effects that can have a disastrous impact on a driver’s performance.

The FMCSA continues to propose ways to prevent drivers on drugs or alcohol from taking the wheel of a commercial vehicle.  In February 2014, new rules were published in the Federal Register that, subject to public comment, would establish a federal database of truck drivers who refuse or fail to take drug and alcohol tests. Right now, although truck drivers are required to take these random tests, without a national database, employers cannot find out whether prospective employees have failed.

Roadway Problems

According to the Truck Safety Coalition, more than a fourth of the nation’s bridges are structurally deficient or functionally obsolete, and a third of our major roads are in desperate need of repair. Poor road conditions cost motorists billions of dollars a year in repairs an operating costs. Worse, uneven pavements, potholes, sharp curves, unmarked intersections and confusing signage can offer high crash potential for an 80,000 pound tractor-trailer traveling at high speed.

NHTSA analyses of 2017 truck crashes indicate that about 57% of all fatal crashes occurred in rural areas, where road conditions are not always optimal.  Fifty-two percent of deaths in large truck crashes in 2017 occurred on major roads other than interstates and freeways, 32 percent occurred on interstates and freeways, and 15 percent occurred on minor roads.

How We Gather Evidence to Help You Seek Recovery

During a truck crash investigation, the experienced Florida truck accident attorneys at Searcy Denney take effective steps to determine if the driver was using a cell phone or participating in some other form of distracted driving at the time of your accident.

  • Our expert analyzes the black box data for erratic driving behavior, such as swerving, wild steering corrections, or failing to brake.
  • Our truck crash attorneys meticulously watch the driver’s dash-cam for signs of distracted conduct.
  • We can even subpoena phone records to pinpoint the times the driver sent and received phone calls and text messages.

Preventing Truck Accidents

While we can never prevent all truck crashes, many deaths and serious injuries can be avoided if truck drivers and drivers of other motor vehicles all do their part. Here are some things that truck drivers can do to keep themselves safe and to protect the rest of us on the road:

Be Wary of the Weather

  • Rain, fog, snow, ice, smoke and wind are hazards that reduce visibility and traction, increase stopping distance and congestion, and can throw drivers off balance. Slow down to avoid rollovers, jackknifing and possible collisions with other vehicles.
  • Keep adequate space between your truck and the vehicle in front in case you have to stop. The recommended “following distance” for a large truck or tractor trailer is 9 or more seconds in inclement weather.
  • In heavy rain, watch for pooling of water on the road to avoid hydroplaning (when tires ride above the road surface on a thin layer of water). Slow down – vehicles can hydroplane moving as slow as 30 miles an hour.
  • Pull off the road if conditions become severe. While normally it is unwise to park on a road with speed limits of more than 30 mph, if you must pull over on a highway, use flares, flashers and safety triangles to warn other motorists.
  • Check the weather before you leave, and if bad weather is anticipated, keep the gas tank full and carry emergency equipment and tire chains in case of snow or ice.

Plan Carefully for Long Haul Driving

  • Get plenty of rest before going on duty and comply fully with federal hours-of-service rules regarding driving limits and breaks. Wear comfortable clothing, take exercise breaks, and eat healthy foods that will keep you alert.
  • Identify and use parking set aside for trucks, since you will likely need four times the space of an average passenger car. Don’t park near driveways or on side streets where your tractor trailer might obstruct another driver’s view.
  • Don’t let the truck idle for more than a few minutes, and do not leave it unattended. If idling is necessary because of extremely cold weather, keep windows closed or wear a safety mask so that you don’t inhale dangerous fumes.
  • Inspect your truck before you leave to identify any problems and get them fixed before you head out. Pay special attention to headlights, brake lights, and turn signals.
  • Admit when you are drowsy or fatigued and take a break. If this is a chronic condition, check with your doctor about causes, which could include allergies or sleep apnea.

Consider Others on the Road

  • Don’t tailgate; keep your distance no matter how frustrating long hours and other drivers become. Be aware that other motorists may not know about your “no zone” or the size of other blind spots. Adjust your mirrors and stay alert for vehicles trying to make an end run!
  • Prevent backing-up accidents by making sure that you have a clear view, checking for obstructions, and, if you must turn, positioning your truck so that the turn can be made on your side. Check both mirrors, but don’t rely on mirrors alone. If you see anything in your blind spot, stop immediately and don’t start up again until the object or person reappears.
  • Change lanes only when necessary, checking your mirrors every few seconds to make sure other vehicles are not trapped in your blind spots. Be sure to signal early when approaching a turn at an intersection so that other motorists will know what you are doing.
  • Be a defensive driver who maintains a safe speed at all times and avoids not only aggressive driving yourself, but others on the road who are exhibiting aggressive driving behaviors.

Auto Drivers Also Can Help Prevent Truck Accidents

  • Remember that trucks are not the same as cars – they’re bigger and heavier and take much longer to stop.
  • Trucks have dangerous blind spots on both sides – so stay out of them. If you can’t see a truck’s side mirrors, the truck driver can’t see you either.
  • Don’t cut in front of a truck in order to make your turn or exit. Forcing the driver to slam on the brakes can spin the truck out of control or cause it to hit you, neither of which is a good choice.
  • Don’t pass a truck while it is turning right, because a turning truck takes a wide swing.
  • When passing a truck on the highway, accelerate slightly and maintain a constant speed. When you see the entire cab in your rear-view mirror, it is safe to signal and begin pulling back in front of it.
  • Be especially wary of trucks in bad weather, when it may take them several seconds more to stop than in dry conditions.
  • If you see a truck driver driving erratically or unsafely, call the authorities. And keep your distance so there is no chance of endangering you or your passengers.

Florida Truck Accident Attorneys Can Help After a Truck Crash

No matter what the cause or who is to blame for the truck accident that harmed you or your family, you are the one who now faces exorbitant medical expenses, lost wages, and the pain and suffering of horrific injuries or a loved one’s death. The Florida truck crash lawyers at Searcy Denney have more than 40 years’ experience with clients in circumstances similar to yours. Please contact us for a free, confidential consultation to help you learn your rights and explore your options for pursuing recovery from the person and/or corporation responsible.