Research investigates large truck crash causes

Texas automobile drivers must share the road with big trucks, and close encounters with these large vehicles can be unnerving. Professional drivers who operate the big rigs should have the knowledge and experience needed to minimize accidents, but truck crashes continue to happen.

Accident on a Texas highway

A recent accident late at night on I-35 in Texas involved two 18-wheelers. One of the trucks apparently jackknifed and partly rolled over, according to Austin police reports summarized in the Statesman newspaper. Apparently no one was injured.

Both trucks were fully loaded and cargo spills took hours to clear, keeping southbound lanes closed for hours. One truck was carrying batteries, creating an additional hazardous waste spill complication when battery acid was dumped on the road. The other truck held 10 tons of light fixtures.

Researching truck accidents

The U.S. Department of Transportation's Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration have extensively studied the causes of large truck accidents, analyzing a sample from 120,000 crashes that occurred over two years' time.

The study sample consisted of 963 accidents, each involving at least one large truck. A total of 1,123 large trucks were included. Casualties in these accidents included 249 deaths and 1,654 injuries.

About a quarter of the accidents were single-truck accidents, and the rest were collisions with another vehicle. Some accidents involved more than one large truck, and some involved passenger cars as well as at least one truck.

Study procedure

Researchers teamed up with a state truck inspector and personally visited each accident site. They interviewed drivers and witnesses, inspected the trucks and looked through drivers' logs. The researchers later contacted the motor carriers that operated the trucks, reviewed police reports and examined the medical records of crash victims.

Besides the details concerning the vehicles and their occupants, the researchers also took note of the road and weather factors at the time of each accident.

Driver and vehicle issues

In about 87 percent of the accidents in the sample, drivers were critically responsible for what happened. About 10 percent of the accidents were directly attributable to some feature of the vehicle, and the remaining three percent were caused by environmental elements.

Most of the time when a driver was responsible for the accident, the driver made a bad decision or failed to fully observe the situation, possibly because of a distraction. In a few cases, a driver became actually incapacitated, by falling asleep or suffering some medical event like a heart attack or seizure. Some drivers did not properly perform a driving task.

Considering all the possible operator and vehicle factors, the researchers discovered that many of the trucks in the accidents studied had brake trouble. Other common factors contributing to these accidents included driving too fast for current conditions and unfamiliarity with the road.

Responsibility

When a driver's negligent behavior causes an accident, anyone who is injured has a right to be compensated. A personal injury attorney can explain the procedure and file a claim seeking payment for medical expenses, pain and suffering and loss of wages. If someone is injured fatally, the deceased person's family can file a claim for wrongful death. Large trucks can cause significant damage, and their owners and operators must be held accountable for accidents involving these big vehicles.

Written by the Office of Jackson Reed