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An at-fault truck accident usually starts with truck driver

November 20, 2017 by Steven M. Gursten

New federal report shows truck driver behavior biggest factor behind 87% of truck accidents involving large truck — far ahead of the 10% of crashes blamed on mechanical failure

Truck Accident

A new federal study suggests the first place to start an inquiry on what went wrong to cause a truck accident should begin with the actions and decisions of the truck driver behind the wheel.

According to the study, the truck driver is the reason behind 87% of preventable large truck crashes.

The “Large Truck Crash Causation Study” from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) pinpoints driver behavior/error — whether fatigue, distracted driving, speeding or misjudging other vehicles’ speed — as the cause of a large majority of truck accidents.

As a truck accident attorney who has litigated more than 300 injuries and deaths caused by trucks, I’m sadly not surprised by the report’s findings. Don’t misunderstand, this report doesn’t mean the truck driver causes 87% of all crashes involving trucks. Many of the crashes involving trucks are caused by the passenger car, and I represent many truck drivers who are hurt in crashes as well.

But when the inquiry is focused on preventable crashes caused by a truck, the place to start is with the driver behind the wheel.

It’s a tough job, even for the safest of drivers.

How much of the blame goes to the truck driver?

The FMCSA study traced 12,000 commercial truck crashes over a nearly three-year span that caused 249 deaths and 1,654 injuries. Nearly 75% of those truck crashes involved a large truck colliding with at least one other vehicle.

Importantly, the study showed that driver error on the truck driver’s part contributed to the following four, most dangerous causes of truck accidents:

  • Non-performance: The truck driver fell asleep, was disabled by a heart attack or seizure, or was physically impaired for another reason.
  • Recognition: The driver was inattentive, was distracted by something inside or outside the vehicle, or failed to observe the situation adequately for some other reason.
  • Decision: The driver was driving too fast for conditions, misjudged the speed of other vehicles, or followed other vehicles too closely.
  • Performance: The driver panicked, overcompensated, or exercised poor directional control.

The other two reasons are vehicle failure and environmental conditions, such as weather and roadway problems.

Here’s how the numbers stack up:

Critical reasons Number of trucks Percentage
Drivers’ non-performance 9,000 12%
Drivers’ recognition 22,000 28%
Drivers’ decision 30,000 38%
Drivers’ performance 7,000 9%
Vehicle failure 8,000 10%
Environment 2,000 3%

Who can be held responsible after a truck accident?

As a truck accident lawyer, there is usually more than one responsible party, just as there can often be more than one cause for a wreck. Yes, the driver may have made a dangerous decision, but bad breaks or being forced to drive fatigued and over hours by the company could also have played causal roles.

Here are some additional parties that can be also potential be found responsible after a truck accident:

  • Driver
  • Truck owner
  • Motor carrier
  • Truck manufacturer
  • Maintenance contractor or company
  • Distributors, suppliers or retailers supplying defective parts

Tomorrow, I’ll discuss the findings in the recently released traffic crash facts for commercial motor vehicles in Michigan — including how November had the most fatalities for 2016.

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