Written by attorney Brett Ashley Emison

Why Are There So Many Semi Truck and Tractor Trailer Crashes?

Tractor trailer accidents cause a disproportionate number of deaths. Because of the vast difference in size and weight between a semi truck and a passenger vehicle, these crashes are much more destructive and devastating than a collision involving two passenger vehicles.

Nationwide, large trucks (known as tractor trailers, semi trucks, eighteen wheelers, diesels, or big rigs) make up about 3% of the vehicles on the road. However, Missouri semi truck accidents account for as much as 15% of traffic deaths. Illinois semi truck accidents account for as much as 10.5% of traffic deaths.

Missouri Trucking Accident Statistics

According the Missouri Department of Transportation, in the last 10 years, Missouri tractor trailer accidents have accounted for between 11% and 15% of traffic deaths. The deadliest year was 2000, in which Missouri eighteen wheeler accidents caused 198 out of 1,306 total traffic fatalities. The total number of Missouri trucking accident deaths has declined from 173 trucking deaths in 2005 to 109 trucking deaths in 2008.

Illinois Trucking Accident Statistics

According to the Illinois Department of Transportation, in the last 5 years, Illinois tractor trailer accident have accounted for between 8.6% and 10.6% of fatal traffic crashes. The deadliest year was 2005, in which Illinois eighteen wheeler accidents caused 208 out of 1,999 total fatal traffic crashes. The total number of Illinois trucking accident crashes has declined from 208 fatal trucking crashes in 2005 to 144 fatal trucking crashes in 2008.

Prevent Trucking Accidents

I see far too many people who have been seriously injured or killed in tractor trailer crashes. These crashes are almost always preventable. Whether you are a trucker driving a big rig or a soccer mom driving a minivan, safety starts with you.

Safety Tips for Passenger Vehicle Drivers

Always use caution around semi trucks. Semi trucks can weigh more than 80,000 pounds and are not as agile as your passenger vehicle. It can be difficult for semi trucks to stop or swerve to avoid a collision.

Do not "tailgate" behind a big rig. Remember, if you cannot see the mirrors on the tractor's cab then the truck driver cannot see you. You also need to give yourself plenty of time to stop your own vehicle if there is an emergency ahead.

Do not "cut off" a tractor trailer. Aggressive driving may distract or catch a truck driver off guard. Such driving also reduces the available stopping distance for the tractor trailer in the event of an emergency.

Safety Tips for Truckers and Trucking Companies

Driving an 80,000 tractor trailer covering hundreds of thousands of miles is an awesome responsibility. Truckers and trucking corporations must be vigilant about safety. The National Transportation Safety Board ("NTSB") lists the following as some of the most common causes of big rig accidents:

  • Poor Driver Training
  • Driver Fatigue (Tiredness)
  • Speeding
  • Overloaded Trucks
  • Oversized Trucks
  • Brake Failure
  • Poor Driving Conditions
  • Driver Inexperience
  • Failure To Yield The Right-Of-Way
  • Driving Under The Influence of Alcohol Or Drugs
  • Aggressive, Dangerous Or Reckless Driving
  • Mechanical Failure (Or Improper Maintenance)
  • Defective Parts (Such As Defective Steering Or Brakes)

Truckers and trucking companies must be mindful of each of these trucking accident causes.

Driver fatigue is a particularly dangerous -- and completely preventable -- cause of trucking accidents. Nearly 15 years ago, the NTSB issued a report warning of truck driver fatigue dangers.

The NTSB found that trucker fatigue was a contributing factor in 30%-40% of all diesel truck accidents. The NTSB found that proper sleep patterns are imperative for truck driver safety. Truckers must get 8 hours of continuous sleep after driving for 10 hours or after being on duty for 15 hours for proper safety.

The NTSB just recently issued a warning that truck drivers should also be screened for a medical condition called sleep apnea.

Sleep apnea denies people the rest they need, and it has been found to be a factor in incident involving every transportation mode, NTSB Chairman Deborah Hersman said in letters.

How To Determine The Cause Of A Tractor Trailer Accident

It may be difficult to determine the cause of a semi truck accident. It takes an experienced team of investigators to determine the cause of a trucking accident.

An accident reconstructionist will measure and photograph the collision site. They will use these measurements and their engineering knowledge to calculate the speed of the vehicles involved in the collision, the impact forces, and the way the vehicles moved after impact. The accident reconstructionist can determine if a vehicle was speeding or failed to yield the right-of-way. He or she can also determine if the vehicle could have been slowed or stopped to avoid the collision.

A forensic pathologist may examine the occupants of the vehicle and the vehicles themselves to determine how the occupants moved during the crash. The forensic pathologist can determine if something in the passenger compartment of the vehicles contributed to cause injury or death.

A truck driving (or trucking) expert can determine if either the truck driver and/or the trucking company acted improperly or was negligent. The trucking expert will examine the driver logs, gas receipts, schedule, manifest, GPS and onboard data information, and other available information to determine if the truck driver or trucking company violated regulations, industry standards or company standards.

Learn more about trucking accidents at our safety blog and become a fan of Langdon & Emison on Facebook.

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