There is no doubt that accidents involving large commercial trucks like tractor-trailers, semi-trucks, big rigs, and 18-wheelers cause serious damage. By many standards of measurement, truck accidents are far worse than car accidents, despite occurring less frequently. The risks of being a truck driver are significant—as are the risks to the drivers of cars, small trucks, SUVs, and motorcycles that share the road with large commercial vehicles.
In the following article, we’ll look at the issues that make trucking accidents a serious concern in both Arkansas and the United States. With further questions, please reach out to the law office of McMath Woods P.A. to speak with an experienced truck accident attorney.
Facts to Know About Truck Accidents
Trucks are 20 to 30 times the weight of the smaller passenger vehicles on the roads around them. They take up to 40% longer than cars to stop when braking. And they often transport hazardous materials like toxic chemicals and flammable liquids. When a truck crashes, the results can be devastating.
Although trucking accidents are statistically less frequent than other motor vehicle accidents (like car accidents), the repercussions can be even more far-reaching, resulting in a single incident that ends in numerous fatalities. The causes of crashes we have observed when investigating trucking accident cases also indicate that the conditions truck drivers are forced to work under are not always safe, or even lawful. If there is any doubt about the seriousness of truck accidents to our communities, states, and nation as a whole, consider the following facts:
- Truck Accidents Are More Likely to Result in Death. When a truck is involved in an accident, the likelihood of fatality is high. Data shows that trucks have a fatality rate almost four times higher than cars per vehicle miles traveled. The most recent national motor vehicle fatality rates show that within a single year, the fatality rate for passenger cars was roughly .3 per 100 million VMT (vehicle miles traveled), compared to about 1.1 for large trucks.
- In a Truck Accident, Occupants of Other Vehicles Suffer the Most. In all motor vehicle crash deaths involving a tractor-trailer and a passenger vehicle (car, light truck, van, or SUV), 97% of deaths were occupants of the smaller passenger vehicle.
- A Large Number of Truck Drivers Are Severely Overworked. Federal law allows truck drivers to travel up to 11 consecutive hours on the road. But investigation results show that a high percentage of drivers violate this law on a regular basis. Many are even encouraged to do so by dispatchers and companies that push intense route schedules and incentivize extra mileage.
- Substance Abuse Is Prevalent in the Trucking Industry. Due to factors like stress, isolation, and the need to stay awake for long hours, truck drivers sometimes turn to drugs or alcohol. Studies show that the U.S. has higher rates of alcohol abuse among truck drivers than any other nation, with over half of drivers self-reporting drinking and driving. In another survey, about one-third of truck drivers admitted to amphetamine usage.
- Trucks Are Responsible for Transporting Hazardous Materials. Because of the severity of a truck accident that involves hazardous materials, penalties for violating federal hazmat trucking regulations can cause companies to face hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines, and possible criminal charges. Trucks regularly transport materials like explosives, flammable gasses, and toxic chemicals. U.S. DOT reports show that hazardous materials traffic exceeds 800,000 shipments daily—over 3.1 billion tons of hazardous materials annually.
- Trucking Is Essential to the U.S. Economy. It’s hard to find a sector of the U.S. economy that doesn’t rely on the trucking industry. Hospitals, grocery stores, gas stations, construction companies, electricity providers, and manufacturing plants wouldn’t be able to serve their communities if not for the work of truck drivers. Trucking is an over-700-billion-dollar industry. When frequent accidents occur—delaying shipments, losing products, and making hiring drivers more difficult—many people suffer.
- Truck Accident Fatality Rates Are Rising. Over the past ten years, the number of truck accident fatalities has shown a roughly 50% increase, from 3,380 in 2009 to 5,005 in 2019. Additionally, data gathered by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) showed that the number of large truck occupants killed in truck accidents increased from less than 500 in 2009 to almost 900 in 2019.
As we strive for improved safety in the trucking industry, one of the most important questions we can ask is: Why do truck accidents happen? Knowing how truck accidents happen can help us work more effectively toward preventing them.
Common Causes of Truck Accidents
Commercial trucking is a multi-level operation. By the time a truck driver gets behind the wheel of an 18-wheeler loaded with cargo, numerous parties with varying tasks have already been involved. Something can go wrong at any of these levels. If one of these parties is negligent or acts wrongfully, the chances of a truck accident are greatly increased.
The incident leading to a truck accident may have taken place seconds before the collision, or it may have taken place weeks or months earlier. When lawyers look to determine cause and liability after a semi collision, it may be necessary to examine the role and actions of one or more of the following involved parties:
- Truck drivers
- Passenger vehicle drivers involved in the collision
- Other drivers on the road (for example, if a car cuts a truck off and drives away)
- Truck owners
- Trucking companies (including those responsible for hiring, training, and dispatching)
- Truck maintenance personnel
- Truck and truck parts designers and manufacturers
- Cargo or shipping companies
- Those responsible for loading cargo
In a study conducted by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), speeding, fatigue, and alcohol impairment were listed as the factors most likely to increase the risk that a semi-truck will be involved in a serious crash. When the tractor-trailer (not another car) causes the incident that results in the accident, that incident is most likely to be one of three situations:
- The truck departs from the travel lane and into another lane or off the road
- The driver loses control of the vehicle due to traveling too fast, cargo shift, vehicle systems failure, poor road conditions, or another reason
- The truck collides with the rear end of another vehicle in the travel lane
There are many factors that can cause one of these above-listed situations (or another accident-causing situation) to occur. The job of a truck accident attorney is to thoroughly seek and analyze evidence that can shed light on the elements contributing to the crash. This may include examining photographs of the accident scene, trucking company records and policies, truck driver past violations, truck black box data, eyewitness reports, police reports, and footage from dashboard or surveillance cameras.
It is almost always a combination of factors that come together to culminate in a collision. There could be hundreds of elements that must be investigated in order to accurately and appropriately determine liability. Based on FMCSA research findings, the most common associated factors that may be involved in a commercial truck accident are:
- Brake problems
- Traffic flow disruption, such as congestion from a previous crash
- Prescription drug use
- Travelling too fast for conditions
- Driver unfamiliarity with roadways
- Problems with the road
- Being required to stop, such as at a crosswalk
- Over-the-counter (OTC) drug use
- Inadequate surveillance
- Driver fatigue
In addition to the immense amount of data that must be studied to determine an accident’s cause, the damages suffered by those injured, and the amount of compensation injured victims need to recover losses, there can be further complications. Trucking companies eager to protect themselves from the penalty of paying for their negligence have been known to complicate the process of attaining justice for injured victims. This makes truck accident law extremely complex, and not every personal injury lawyer takes on these types of cases.
McMath Woods P.A. Fights for Improved Safety in the Trucking Industry
As 2022 begins, McMath Woods P.A. continues to look forward to a future in which our roads and highways are safer for everyone. In the past year alone, far too many individuals in Arkansas were victims of fatal truck accidents. In July, a fire broke out on I-440 in Jacksonville after a deadly semi-truck crash. A 69-year-old passenger was killed in a truck accident in St. Francis County in October of this year. A truck driver died in November in an accident outside Little Rock on Interstate 530. In December, two women lost their lives in a parked tractor-trailer collision off Interstate 30 south of Malvern, a fatal truck crash in Forrest City caused a chemical spill on I-40, and another 18-wheeler accident in Boone County claimed the lives of two more passenger vehicle occupants. Even one preventable truck accident death in our state is too many.
At McMath Woods P.A., we are proud to have won millions of dollars in settlements for our clients whose lives were devastated by trucking negligence. Financial recovery is critical for families who are suddenly facing lost income and a mountain of medical expenses. But we know there is much more work to be done. To learn about how we may be able to help you and your family following a truck accident, contact our office to schedule a consultation. We’ll begin with a meeting to better understand your story and how we may be able to represent you. We never charge a fee for an initial consultation to discuss what legal options are available to you.