In 2021, a truck driver received a 110-year prison sentence following a deadly crash in Colorado. His truck was traveling 80 mph on I-70 and slammed into stopped traffic, hitting 12 vehicles and killing four people. Driver experience, decision-making, and truck maintenance were factors that led to the fatal crash.
Commercial vehicles and semi-trucks are inherently dangerous. The sheer size of the trucks makes it difficult to maneuver and stop. It takes the length of two football fields for some trucks to stop entirely. According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) Truck and Bus Crash Facts, in 2020, there were 4,998 fatal crashes involving large trucks and buses. There are a disproportionate number of crashes involving commercial vehicles and semi-trucks because it is difficult for large vehicles to maneuver or slow down.
The FMCSA requires a “higher level of knowledge, experience, skills, and physical abilities than that required to drive a non-commercial vehicle.” Drivers are required to demonstrate specialized skills and knowledge to obtain a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL). Because of this, “CDL holders are held to a higher standard when operating any type of motor vehicle on public roads.”
What Causes Truck Accidents?
The FMCSA performed a study of crashes involving large trucks. The study analyzed the critical reasons for crashes and associated factors. Data shows that truck drivers accounted for 87% of accidents, while vehicles were responsible for 10%, and the environment for 3%.
The Driver was the critical reason for most of the semi-truck and commercial vehicle-related crashes. Associated factors such as brake problems, traveling too fast for conditions, and fatigue can lead to accidents. The study found that in the reported crashes, these were the top associated factors:
Vehicle: Brake Problems 29%
Driver: Traveling too fast for conditions 23%
Driver: Unfamiliar with roadway 22%
Environment: Roadway problems 20%
Driver: Over-the-counter drug use 17%
Driver: Inadequate Surveillance 14%
Driver: Fatigue 13%
Driver: Felt under work pressure from carrier 10%
Driver: Made illegal maneuver 9%
Driver: Inattention 9%
Others: following too close, illegal drugs, intoxication, internal distraction, jackknife, cargo shift
The media often suggests that truck crashes occur due to brake failure, but some critics doubt that brake problems alone will lead to a semi-truck or commercial vehicle crash. Brakes rarely fail on their own, and failure is usually because the truck was traveling too fast or was not properly maintained. In 2016, when federal and state inspectors pulled commercial motor vehicles (including buses and trucks) off the road for roadside inspections, they found that nearly 20% of the vehicles had sufficient violations to require ordering the drivers or vehicles out of service.