With close to 3 trillion vehicle miles traveled in the U.S. every year, safety on roads and highways is a major concern. This is particularly true for oversized trucks, or 18-wheelers, as they are much larger and can cause a significant amount of damage and injury in an accident when compared with smaller vehicles. Here is some information about some of the most common causes of 18-wheeler accidents, and the need for heightened safety and increased awareness on the roads.
TRUCKS AND ACCIDENTS ON THE ROADS
According to the Federal Highway Administration, there were approximately 11 million registered large trucks—defined as those with a gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) over 10,000 pounds—on the roads in the United States in 2009 (the most recent year for which data is available). These trucks account for approximately four percent of the 254 million registered vehicles on the road.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that in 2009 large trucks were involved in about six percent of motor vehicle crashes, as well as a large number of fatalities (3,380 out of 33,808 in 2009, or one out of every ten vehicle-related fatalities that year). These accidents amounted to $48 billion in total costs in 2009.
COMMON CAUSES OF 18-WHEELER ACCIDENTS
While there are hundreds of things that could potentially cause accidents out on the roads, these are some of the most common reasons large commercial vehicles get in crashes.
LARGE VEHICLES, MANY BLIND SPOTS
While every driver has to account for blind spots when turning and changing lanes, an 18-wheeler has far more blind spots than passenger vehicles. While they do have custom mirrors and devices to assist the driver in locating other vehicles that are in close proximity to the truck on the road, it is still difficult to maneuver such a large load and there are areas they just cannot see. As a result, some drivers fail to properly account for blind spots, causing accidents.
EQUIPMENT MALFUNCTION OR FAILURE
Whether it is the brakes, tires, or any other part of an 18-wheeler, everything must be in working order to operate a large commercial vehicle safely out on the roads. Unfortunately trucks, like all vehicles, are subject to equipment malfunctions. When you magnify the potential for a loss of brakes, tire blowouts, and other engine or vehicle malfunctions with the size of the 18-wheeler, it can be disastrous for the truck driver and others in the vicinity.
DEBRIS ON THE ROAD
If you have ever unexpectedly come across debris on the road, you know how difficult it can be to swerve and miss the items while still maintaining safe control of your vehicle. Large trucks are particularly difficult to maneuver around such debris and other articles, increasing the potential that the truck will get in an accident.
DISTRACTED AND DROWSY DRIVING
The majority of accidents in the United States every year are caused by human error, and 18-wheelers are certainly no exception. The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety notes that distracted driving has become one of the main causes of accidents today; whether it is eating and drinking on the road, or texting and talking on a mobile phone, distracted driving is a very real problem.
Another common problem is fatigue or drowsiness. A 2010 study reported by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety revealed that 41 percent of drivers admit to falling asleep or nodding off while driving at some point, and more than 25 percent of drivers admit that they have driven when they were so sleepy they could barely keep their eyes open. While it is dangerous for anyone on the road to drive drowsy, it is particularly dangerous for drivers who operate large 18-wheeler trucks, and who spend a significant portion of each day out on the roads. Unfortunately, because of the demand to transport items as quickly as possible from one point to the next, many truck drivers suffer from lack of sleep, and are driving while tired.
There are additional errors committed by many drivers—and 18-wheeler operators are no exception—including excessive speeding, unsafe or aggressive driving, failure to follow the rules out on the road, or driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol. While these dangerous driving behaviors are not unique to truck drivers, they can certainly be a big problem for someone operating an 18-wheeler, particularly because commercial vehicle drivers spend a significant portion of their time out on the road traveling regionally and nationally to deliver goods. Some of the most common aggressive driving behaviors are making unsafe lane changes, cutting off other drivers or vehicles, driving at high speeds that are too fast for road conditions, and making unsafe turns.
A properly secured load is perfectly safe, and trucks are a great way to deliver goods from one place to another. However, when someone fails to properly secure the load that a truck is carrying, it can lead to objects flying off the truck, debris falling out on the road and becoming a dangerous barrier to other drivers, and even items that hit the windshields of drivers following behind the 18-wheeler. Unsecured cargo can also be hazardous if it causes the truck driver to lose control of the vehicle.
While truck drivers cannot control it, weather can also contribute to accidents involving 18-wheelers. Truck drivers are often operating on tight deadlines, and cannot simply decide not to travel when conditions worsen, whether it is cold conditions like snow and ice, poor visibility in heavy rain, fog, or hail, or even high winds.
With all the dangerous driving conditions out there, it is imperative that drivers operating 18-wheelers and other large commercial vehicles are consciously working to minimize distractions and practice safe driving habits.