18-Wheeler Accidents and Injuries: A Devastating Prospect


Commercial vehicles (18-wheeler trucks) account for approximately four percent of all vehicles out on the road, but because they are very large, heavy vehicles, getting into an accident with an 18-wheeler can be devastating to your vehicle and the occupants. There are a wide variety of injuries that can result from an accident with a large truck, ranging from minor injuries and property damage to fatalities. It’s important for truck drivers, and drivers operating passenger vehicles around trucks, to be conscious and drive safely at all times.


Fortunately, the number of fatal accidents involving 18-wheelers and other large commercial vehicles is declining. According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) at the U.S. Department of Transportation, the number of large trucks—defined as those with a gross vehicle weight rating of 10,000 pounds or more—has gone down from 4,823 in 2001 to 3,484 in 2010. The number of fatalities has also declined between 2001-2010, from 5,111 people to 3,675.

While this is positive news, fatalities are not the only story. In the thousands of crashes that occur each year involving 18-wheelers, there are approximately 80,000 injuries, and only 14 percent of those killed and 25 percent of those injured are the truck operators. Sadly, that means passengers and operators of other vehicles account for 86 percent of fatalities from truck accidents, and 75 percent of injuries.

The most common reasons reported for truck accidents include speeding, distracted driving, failure to follow the rules of the road, obscured vision, and failure to yield right-of-way to other drivers, according to the Large Truck Crash Overview of 2010 published by the FMCSA.


The injuries that result from a collision with an 18-wheeler may not be very different from those you would expect to find in a collision involving two passenger vehicles; however, due to the size and weight of the commercial trucks, the severity of injuries is often magnified.


When the brain and surrounding tissues are damaged, it can be devastating. The most common type of brain damage caused by 18-wheeler accidents is Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), caused by a blow to the head that, in turn, causes the brain to move inside the skull or causes damage to the skull. Not only can it be painful, it can also cause confusion, memory loss, cognitive, behavioral, and physical disabilities, and loss of function in some areas of the body. In extreme cases, a person may even be in a coma or be unable to care for themselves.


The nerves that extend from the base of our brain to the lower back are called the spinal cord. They carry messages from the brain to the rest of the body through the spinal canal, a bony protective layer around the outside of the spinal cord. These messages control a person’s ability to move, touch, and feel things. When a person experiences a sudden blow to the spine, which often happens in motor vehicle accidents with an 18-wheeler, they may suffer from either complete or incomplete spinal cord injury.

The term “complete” spinal cord injury indicates that the person has no feeling or mobility below the site of the injury. An “incomplete” injury means the person has partial feeling or mobility, but has some limitations. Depending on where the injury occurs along the spinal cord, a person may suffer paralysis in the arms and legs (quadriplegic), generally from injuries to the neck area, or paralysis only in the legs (paraplegic), generally from injuries to the middle of the back.


In some circumstances, a collision with an 18-wheeler may result in amputation of arms, legs, or other body parts, or the resulting damage to a part of the body may require amputation later during treatment for crash-related injuries.


In an accident, shattering glass, metal, and other projectile objects can cause permanent disfigurement to those involved. While they may not be life-threatening, these injuries may require significant surgery, skin grafts, and other reconstructive measures to repair the damage, and can result in psychological impacts that are difficult to measure.


Burns in an accident can occur either when a vehicle or the area around the vehicle catches fire and an occupant is trapped inside, or when airbags deploy. In a serious accident with an 18-wheeler, airbags in the passenger vehicle will likely deploy; because they must do so at a very high rate of speed, they can cause abrasions or burns when they come in contact with the vehicle occupant’s skin.


The most tragic injury that can result from an accident with an 18-wheeler is a fatality. Motor vehicle accidents are one of the top causes of deaths in the United States, and collision with a large truck or other commercial vehicle can be very dangerous due to the sheer size and weight of the truck. While trucks account for only about 4 percent of all registered vehicles on the road, they make up eight percent of vehicles involved in fatal crashes, according to the FMCSA.


There are also thousands of 18-wheeler accidents each year that do not result in death or injury, but do result in property damage. While this is a positive thing for avoiding injury and saving lives in an accident, property damage from an 18-wheeler collision can be extremely costly, accounting for about $5-6 billion each year in costs.

Large commercial trucks are a vital part of our nation’s transportation infrastructure, delivering goods from one place to another. When properly and safely operated, they can be a huge benefit to our economy. However, because they are significantly larger than other vehicles, it’s important for truck drivers, as well as those driving passenger vehicles around trucks, to exercise caution and drive with safety as a top priority.

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