What Are the Most Common Causes of Large Truck Accidents?

A truck driver may end up crashing a tractor-trailer or other large commercial truck for a number of different reasons. Driver error, vehicle failure or road conditions, for instance, often contribute to truck crashes. In many situations, a combination of factors causes the accident.

The Richmond truck accident lawyers at Marks & Harrison investigate truck accidents all across Virginia. We determine the causes of truck accidents in order to determine whether individuals injured in them deserve to be compensated by truck drivers, trucking companies and/or third parties.

Based on the cases we have investigated,  Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) statistics, federal research and more, we have assembled the top causes of truck accidents below.

Driver Error

Most truck accidents are caused by truck driver error, such as the following:

  • Improper lane changes. A landmark federal study, the Large Truck Crash Causation Study (LTCCS), found that “running out of the travel lane” was the critical event in 32 percent of the large truck crashes that researchers studied. It was the No. 1 cause of large truck accidents in Virginia in 2017, with 315 incidents cited, or 12.9 percent of the total. The VDOT also cited 12 truck accidents (0.5 percent) caused by the truck crossing the centerline (not in an attempt to pass).
  • Following too closely. Tailgating was the No. 2 identified cause of large truck accidents in Virginia in 2017 (232 crashes, or 9.5 percent). Following too closely leads to rear-end accidents when a heavy truck cannot stop as fast as the car ahead does. The LTCCS described 22 percent of accidents in its study as colliding with the rear end of another vehicle in the truck’s lane.
  • Going too fast for conditions. This refers to traveling too fast for such conditions as wet roadways (due to rain, snow or ice), reduced visibility (due to fog or heavy rain), uneven roads, construction zones, curves, intersections, gravel roads and heavy traffic. The LTCCS said 23 percent of large-truck crashes occurred when truck drivers were traveling too fast for conditions. The VDOT cites “speed too fast” in 2.6 percent of 2017 truck accidents, or 63 total crashes.

The above accident causes typically follow bad decisions by drivers. Some examples are:

  • Distracted driving. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) cites a 2009 study which found that 71 percent of large-truck crashes occurred when the truck driver was doing something besides driving the truck. For example, the driver may have been dialing a cell phone, texting, using dispatching devices, eating, reading or adjusting the radio. The FMCSA has since prohibited truck drivers from texting while driving or using a hand-held cell phone for any function.
  • Fatigued driving. Driver fatigue may be caused by a lack of adequate sleep, extended work hours, strenuous activity or a combination of these and other factors. Certain medications can cause drowsiness, for example. Fatigued driving should not occur. The FMCSA has adopted strict hours-of-service regulations, which limit driving shifts and require specific rest periods off the clock. But the LTCCS said 13 percent of truck drivers were considered to have been fatigued at the time of their accident.
  • Impaired driving. Truck drivers are tested at random for alcohol and illicit drug use. They can lose their licenses if they are found to have a blood-alcohol concentration of 0.04 or more or any sign of illegal drug use. However, while drunk driving and illicit drug-impaired driving are rare among truckers, the LTCCS found that over-the-counter drug use contributed to 17 percent of crashes. Many OTC and prescription drugs can impair the user if taken incorrectly or in combination.

Vehicle Defects

Many truck accidents are caused by the failure of the vehicle. In most cases, the failure traces to defective parts. Examples include:

  • Brake failure. Loss of brakes can cause rear-end accidents. At a high speed, the driver may lose control while going into a decline, turn or exit ramp, or when the driver is approaching an intersection. Brake problems were cited in 29 percent of crashes in the LTCCS.
  • Tire failure. Drivers can easily lose control if one or more tires on an 18-wheeler deflates rapidly (a “blowout”) and/or flattens enough to separate from their rims. Tire problems were cited in 6 percent of crashes in the LTCCS.
  • Cargo shift. The sudden movement of cargo that is not properly secured can change the truck’s center of gravity. The shift may lead to the driver losing control of the vehicle and crashing. A sudden cargo shift could also cause a truck to tip and roll over or jackknife. Spilled cargo may hit other vehicles or cause accidents as oncoming drivers brake or swerve to avoid it. Hazardous material spills can cause personal injuries and widespread property damage.

Other Factors

  • Environment and road conditions. Inclement weather, pot holes and crumbling road beds, or roadside trees or shrubs allowed to grow and obstruct a driver’s view, may also contribute to truck accidents. A negligent contractor, and the governmental agency that hired the contractor, may be held responsible for design, construction or maintenance failures that contribute to accidents.
  • Work zones. Construction or road maintenance work zones should be designed to safely separate traffic from workers, machinery and equipment. They must also provide adequate warning and room for traffic to slow down.

Contact Our Virginia Truck Accident Lawyers Today

Because of the multiple potential causes of a truck accident, a thorough independent investigation is required to determine what happened and who should be held responsible for it. The Virginia truck accident attorneys of Marks & Harrison can establish responsibility for truck accident that injured you or caused the loss of a loved one, and we can pursue all compensation you are due.

Please contact Marks & Harrison as soon as possible so we can start investigating your case today. Contact us and receive a free consultation through our office in Richmond, at one of our nine other offices located across Virginia, or at another location that is convenient for you.

Bryan L. Meadows is the Managing Attorney of Marks & Harrison's Fredericksburg office, where he concentrates his practice in the area of personal injury law. A graduate of Christopher Newport University and the Penn State University School of Law, Bryan served as the Managing Attorney of GEICO's Staff Counsel in Roanoke prior to joining Marks & Harrison. He is licensed to practice in Virginia state courts and the U.S. District Courts for the Eastern and Western Districts of Virginia. Additionally, Bryan has served as Treasurer on the Board of Directors for the Brain Injury Association of Virginia and as President of the Salem/Roanoke County Bar Association.