According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), 415,000 reported crashes involved commercial vehicles in the United States in 2015. Those accidents resulted in a total of 3,852 fatalities, a 22 percent increase from similar crashes in 2009.

Surprisingly, 60 percent of crashes involving commercial vehicles occurred on rural roads, while only 25 percent of them occurred on rural or urban interstate highways. In addition, 35 percent of all fatal crashes involving commercial vehicles occurred during the 12-hour period from 6 p.m. until 6 a.m.

Causes of Commercial Vehicle Crashes

As drivers, commercial truckers are generally considered above-average, but federal data indicates that their errors, mistakes, and negligence contribute to more than half of all truck crashes. In this regard, the most commonly cited crash-related factors in the FMCSA’s 2005 Report to Congress on the
Large Truck Crash Causation Study follow. (Note: Some crashes involved more than one factor.)

Vehicle: brake problems – 29 percent

Driver: Travelling too fast for existing conditions – 23 percent

Driver: Unfamiliar with roadway – 22 percent

Environment: Roadway problems – 20 percent

Driver: Over-the-counter drug use – 17 percent

Driver: Inadequate surveillance – 14 percent

Driver: Fatigue – 13 percent

Driver: Felt pressure from carrier – 10 percent

Driver: Illegal maneuver – 9 percent

Driver: Inattention – 9 percent

Driver: External distraction – 8 percent

Vehicle: Tire problems – 6 percent

Driver: Following too close – 5 percent

Driver: Jackknifed – 5 percent

Vehicle: Cargo shift – 4 percent

Driver: Illness – 3 percent

Driver: Internal distraction – 2 percent

Driver: Illegal drugs – 2 percent

Driver: Alcohol – 1 percent

In many cases, the FMCSA identified “brake problems” as an “associated problem” rather than as the “main problem” that caused the crash. Examples included crashes in which the driver drove too fast for existing conditions and cases in which the driver lacked familiarity with the roadway.

Considering all of the reasons that the FMCSA cited for crashes involving commercial vehicles, drivers are much more likely to cause accidents than the vehicles they drive or the conditions in which they drive. Thus, while manufacturers can build additional safety features into commercial vehicles and governments can construct and maintain better roadways, the single most important factor in reducing the number of crashes involving commercial vehicles is better driver training.

Since the FMCSA undertook the Large Truck Crash Causation Study, data concerning crashes involving non-commercial vehicles suggests that driver distraction has grown into a more significant factor in accidents. A recent study by Progressive Insurance, for example, indicates the public believes that texting and looking at cell phones are the primary causes of traffic accidents. And although 62 percent of 18- to 34-year-old drivers believe that they can safely text and drive, 64 percent of that same group believe that texting or looking at a phone while driving is the most common cause of accidents.

Since the 2005 study, driver distraction may form an increasing problem for commercial truck drivers. To address this issue, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration promulgated new rules in 2010 for anyone driving a Commercial Motor Vehicles (CMV).

Unfortunately, despite these clear prohibitions, commercial drivers continue to both use hand-held mobile phones and text while driving.

Several Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration studies underscore the dangers of distracted commercial drivers. Those studies have found:

On average, commercial drivers who text take their eyes off the road for almost five seconds. At 55 miles per hour, a two-ton vehicle will travel 100 yards with a driver who is not looking at the road.

Commercial drivers who text are 23 times more likely to contribute to traffic collisions than those who do not text.

Using a cell phone for any purpose—but especially for texting—distracts almost every area of the brain that drivers need to concentrate for driving and avoiding accidents.

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