Why Large Truck Accidents Happen

In the United States, more than one hundred thousand vehicle crashes and collisions involving tractor-trailers and large trucks occur each year.  Tens of thousands of these crashes involve injury.  Thousands more result in death.  Because of the enormous difference in the size and weight of the vehicles involved (a commercial truck may weigh more than 80,000 pounds when fully loaded while a passenger car typically weighs only about 3,000 pounds), when a collision occurs between a tractor-trailer truck or semi and a smaller vehicle, the results to the driver and/or passengers in that car, light truck or SUV can be catastrophic.

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So why do large truck accidents happen?

Recently, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) released a national, multiyear study which identified some of the most common causes of accidents involving commercial 18-wheelers, tractor-trailers and other large trucks.

In large truck crashes involving passenger vehicles, those factors included:


  • Prescription drug use
  • Over-the-counter drug use
  • Unfamiliar with roadway
  • Driving too fast for conditions / Speeding
  • Making illegal maneuvers
  • Felt under pressure from work
  • Inattentive driving
  • External distraction
  • Driver fatigue
  • Failure to properly avoid
  • False assumption of other driver’s actions
  • Unfamiliar with vehicle
  • Alcohol or illegal drug use
  • Driver illness


  • Brake failure, out of adjustment (improper maintenance)
  • Cargo shift (including overloaded, poorly loaded trucks)


  • Traffic flow interruptions
  • Roadway problems (missing signs, etc.)
  • Weather problems
  • Sightline obstructions

The National Transportation Safety Board has found additional factors, including:

  • Inadequate (or lack of any) driver training
  • Overloaded trucks
  • Oversized trucks
  • Brake failure
  • Driver inexperience
  • Failure to yield the right-of-way
  • Aggressive, dangerous or reckless driving
  • Mechanical failure (or improper maintenance)
  • Defective parts (defective steering, brakes, etc.)

The larger study found that in large truck crashes involving passenger cars,“driver reasons accounted for the overwhelming majority of the critical reasons” (88% for trucks and 89% for passenger vehicles).  According to the report, unsafe driving and driver fatigue were the most common factors contributing to a crash.


Since this study was conducted, cell phone, texting and personal electronic media devices (iPhone, iPod, smartphones, etc.) use while driving has become common with more and more cases of distracted driving leading to truck crash injuries and deaths being reported.