24 Disturbing Truck Accident Statistics (2020 Edition)

Last modified: November 15, 2020

A comprehensive collection of the latest truck accident statistics, including death rates, common causes, and preventive measures and provisions.

The trucking industry in the US is consistently on the rise, even though newer and faster means of transport are being invented by the day. Truck transport is considered to be one of the most suitable ways to get goods across the United States, with about 70% of all products reaching their destination via a type of truck.

As any detailed truck accident statistics page will tell you, there are quite a few types of trucks on the roads nowadays. These mainly differ by the amount and type of cargo they can carry, with some specialized for frozen goods, while others handle a diverse and smaller load for nearby transport.

Regardless, this industry has gained great notoriety over the years, especially in the last couple of decades; with a plethora of careless drivers of such large trucks, accidents are bound to happen. It is estimated that by 2030 it will become the fifth largest cause of death in the USA.

Still, plenty of people all over the States consider this to be their main source of income and a lucrative one at that. Hence, it is advisable to get some more insight regarding the most common causes of accidents, the stats resulting from them, and the best ways to improve upon them for a safer environment overall.

Five Must-Know Facts About Truck Accidents

  • A 52% increase in these accidents has been noted since 2009.
  • 74% of all fatal passenger vehicle cases include a large truck.
  • Tire defects account for around 30% (the most common cause) of all truck-related accidents.
  • Most of these accidents occur during the day — between noon and 3 PM, up to 19%.
  • 68% of all truck fatalities are passenger vehicle occupants.

Big Trucks Wrecks on the Rise

1. There were 4,102 deaths in truck wrecks in 2017, showing a 52% increase since 2009.

According to data from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS), there have been a total of 4,102 casualties in multiple-vehicle crashes involving a truck. This number shows a significant 52% rise from the lowest point back in 2009 since the report was first drawn up when only 3,147 were killed in the same manner.

Source: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration — FARS

2. Commercial truck accident statistics show 97% of all deaths in crashes involving one or more large trucks were from the passenger vehicle — car, van, or SUV.

The statistics show rather steady numbers when it comes to casualties of truck-involved accidents, with the greater part (97%) having been occupants of the passenger vehicles. What is more, statistics haven’t changed much over the past decade, as passenger fatality rates have been known to show a high rate of casualties in passenger vehicles (98%).

Source: LegalInfo

3. The number of 18 wheelers’ crashes has increased in the past couple of years, despite a general decrease in motor vehicle accidents.

The past couple of years have seen an overall decrease of 2% regarding motor vehicle accidents in general. However, this isn’t the case with larger freight trucks, with the largest increase in the number of accidents recorded in trucks weighing between 10,000 and 14,000 pounds. A death rate rise of 5.8% was specifically recorded with tractor-trailers, exceeding 26,000 pounds of weight.

Source: Trucks.com

4. Since 1975, the rate of occupants’ deaths in big truck accidents has largely decreased.

The number of actual deaths in vehicle and truck occupants per truck miles traveled has decreased in most recent years, especially compared to that of 1975, when fatal crash data was initially collected. Numbers changed from 916 deaths among large truck occupants — and 2,757 deaths among vehicle occupants — per 81,330 truck miles to 683 and 2,797 death cases, respectively, per 297,593 truck miles traveled.

Source: Insurance Institute for Highway Safety — IIHS

5. Collision with a vehicle in transport is considered the first harmful event in big rig accident cases, resulting in fatal injury or property damage crash.

Big rig accidents experience a fatal collision with a vehicle in 74% of all crashes, 81% of all injury cases, and 76% of all property damage cases. In other words, the first harmful event to take place during a crash which involves large trucks is precisely collision with another vehicle.

Source: Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration

6. Up to 30% of fatal crashes and 12% of injury cases in work zones were wrecks involving trucks, one or more at a time.

This data has been extracted from the latest case reports, showing a steady rise in accidents at work zones. In 2013, the rate of fatal crashes involving at least one large truck was about 28%, only to rise by 2% in the coming years. As it seems, truck drivers’ negligence, as well as of the remaining vehicles in the respective zone, is the main reason behind such accidents.

Source: Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration & LegalInfo

7. FMCSA Truck driver regulations have been enforced to reduce accidents.

The truck driver factor in accident statistics has been in the focus of regulations intended to reduce the possibility of crashes. FMCSA restricts the number of hours that truck drivers can spend behind the wheel to 14, and at the same time demand mandatory rests during the drive if there haven’t been a minimum of 8 hours since the driver’s last haul. Electronic stability control has also been enforced to this effect, with initial results from 2011 to 2015 showing that ESC has saved about 7,000 lives.

Source: TruckAccidentAttorneyNetwork.org & Insurance Information Institute

8. Truck accident statistics prompted strict recommendations and preventive measures from NHTSA.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration classifies any vehicle with a weight rating of over 10,000 pounds to be a large truck. This has come to include 15-seat vans, which are henceforth required to have an extensively experienced large truck driver responsible for both passengers and cargo, to eliminate potential risk factors.

Source: McAleerLaw

What Causes So Many Truck Crashes

9. Contrary to common belief, drugs, and alcohol abuse are not among the top causes of these crashes.

Instead, the Large Truck Crash Causation Study conducted by the FMCSA discovered that mechanical defects (with tires, most often), new tour routes, and fatigue are the most common causes of truck crashes. Aggressive driving has also been emphasized as a frequent cause, although it has had a direct effect in no more than 5% of the cases. In contrast, consider the fact that only 0.4% of crashes in the study were caused by illegal substance abuse, and 0.3% from alcohol consumption.

Source: Isaacs&Isaacs

10. The top truck accident cause — mechanical defects — most often include tire and brake issues.

When it comes to truck defects, issues with the tires, wheels, and brakes seem to be the most common cause of accidents. On top of that, the more recent electronic systems incorporated in trucks are just as risky, as well as steering wheel defects.

Source: McAleerLaw

11. The weight of the vehicle also constitutes a common cause of big truck crashes.

Large trucks understandably weigh much more than a regular vehicle, especially when bearing cargo to the maximum. As a result, their total weight oftentimes surpasses 40 tons, as opposed to your regular passenger vehicle that normally weighs about 2.5 tons. Due to such circumstances, these trucks take a lot longer to come to a stop than regular vehicles, and all the more so if their cargo is not loaded evenly and properly in the back trailer.

Source: Isaacs&Isaacs

12. Semi-truck accident causes include the truck’s speed, as well as stopping distance.

Tractor-trailer vehicles, due to their massive weight, require a greater stopping distance than a regular passenger one. For example, if the latter would need no more than 300 feet to stop after hitting the brakes, the former would take nearly double the distance — 525 feet more precisely. Speed, mechanical readiness, as well as driver fatigue are also contributing factors to the stopping time, which are the common causes of these accidents.

Source: Isaacs&Isaacs

Where and When the Majority of Trucking Accidents Happen

13. A little over half of all truck-related accidents occurred on major roads other than interstates and freeways.

More precisely, the 2017 report showed that such major roads were the location for up to 52% of all large truck-related accidents. At the same time, interstates and freeways witnessed 32% of such accidents, while only 15% of all large truck vehicle accidents occurred on minor roads.

Source: Insurance Institute for Highway Safety — IIHS

14. Semi-truck accident statistics show that most truck crashes occur between noon and 3 PM.

In 2014, up to 17% of all crashes during the day would take place at that time-frame, with a total casualty count of 622 people. In 2017, up to 19% of all accidents resulting in 759 deaths were recorded during the same time of the day. This shows the consistency of large truck wrecks during that time of day over several years.

Source: Isaacs&Isaacs & Insurance Institute for Highway Safety — IIHS

15. Big truck crash statistics show only 16% of all accidents occurring on the weekend, as opposed to those involving all other vehicles — 35%.

Saturday and Sunday appear to be the safest days of the week for truck drivers. In 2014, only 7% of all large truck vehicle accidents were recorded on a Sunday; in 2017, that percentage was 6% for Sunday, and 10% for Saturday, accounting for 663 deaths in total.

Source: Isaacs&Isaacs & Insurance Institute for Highway Safety — IIHS

16. Thursday is the most dangerous day of the week, according to truck accident statistics.

Back in 2014, along with Monday and Wednesday, these three days of the week accounted for more than half of all accidents, with a total of 1,893 deaths. In 2017, 18% of all truck-related accidents were noted on Thursday alone (745 fatalities), while 34% of crashes occurred on Tuesday and Friday, amounting to 1373 deaths.

Source: Isaacs&Isaacs & Insurance Institute for Highway Safety — IIHS

Deaths in Big Truck Crashes

17. In 2017, crashes involving big trucks resulted in the most deaths in passenger vehicle occupants — 68%.

Out of all large truck-related crash deaths, occupants of passenger vehicles potentially involved in the accidents accounted for 2,797 fatalities (68%). On the other hand, occupants of the trucks accounted for 17%, that is, 683 fatalities, while only 14% of all fatalities were noted among pedestrians, bicyclists, and motorcyclists involved in such big truck vehicle accidents (580 deaths).

Source: Insurance Institute for Highway Safety — IIHS

18. Deaths in semi-trucks crashes account for 11% of all motor vehicle crash deaths.

Motor vehicle crash deaths in truck-related crashes account for 11% of all fatalities in such accidents, i.e., 4,102 deaths. The remaining 89% of deaths — 33,031 — occurring in motor vehicle crashes did not come about from large truck-related accidents, giving out the general impression that trucks may not be as dangerous to motor vehicle traffic in general as they are thought to be.

Source: Insurance Institute for Highway Safety — IIHS

19. Up to 74.9% of truck accident cases involving a collision with another vehicle in transport have been fatal.

While this is the leading cause of fatal accidents, resulting in the most deaths, collision with immobile objects and pedestrians are just as detrimental. 4% of collisions with fixed objects have resulted in fatal crashes, and the same can be said for 7.3% of all collisions with pedestrians. Fire and explosion are also considered among the most harmful events.

Source: CDL Knowledge

20. Aside from death, tractor-trailer wrecks can additionally result in many difficult injuries.

Those who do manage to get out of large truck crashes alive will most likely be subject to multiple injuries. These often include broken bones, neck, spinal cord injuries, as well as soft tissue and organ damage. Burns is just as common, especially in cases of crash-related explosions, and can be rather serious. The psychological toll on accident survivors may be just as difficult to heal, especially since many accidents can get traumatic enough to leave permanent marks on people’s psyche.

Source: Isaacs&Isaacs

Truck Accidents vs. Car Accidents

21. 48% of truck occupants died in crashes including rollovers, while only 22% of car occupants died in accidents involving rollovers.

Truck occupants experience a much higher death rate in case of rollover than occupants of other vehicle types, mainly due to the specific features of the trucks. 45% of all SUV occupant deaths occurred due to rollover, which is the closest to the 48% of truck crash occupant deaths occurring under similar circumstances. The percentage of fatalities for pickup occupants involved in rollover accidents is a bit lower — 41%.

Source: Insurance Institute for Highway Safety — IIHS

22. 58% of large truck occupants died in single-vehicle crashes, while less than 50% of passenger vehicle occupants died under similar circumstances.

Single-vehicle crashes and casualties are much more common in semi-truck crash accidents, as the nature of the vehicle brings about multiple risks on its own. Contrary to this, passenger vehicle occupants experienced death in 46% of the cases, with more casualties caused in multiple-vehicle crashes. As for vehicles involved in fatal crashes, only 17% of fatal truck crashes occurred in single-vehicle cases, as opposed to 37% for passenger vehicles. The most common fatal crashes for both trucks and passenger vehicles involved two vehicles — 62% and 45% of all fatal crashes, respectively.

Source: Insurance Institute for Highway Safety — IIHS

23. 51% of fatally injured drivers in tractor-trailer crashes used their seatbelts, just slightly more than the 49% of fatally injured passenger vehicle drivers.

This still leaves approximately half of fatally injured drivers that were either unbelted or their status was unknown. More specifically, 30% of fatally injured truck drivers weren’t wearing their seatbelts, compared to 43% of passenger vehicle drivers. This leaves 19% of fatally injured truck drivers without firm evidence regarding the use of seatbelts and only 8% of fatally injured vehicle drivers in the same situation.

Source: Insurance Institute for Highway Safety — IIHS

24. 31% of passenger vehicle occupants die in a big truck accident when hit in the front.

Alternatively, 25% of passenger vehicle occupants die when the truck hits them from the side, while hits in the rear of the passenger vehicle result in only 5% of deaths among occupants. One other type of crash is also known to be most harmful to passenger vehicle occupants — when the front of the passenger vehicle hits the rear of the truck, it results in 22% of occupants’ deaths.

Source: Insurance Institute for Highway Safety — IIHS

Bottom Line

All in all, you don’t have to be a truck driver to consider semi-truck accident rates or learn more about the most common defects of such tractor-trailers. As it seems, other traffic participants are just as much in danger of said crashes as the specific truck occupants are.

Nevertheless, great strides have been made towards regulating and further securing this industry segment. Rigorous measures, penalties, and other legal provisions have shown a significant decrease across truck accident statistics from the past few decades. Hence, despite momentary spikes in the rate of fatalities or accidents on the roads, it seems like this industry is finally coming to its own. After all, with a worth of more than $600 billion, it is quite the expected outcome. Whether future penalties or new technologies, will make an even greater impact, only time will tell.

FAQs

1. One out of how many traffic fatalities involves a big rig (or large) truck?

Out of a total of 37,133 traffic fatalities in motor vehicle crashes, 4,102 occurred with the involvement of a large truck or big rig. As such, these large accounts for some 11% of all traffic fatalities across the globe, which is nothing to sneeze at.

2. How many accidents are caused by semi-trucks?

Also known as a tractor-trailer or 18 wheeler truck, semi-trucks crash and injure, or kill a person, every 15 minutes in the US. On an annual level, this results in about half a million accidents, with approximately 5,000 casualties per year, although this differs from one annual report to another.

3. What percentage of truck accidents are caused by cars?

According to a study from the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute, 81% of the time when there was a car-truck accident, the car drivers were assigned the fault. On the contrary, this only happened for 27% of all truck drivers involved in such accidents.

4. How many truck accidents happen annually?

Truck driver accident reports are just one of the recorded forms of crashes that occur in the US per annum. On the whole, about 500,000 trucking accidents are estimated to take place annually.

5. What percentage of backing up accidents actually involve large trucks?

More than half of backing up accidents, up to 70%, involve large trucks, or similar mid-sized trucking vehicles.

6. What causes most truck accidents?

According to truck accident statistics, a great majority of these accidents occur due to mechanical difficulties, especially those related to tires or brakes. Other than that, most accidents are caused by driver fatigue, lack of information regarding the route, as well as job pressure and aggressive driving.

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