This blog entry is not intended to be “anti-trucker.” Our country’s economy depends on semi-truck drivers. Most semi-truck drivers are attentive and skilled professionals who take their commitment to safe driving seriously. In fact, studies indicate that driver related negligence factors are present almost twice as often in fatal passenger car accidents as opposed to fatal semi-truck accidents. i
Over the road trucking is an essential component of our nation’s economy, both as a means to transport goods and as a source of employment. Semi-trucks haul 70% of all the goods that are shipped in the United States, and the industry employs 3.5 million truck drivers.ii The median salary for a truck driver in America is over $41,000 per year,iii but fleet drivers can make around $73,000 a year. Those salary figures will likely increase in coming years, as America is projected to need thousands of additional truck drivers. iv
As vital as trucking is to our economy, it doesn’t come without a cost. Trucks have to share the nation’s roads with over 200 million licensed drivers.v The risk posed by semi-trucks to passenger vehicles is best described by simple physics. The weight of a commercial truck can range from between 20,000 to 80,000 pounds.vi The average weight for a passenger vehicle in 2010 was approximately 4,000 pounds.vii This enormous weight disparity is the source of the risk that semi-trucks pose to passenger vehicles.
Weight multiplied by acceleration equals force. When you consider this formula, it is easier to understand the risk an 80,000 pound truck presents to a 4,000 pound car when there is a collision between the two. It is worth noting that in fatal crashes involving commercial trucks, occupants of passenger cars accounted for 66% of all the fatalities. Another factor in car vs. semi-truck collisions is the fact that semi-trailers have a higher profile and greater ground clearance. This can sometimes lead to greater injury to occupants of the passenger cars when the passenger car is wedged underneath the semi-trailer upon impact. viii
A third of all fatal semi-truck accidents involved at least one semi-truck driver related negligence factor.1 The two most common negligence factors for semi-truck drivers in these fatal crashes were speeding and distracted driving. 1 Other contributing factors to semi-truck accidents include poorly maintained tires and brakes, as well as fatigued drivers.8 When these risk factors are accounted for nationwide, the result is almost 11 fatal truck accidents every day and nearly 4,000 fatalities each year.ix
How can we reduce semi-truck crashes?
- Slow down.
Big trucks cannot stop on a dime. Given the weight of the semi-truck, it can take significantly longer to stop than a passenger car. This means it is important to keep the truck’s speed within the speed limit during clear weather and normal road conditions. What is sometimes overlooked by semi-truck drivers is that in bad weather or poor visibility, the posted speed limit may be too fast for safe travel.
- Keep your eyes on the road.
Texting, looking at your phone or laptop, adjusting the radio, or any number of other things can pull a semi-truck driver’s eyes off the road at a critical time. If the car in front of the semi-truck driver has to suddenly slow down, or a construction zone comes up unexpectedly, the crucial seconds lost during a text may make the difference between life and death.
- Don’t drive while fatigued.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has found that semi-driver fatigue was a significant factor in many semi-truck crashes. x Federal regulations prohibit semi-truck drivers from driving more than 11 hours at a stretch, but surveys suggest that semi-truck drivers often flout these restrictions and work longer than allowed. 8 Semi-truck drivers should not exceed the allowable hours. Logging a few extra miles is not worth a lifetime of regret if there is a tragic accident.
- Maintain your tires and brakes.
Brake problems have also been found to be a significant factor in many semi-truck crashes.10 As stated above, a semi-truck takes longer to stop due to its weight even when conditions are perfect. Semi-truck drivers should routinely check to make sure that their brakes and tires are in good working order because if a tire or set of brake pads fail during an abrupt stop, it can mean the difference between life or death.
Passenger car drivers.
- See the advice above.
The four points made above for semi-truck driver safety are equally valid advice for the drivers of passenger vehicles. This is especially true considering that driver related negligence factors are present almost twice as often in fatal passenger car accidents than they are in fatal semi-truck accidents.1
- Be more aware of semi-trucks and their characteristics.
Being aware of where semi-trucks are in your field of vision can give you an edge in avoiding a potentially deadly collision with a much larger, heavier semi-truck. Knowing that it takes longer for a big truck to stop might enable you to veer off to the side of the road before getting rear-ended in a deadly collision. Knowing that a semi-trailer creates bigger blind spots for truck drivers should encourage you to use extra caution and to make sure semi-drivers know you are there before passing big trucks. Finally, you should know that semi-trucks make wider turns and need a wider berth for trailer clearance when turning. These wider turning arcs should influence where you position your car at intersections where a big truck is turning.
i https://www.fmcsa.dot.gov/safety/data-and-statistics/large-truck-and-bus-crash-facts-2015 ii http://www.trucking.org/News_and_Information_Reports_Industry_Data.aspx iii https://www.bls.gov/ooh/transportation-and-material-moving/heavy-and-tractor-trailer-truck-drivers.htm iv http://money.cnn.com/2015/10/09/news/economy/truck-driver-shortage/index.html v https://www.fhwa.dot.gov/policyinformation/pubs/hf/pl11028/chapter4.cfm vi https://ops.fhwa.dot.gov/freight/sw/overview/index.htm vii http://www.slate.com/articles/business/moneybox/2011/06/your_big_car_is_killing_me.html viii http://www.iihs.org/iihs/topics/t/large-trucks/fatalityfacts/large-trucksix https://www.cnbc.com/2014/07/30/truck-accidents-surge-why-no-national-outcry.html x https://www.fmcsa.dot.gov/safety/research-and-analysis/large-truck-crash-causation-study-analysis-brief
Photo by Dostalek Images