Semitruck accidents have become a pressing public health issue in the heartland of America, where these heavy vehicles have been involved in an alarming number of fatal crashes over the past decade. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports an increasing trend in such incidents since 2011, primarily concentrated in a column of states spanning from Texas to North Dakota, including Wyoming and Idaho. These wrecks pose a significant danger, with nearly three-quarters of large trucks involved in fatal crashes weighing over 13 tons (26,000 pounds) in 2020 alone.
The Dominance of Semitrucks in Freight Transit
Semitrucks, commonly referred to as 18-wheelers, play a vital role in transporting goods across the United States. In fact, they account for the majority of freight transportation, with over 72% (equivalent to 10.23 billion tons) of all freight by tonnage in the country being transported via trucks on highways. Although truck drivers can earn substantial incomes with minimal training, they face immense pressure to deliver goods quickly, thereby highlighting the industry’s ongoing challenges with efficiency.
The Alarming Statistics and the Urgent Need for Solutions
In 2020, approximately 9% of all fatal crashes in the United States involved large trucks, as reported by the NHTSA. This statistic comes after a decade of struggling shipping firms attempting to meet the rising demand for trucking services. Currently, there is an unprecedented need for truck drivers, and this situation has led to innovative attempts by companies backed by industry giants like Google and Amazon to develop driverless vehicles capable of autonomous operation, thereby eliminating the need for human drivers. These include both trailer-hauling trucks and delivery trucks.
However, the present reality is that the surging demand for goods, coupled with a declining workforce and diminishing wages, exacerbates the existing labor shortage. The American Trucking Association predicts that by 2030, the trucking industry and the broader U.S. economy will require an additional 160,000 drivers. Consequently, this shortage of drivers has led to emergency conditions, prompting the United States to waive certain safety measures for truckers.
The Impact of Semitruck Accidents: Analyzing the Data
To gain a comprehensive understanding of the extensive ramifications of semitruck accidents on both national infrastructure and the public, Front Range Injury Attorneys meticulously analyzed 2011-2020 data from the NHTSA. This analysis, released in April 2022, focused on crashes involving large trucks, defined as trucks exceeding 10,000 pounds (5 tons) at their heaviest safe weight, excluding buses and motor homes.
Tragic Outcomes and Disproportionate Fatalities
When a commercial truck collides with another vehicle, it is often the occupants of the passenger vehicle who bear the brunt of the impact. Between 2011 and 2020, these collisions claimed the lives of more than 44,000 Americans, while 1.26 million people sustained injuries. Shockingly, over 70% of the fatalities each year were occupants of vehicles involved in collisions with large trucks. Pedestrians and bystanders accounted for approximately 10% of the total fatalities.
The substantial difference in size and weight between passenger vehicles and commercial trucks is a major contributing factor to the disproportionate number of deaths in such collisions. The Department of Transportation reveals that the average stopping distance for a passenger vehicle traveling at 65 mph is 316 feet, whereas a fully loaded commercial truck requires a stopping distance of 525 feet, nearly the length of two football fields. This significant disparity in stopping distances means that the truck impacts the other vehicle at a considerably higher speed and velocity.
Stability in Fatal Crash Rates
While overall deaths resulting from automobile collisions have increased, the rate of fatal crashes involving large trucks has only experienced a slight upsurge since 2011. The trucking industry began noticing signs of a labor shortage as early as 2013, with retirements and declining wages making it increasingly challenging to recruit drivers. Despite the economic recovery from the 2008 recession, trucking companies struggled to attract enough drivers due to the offered wages not keeping pace with inflation.
During the past decade, the peak of accidents involving trucks resulting in fatalities occurred in 2016 and 2017, coinciding with a boom in U.S. oil and gas production. This surge strained the roadways near areas of extraction, processing, and transportation, as evidenced by the heightened traffic accident rates in Texas, one of the country’s major oil and gas producers.
Regional Disparities: Truck Involvement in Fatal Crashes
The likelihood of dying in a fatal collision with a large truck varies across different regions of the United States. Residents of Midwestern states such as Kansas, Nebraska, and Iowa, along with Western and Southwestern states like Idaho, Wyoming, Texas, and New Mexico, face higher risks. Conversely, Washington D.C., Vermont, Rhode Island, and Delaware reported the fewest fatal crashes involving large trucks.
These states with the highest rates of truck crash-related deaths are typically vast in terms of geographical area and sparsely populated, resulting in extensive road systems and numerous lane miles. Moreover, their rural road networks, which lack proper maintenance and safety features, present narrower conditions and limited areas for safe pull-offs.
Temporal Patterns and Factors Contributing to Fatal Crashes
Approximately three out of four fatal crashes involving trucks occur on weekdays. Daytime hours witness the highest volume of vehicles on the road, increased pedestrian activity, and more roadside work zones. Heavy Weight Transport Inc., a freight company, highlights several common causes of truck-related accidents based on the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s estimation that 88% of such crashes result from driver error. These causes include driver fatigue and distraction, which align with the prevalence of fatal truck collisions during high traffic volume periods. Notably, a significant portion of fatal truck crashes takes place on rural corridors and interstate highways, as confirmed by the NHTSA, with 55% occurring on rural roads and 27% on interstates.
The escalating issue of semitruck accidents demands immediate attention and comprehensive solutions. As the number of fatalities and injuries continues to rise, it is crucial to prioritize road safety measures, address labor shortages, and enhance driver training and awareness programs. By focusing on these critical areas, we can strive to mitigate the devastating impact of semitruck accidents on both the national infrastructure and the well-being of the traveling public.
Colorado residents and visitors are at risk of semitruck accident injuries due to our important role in transportation across the nation and several industries in the state that rely on the trucking industry. If you’ve been injured or lost a family member to a truck accident, you may be entitled to compensation for your damages. Contact our experienced truck accident attorneys in Denver to discuss your right to recover compensation.