Understanding the Increase in Fatal Large Truck Crashes

With passenger vehicles and large trucks competing for space on our increasingly crowded roadways and highways, it is probably no surprise that deaths from big rig crashes are on the rise. In 2016, more than 4,300 people died in accidents involving large trucks. That figure is up 5.4 percent from 2015, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

What can be done to change this upward trend? Installing the kinds of advanced safety equipment in trucks that are becoming more commonplace in passenger vehicles is a good start. Features like automatic emergency braking and forward-collision warning, which are designed to prevent collisions and warn drivers of potential dangers, are reducing passenger vehicle crashes, statistics show. If these were standard systems in big rigs, along with other advanced features like blind-spot warning and lane-departure warning, about 28 percent of crashes involving large trucks could be prevented, or their crash severity reduced, according to estimates from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

Unfortunately, however, many trucks on the road are too old to support these kinds of advanced systems. Only about 15 percent of large truck fleets in the country had forward-collision warning systems in 2015, according to data from Securing America’s Future Energy, a research organization based in Washington, DC.

Large trucks have added more safety features over recent years, including antilock brakes and electronic stability control; but with more vehicles of all kinds on the roads driving more miles, it hasn’t been enough to curb the rise in accidents. Some truck drivers are required to use electronic logging systems to show that they haven’t worked longer hours than regulations allow. By law, there is a daily limit of 11 hours of driving time. Other ideas by lawmakers for increasing safety include lowering the speed limit for trucks and improving trailer guards to prevent cars from sliding beneath trucks in accidents.

Some truck operators are voluntarily adding advanced safety features to their new trucks and retrofitting older vehicles. One example is UPS, which now has collision mitigation systems in 45 percent of its trucks, and that figure will increase to about 65 percent by 2020. But unless there is a government mandate for all operators to improve safety features, many trucks will remain without them.

Some truck operators are reluctant to add safety features and oppose a government mandate. The American Trucking Associations, which is the nation’s largest trade association for the commercial trucking industry, does not support a mandate. The organization believes that fleet operators should be able to decide for themselves what works best for them. While truck operators correctly point out that many times it is the drivers of passenger vehicles that are at fault in accidents, this doesn’t mitigate the fact that because of their sheer size (a fully loaded tractor-trailer weighs up to 80,000 pounds), when trucks are involved in accidents, the risk of people dying or being severely injured is high.

It is clear from the statistics that government-mandated advanced safety features are needed in all commercial trucks to reduce fatalities.

If you have a question about a truck-related injury, or need the services of a truck accident attorney, professionals at Kaplan Law are available for you to contact 24/7.