In October 2013, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) issued an overview of data on large truck crashes that occurred in the United States in 2011. According to the data, in 2011 alone, 3,757 people died in fatal crashes involving large trucks. Of those killed, seventeen percent were the occupants of large trucks. Furthermore, in the same year, 88,000 people suffered injury in large truck crashes. Of those injured, 26 percent were the occupants of large trucks.
By analyzing the trends seen in this data, along the parameters of vehicle factors, driver characteristics and crash dynamics, the FMCSA is educating the public and bringing attention to the need for greater safety on the road.
The FMCSA defines a large truck as one weighing greater than 10,000 pounds according to the gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR). The agency defines a passenger vehicle as one weighing 10,000 pounds GVWR or less. Passenger vehicles may include light trucks, passenger cars, sport utility vehicles (SUVs), vans and pickup trucks.
According to the agency’s data, large trucks constituted eight percent of the vehicles that were involved in fatal crashes. Large trucks also comprised two percent of the vehicles involved in injury crashes. This same type of vehicle represented three percent of vehicles involved in crashes that only involved property damage.
Of large trucks that were part of a fatal crash in 2011, 61 percent of these vehicles were large truck tractors that were pulling semi-trailers. Of large trucks that were part of a nonfatal crash in 2011, 47 percent of these vehicles were large truck tractors that were pulling semi-trailers.
Doubles, or truck tractors that pull a full trailer and a semi-trailer, constituted three percent of large trucks that were part of nonfatal and fatal collisions in 2011. Triples, or truck tractors that pull three trailers, constituted 0.1 percent of large trucks that were part of nonfatal and fatal collisions in 2011.
When assessing the type of cargo carried by large trucks involved in crashes in 2011, the FMCSA found that four percent of large trucks that were part of a collision resulting in a fatality were carrying hazardous materials. The agency also found that two percent of large trucks that were part of a collision resulting in a nonfatal injury were carrying hazardous materials.
The FMCSA’s data indicated five top driver-related causes for large truck crashes that resulted in fatalities. The top cause of this type of crash was speed-related. This was followed by driver inattention/distraction, driver impairment caused by factors such as illness, alcohol or fatigue, driver’s failure to stay in the correct lane, and driver’s obscurity of vision.
Alarmingly, the FMCSA’s data indicated that 2.5% of drivers of large trucks involved in fatal collisions in 2011 had blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.01 grams per deciliter (g/dl) or more. The FMCSA is extremely strict regarding BAC levels and a large truck driver with any measurable BAC will be given an out-of-service violation by the agency.
The FMCSA specified numerous causes of fatal and nonfatal collisions involving large trucks in 2011. One of the most serious and significant factors was driving in adverse weather conditions. According to the data, twelve percent of fatal and nonfatal collisions involving large trucks reported adverse weather conditions.
Collision with a passenger vehicle was another serious and significant crash factor delineated in the data. Passenger vehicles played a role in 88 percent of large truck crashes resulting in fatalities in 2011 and in 96 percent of large truck crashes resulting in injuries in 2011.
Of those crashes that occurred between a passenger vehicle and a large truck in 2011, 364 involved fatal head-on collisions and 307 involved fatal rear-end collisions. In 26 percent of these crashes, the large truck hit the passenger vehicle in the back. In 74 percent of these crashes, the passenger vehicle hit the large truck in the back.
Other crash factors cited included rollovers, which played a role in five percent of fatal collisions and in two percent of nonfatal collisions that involved a large truck. Work zone crashes were also cited, and the data indicated that 174 large trucks were part of fatal work zone collisions in 2011 alone.
Although the number of people injured and killed in large truck crashes is tragically high, the number has decreased in the past ten years. According to the data, the number of large trucks that were involved in a fatal crash decreased by 25% from 2001 through 2011 (from 4,823 to 3,608). The number of large trucks involved in injury crashes likewise decreased from 2007 through 2011. According to the data, the number of nonfatal large truck crashes declined by 6% during this time.
See the FMCSA overview:
See the detailed FMCSA data: