Defective brakes and other components are often cited as the cause or a contributing factor in truck accidents involving big rigs. According to data collected on fatal commercial motor vehicle crashes in Michigan from 1996 to 2001 by the Fatal Accident Complaint Team (the FACT program), brake problems were found in 32.7 percent of trucks.
A recent study released by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) indicates that the use of antilock braking systems (ABS) on the tractor units of air-braked tractor-trailers resulted in a three percent reduction in the number of crashes reported by police. The study is based on data from seven states and tallies nearly a decade of research. The research began after a federal mandate required ABS on all new air-braked vehicles with a gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of 10,000 pounds or more. (Many big rigs weigh up to 80,000 pounds fully-loaded.)
One primary finding of the report was that the three percent reduction actually represents a statistically significant reduction of six percent of crashes in which ABS is assumed to be potentially influential. The data is indicative only of ABS use on the tractor units; these preliminary findings are not sufficient to draw conclusions regarding the effectiveness either of ABS on the trailer and tractor or the trailer and not the tractor.
The study also found a large reduction in jackknifing, off-road overturns and at-fault involvement in many types of collisions with other vehicles. There were, however, increases in a number of incidents, including hitting pedestrians, bicyclists and animals.
A Good Start With Safer Stops
One commercial driver told NBC that the normal stopping distance at 55 miles per hour is anywhere between 12 to 15 seconds. At higher speed limits, the time goes up. Put into perspective, the Ohio State Highway Patrol says that cars traveling at 65 miles per hour travel 142 feet from the time drivers think to move their feet from the gas pedal to the brake pedal; a truck at the same speed travels 171 feet and also has a much longer stopping distance. These factors combine to make proper brake inspection and maintenance imperative for truckers and trucking companies.
While ABS may make trucks safer on the road, there are a number of safety concerns with these large vehicles. Their weight, size and long stopping distances make 18-wheelers especially dangerous to others on the road. According to NHTSA's Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS), of the 4,229 people killed in large truck accidents in 2008, only 677 were the truck drivers; the other 3,562 fatalities were other vehicle occupants or nonoccupants.
Truck accidents may be caused by uncontrollable hazards on the road but may also result from driver fault, such as:
- Truck driver fatigue: Hours of service (HOS) or logbook violations may increase the risk of trucking accidents
- Reckless driving: Speeding, reckless driving and improper lane changes are especially dangerous with big rigs
- Texting while driving
- Drunk driving: Use of alcohol or drugs while driving impedes driver reaction time
- Equipment violations
- Vehicle overload or improperly loaded trucks: Cargo-related factors such as improper load securement, cargo retention or hazardous material handling may also play a factor in truck accidents
- Poor truck maintenance
Injuries resulting from collisions with big rigs can vary from soft tissue injuries to brain damage or paralysis and even wrongful death, if negligence was involved. Those that suffer from catastrophic injury may incur significant medical expenses, rehabilitation costs and suffer from loss of income.
Anna Eicher, an Amish resident of Kahoka, Missouri, was one of 12 people injured in a 2008 accident caused by a distracted truck driver; three others, including Eicher's father, died as a result of the accident. After the crash, Eicher returned home to bury her father and forgive the driver, refusing to bring a lawsuit for her escalating medical expenses. A representative from the trucker's insurance company called Eicher, telling her to submit her medical bills to him, but the carrier had only a $1 million liability insurance limit - and 15 victims and families to recompense. There simply was not enough money.
St. John's Mercy Medical Center, upon learning of Eicher's situation, has reportedly decided to write off her hospital fees, totaling more than $23,000, as a charity deduction. But she still owes thousands more to a radiology group and chiropractor. Victims of truck accidents should speak with an attorney about the accident to determine whether they may have a claim for compensation. An investigation of the accident may reveal information indicative of driver error or fault, even if the victim does not at first recognize these signs.