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Trucking Accidents Unveiled: Truck Accident Statistics in the US & More

Brian Smith
May 17, 2024
16 minutes
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Trucking Accidents Unveiled: Truck Accident Statistics in the US & More
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At Cota Systems, we know this topic is something we truckers fear the most: being involved in truck accidents. In the grand scheme of things, truck accidents stand out as a reminder of our vulnerability in a world governed by chance. However, there's a distinction between misfortunes that come at us from the outside, and those arising from our own missteps. So ensuring that we do all we can to avoid a mistake is crucial to not becoming part of truck accident statistics like the ones we'll cover below. With truck accident statistics, every number carries weight. This is what makes understanding the statistics not just about dissecting numbers, but decoding them as our own blueprint for prevention. A blueprint that could mean the difference between a near miss and a tragic outcome.

In this post, we're going to bring darkness to light by uncovering the truth in these statistical numbers while unveiling insights that could save lives. So buckle up as we get ready for the ride ahead.

truck accident statistics facilitate better safety measures for truckers and other drivers

Trucking Accident Statistics Summary

  • Truck accidents can have devastating consequences, including fatalities, injuries, and significant economic impact.
    • As of May 2023, there were around 2 million truck drivers employed in the U.S., per the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
    • The FMCSA states that in 2021, there were approximately 494,000 police-reported truck crashes.
    • According to IIHS truck accident statistics, 11% of all motor vehicle crash deaths occurred in large truck crashes.
    • More devastatingly, fatal truck accidents increased by 17% between 2020 and 2021 with a total of 4,714 fatalities.
  • Driver errors, vehicle-related factors, and environmental conditions contribute to the occurrence of a large truck accident.
    • 48% of deaths in large truck crashes in 2021 occurred on major roads other than interstates and freeways, 36% occurred on interstates and freeways, and 16% occurred on minor roads.
    • Texas, California, and Florida had the highest number of deaths from large truck crashes in 2022.
    • In 2022, distracted driving led to 3,308 deaths in the U.S.
    • 5% of fatally injured large truck drivers had BACs (Blood Alcohol Concentrations) at or above 0.08% in 2021.
    • 49% of fatally injured large truck drivers in 2021 were using seat belts, which was similar to fatally injured passenger vehicle drivers (45%). However, belt use was unknown for 19% of fatally injured large truck drivers, compared with 10% of fatally injured passenger vehicle drivers.
    • 17% of large trucks in fatal crashes in 2021 were involved in single-vehicle crashes; in contrast, 35% of passenger vehicles in fatal crashes were involved in single-vehicle crashes.
  • Strategies like driver training, vehicle maintenance, regulatory compliance, and technology adoption can help prevent truck accidents.
  • Advanced technologies, such as ADAS, telematics, and autonomous systems, offer promising solutions for improving truck safety.
  • Understanding truck accident statistics is crucial for raising awareness and implementing effective prevention measures.

Understanding the Severity of Truck Accidents

A commercial truck accident is a harrowing event that leaves its mark on the livelihoods of many. Take a look at the stats below on truck crashes:

How many truckers in the US are there?
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, as of May 2023, there are approximately 2 million truck drivers employed in the U.S.

How many truck accidents happen a year?
According to commercial truck accident statistics from the FMCSA, in 2021, there were around 494,000 police reported truck crashes on our nation's highways. For truck drivers, 18-wheeler accidents aren't just a bump in the road. Truck crashes have the potential to end their career. Legal and employment repercussions linger long after the wreckage is cleared from big-rig accidents. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), 97% of those killed in a two-vehicle accident were large truck accidents. The toll is staggering, leaving shattered lives and livelihoods in their wake.

How many truck drivers die a year due to accidents?
Truck accidents' statistics from IIHS in 2021 reveal a 17% increase when compared to 2020 with an uptick of 4,714 truck driver deaths and fatal truck accidents. But the impact of trucking accidents extends far beyond the lives of those lost. When a trucker's journey ends in disaster, a ripple effect transpires.

What happens when a truck driver has an accident?
If a CDL driver gets in an accident, they are subject to legal and employment repercussions, especially if they are found to be at fault. That ripple effect includes potentially higher insurance premiums, medical bills from truck accident injuries, and productivity losses.

These statistics on truck accidents emphasize the growing need for comprehensive measures to enhance safety along the nation's highways.
Number of fatal large truck crashes in the United States from 2001 to 2021

The Impact of Truck Accidents

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, distracted driving has resulted in 3,308 fatal truck crashes as well as truck driver deaths.

How many accidents can a CDL driver have?

There's no specific limit on the number of accidents, according to truck accident statistics that a CDL driver can have before losing their license. The impact on a driver’s CDL largely depends on the nature and circumstances of the accidents, such as the severity and whether the driver was at fault. Multiple serious traffic violations can lead to disqualification periods, according to the Code of Federal Regulations, Title 49.

Fatalities and Injuries

Truck accident fatalities and truck accident injuries are the most chilling parts to disclose about these collisions. In fact, of the 494,000 police-reported crashes we mentioned above from the FMCSA truck accident statistics, there were 5,149 fatal crashes and 110,000 injury crashes.

Sadly, Texas, California, and Florida bore witness to the highest number of big-rig fatalities in 2022, according to Injury Facts. As large trucks account for 5 percent of registered U.S. vehicles and 10 percent of all vehicle miles traveled, the scale of the devastation is staggering. Of the 166,853 large truck accidents in 2021, nearly 100,000 involved semi-trucks. This tragic data truly amplifies the magnitude of the crisis.

Number of fatal light truck crashes in the United States from 1995 to 2020

Economic Impact

Truck accident costs reverberate far and wide. It takes quite the toll on individuals, businesses, and entire industries. The economic impact of truck accidents extends beyond the immediate costs of medical expenses and property damage. It can leave truck drivers and the like among the rubble of financial ruin. In fact, according to truck accident statistics from the FMCSA, a truck crash that involves a death costs on average $3.6 million. If it results in any injuries, the economic impact is around $200,000 per crash. This leaves us with the average total of all large truck accidents running around $91,000 per crash.

How long does an accident stay on your CDL record?
Typically, an accident can stay on a CDL driver’s record for 3 - 5 years. However, accidents involving serious violations can haunt them for longer. The consequences could impact driver records and employ-ability.

Factors Contributing to Truck Accidents

Although there are federal regulations in place, there are also deadlines to meet where truck drivers may feel as though they're "under-the-gun." That said, it should come as no surprise that one of the most common causes of semi-truck accidents is driver fatigue (per Forbes).However, truck accident causes often result from many factors. By understanding these factors, we can reveal the core issues that contributed to these tragic events:

  • Truck Driver Errors: At the heart of it, the human element can make or break a journey. Fatigue and distracted driving all play their part.
  • Road Conditions: In a truck accident, road conditions aren't without blame. Treacherous weather and poorly maintained infrastructure can conspire to create hazardous situations, no matter how seasoned the driver.
  • Truck Mechanical Failures: Vehicle-related issues such as faulty brakes, inadequate maintenance, or equipment failure have the potential to turn a routine trip into a nightmare.

As we take a closer look at the factors that contribute to truck accidents, perhaps we'll be able to weave together a safer future along the highway:

most common truck accidents causes

Driver-Related Factors

Per the FMCSA, 87% of truck accidents happen due to driver-related factors. This includes a range of reasons such as:

  • Truck driver fatigue: Many big-rig accidents are brought on by many drivers pushing themselves beyond the brink, risking lives in the process. According to the IIHS, truck accident statistics state that many drivers work longer than the allowed 11 hour stretch of service time.
  • Distracted truck driving: When attention is divided by things such as the buzz of smartphones to roadside attractions, the line between safety and catastrophe blurs.
  • Impaired truck driving: Things such as prescription medication, and in some cases, alcohol or other hard drugs can impair drivers and pose a threat to the drivers and others on the road.

Vehicle-Related Factors

This study by the FMCSA also states that 10% of the most common causes of truck accidents are related to vehicle malfunctions. No matter the truck accident statistics, here are the most dreaded scenarios along the highway:

  • Truck brake failures: When the brakes give way beneath you, that can spell disaster in the blink of an eye.
  • Truck tire blowouts: As a tire explodes, this poses another grave threat to safety, where split-second decisions mean life or death.
  • Truck equipment defects & Improper maintenance: Faulty steering systems or malfunctioning lights can be issues that leave drivers and passengers vulnerable.

Like any well-tuned instrument, it's crucial for drivers to maintain their truck to ensure the journey safely ends at its destination.

Environmental and Road Conditions

It's not simply driver error and vehicle malfunctions. Inevitably, environmental factors and road conditions can turn a routine journey into a game of chance:

  • Adverse weather: This should always be considered when it comes to any truck accident. Weather conditions such as heavy rain and snowstorms wreak havoc on the roadways.
  • Road hazards: A truck accident can happen due to road hazards like debris strewn across the road.
  • Construction zones & traffic patterns: The accident rate increases in areas that drivers navigate on a daily basis due to man-made obstacles.

According to IIHS, in 2021, a whopping 48% of fatalities in truck crashes occurred on major roads, 35% on interstates, and 16% on less-frequented roads. Major interstates such as I-10, I-85, I-35, and I-45 aren't immune to these challenges and see higher accident rates because of their heavy traffic volume alongside continuous construction projects. It's important for drivers to stay focused on the road with all the hustle and bustle - making it equally important for drivers to be able to find box truck loads without the hassle. By planning ahead, drivers can make informed decisions about when and where to travel while avoiding adverse weather and high-risk road conditions whenever possible.

top 15 roads with the most fatal trucking crashes from 2015 - 2017

Preventing Truck Accidents

For truck accident prevention, safety is a top priority. There are several strategies in place to help prevent truck accidents:

  • Truck Driver Training: Drivers undergo extensive training. They learn defensive driving techniques and how to handle cargo safely.
  • Truck Maintenance: Regular maintenance and inspections ensure trucks are in good shape and are less likely to experience mechanical failures on the road.
  • Truck Regulation Compliance: These set standards and things like hours-of-service, vehicle safety, and licensing requirements.

Accidents can have serious consequences for those involved as well as the trucking industry. By being well-prepared for any roadway challenges, addressing mechanical problems, and adhering to safety standards, drivers can prevent truck accidents.

regular truck maintenance is pillar for truck accident prevention

Driver Training and Education

Investing in driver development isn't only wise, it's morally imperative. Take these truck accident statistics, for example: According to Truckinfo.net, 100% of the cases were ruled in favor of the plaintiff when the case involved improper actions such as HOS (Hours of Service) substance abuse, health related, driver history issues, and leaving the scene of the accident. This makes truck driver training programs of the essence. These comprehensive truck driver education programs include things such as:

  • Defensive truck driving: This helps truckers anticipate potential risks and hazards on the road. It also enables them to take necessary steps to avoid accidents while keeping themselves and others safe. Simulations, classroom instruction, and hands-on experience enable drivers to learn to recognize danger signs so that they can maintain control of their vehicles.
  • Cargo handling: This ensures that drivers understand how to properly load, secure, and transport various types of cargo. Fragile goods and hazardous materials come along with their own challenges and risks. Drivers learn best practices for loading and securing cargo to prevent shifting, damage, and accidents along the road.
  • Truck Regulatory Updates: This is another component of driver training and education. The trucking industry is governed by regulations and standards that include driving hours, vehicle maintenance, and licensing requirements.

Driver training and education for drivers and company fleets operate safely.

Vehicle Maintenance and Inspections

To minimize the risk of large truck accidents and breakdowns, vehicle upkeep is paramount:

  • Truck maintenance: This aims to identify and address issues before they turn into major problems. This includes checking fluid levels, inspecting brakes & tires. Routine checks help keep trucks in optimal condition.
  • CDL Pre-Trip Inspection Checklist: Drivers must conduct thorough inspections of their trucks. This ensures all components are working correctly.  This can help drivers prevent accidents and delays.
  • Promptly Addressing Truck Mechanical Issues: Replacing worn-out tires and repairing faulty brakes can prevent minor issues from becoming major ones.

According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), seat belt usage among fatally injured large truck drivers (49%) in 2021 was similar to that of passenger vehicle drivers (45%). However, a significant portion of large truck drivers involved in fatal accidents had unknown seat belt usage (19%).No doubt safety violations such as exceeding driving hours and neglecting to follow through on routine safety inspections can jeopardize the safety of other road users. In addition, effective logistics management and freight brokerage also play a broader role in terms of vehicle maintenance and inspections:

  • Streamlined logistics operations ensure that trucks are deployed efficiently: This reduces unnecessary mileage and wear and tear on vehicles.
  • Freight brokerage services help match available trucks with appropriate cargo: This optimizes load capacities and reduces the risk of overweight loads.

Regulatory Compliance and Enforcement

Truck regulations range from hours-of-service rules to vehicle safety standards and licensing requirements. However, these aren't just bureaucratic red tape. When it comes to preventing large truck accidents, regulatory bodies are truck compliance enforcement, acting as watchdogs that hold violators accountable. One of the strictest guidelines that drivers must follow pertains to drinking and driving. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, large truck drivers involved in fatal crashes are significantly less likely than passenger vehicle drivers to have high blood alcohol concentrations (BACs).

Recent data from the National Safety Council reveals the states with the highest percentages of large trucks involved in fatal crashes in 2022, including North Dakota, Wyoming, Iowa, New Mexico, Nebraska, and Montana. By adhering to these regulations and holding violators accountable, we can strive towards a safer, more efficient trucking industry

Responding to Truck Accidents

Knowing the correct steps to take immediately after the incident can be crucial to your safety, compliance with legal requirements, and the protection of your career:

What is a DOT-recordable accident?
A DOT Recordable Accident is any accident with a commercial motor vehicle that results in a fatality, injury that requires prompt medical attention away from the scene, or any vehicle being towed due to disabling damage. The FMCSA requires that these accidents involving commercial vehicles be reported.

On the other hand, a non-dot recordable accident is a minor incident without serious injuries or significant vehicle damage. The sections that follow will enable you to navigate through the aftermath of an accident with clarity. Here's what to do after a semi truck accident:

Immediate Steps Following a DOT Recordable Truck Accident

Immediate Steps Following a DOT Recordable Truck Accident

The aftermath following a truck accident is chaotic, these steps will help you to protect your safety, legal rights, and career. Here's a detailed guide on what to do after a truck accident, specifically, a DOT reportable accident:

1. Remain at the Scene

No matter the size of the damage during a truck accident, staying at the scene is always necessary. If you are in a very minor accident, stop, document, and follow the remaining steps below. If you're an owner-operator, there's more leeway here if you and the other driver decide that the fixes are too minimal for insurance. Beware of going that route as there's an extended period that drivers have to contact their insurance. It's always important to document everything - follow the below steps no matter how small your truck accident is.

2. Ensure Safety

Immediately after an accident, prioritize your safety and that of others. Move to a safe location if possible and turn on your hazard lights. Set up warning triangles to make the scene more visible. If you're carrying hazardous materials - any risk of spillage should be mentioned in the next steps of contacting authorities and your trucking company. Anything flammable, oil spillage, chemicals, etc..

3. Check for Injuries & Call for Help

Assess yourself and others for any injuries. Call emergency services immediately if medical attention is required. It's advisable to always request medical attention in order to have any minor injuries reported and documented to assist future claims requirements. Take care of any immediate medical requirements for yourself before attending to passengers, other drivers, or nearby pedestrians.

4. Notify Authorities

Contact the police so that an official report can be filed. This report is crucial for insurance and legal purposes. More on documenting and recording the scene below.

5. Record the Scene

Thoroughly documenting the scene beyond FMCSA, DOT, and your trucking companies requirements can be helpful in the future for any legal proceedings that may follow. Take photos and videos of multiple angles. Consider making a recording of your thoughts on the accident with an explanation of your perspective for your own personal records.

FMCSA Accident Record Procedures + Company Vehicle Procedures

Here you'll find a combination of requirements from both FMCSA accident record procedures and company vehicle accident reporting procedures:

  1. Document the Scene: Take photographs of the accident scene, including all vehicles involved, road conditions, and any relevant signs or signals. (FMCSA + Company)
  2. Exchange Information: Gather contact information, insurance details, and vehicle registrations from all parties involved. (FMCSA)
  3. Report to Your Employer: Notify your employer or fleet manager about the accident as soon as possible, following any specific protocols they have in place. (FMCSA + Company)
  4. Documentation Submission: Submit all required documentation to your employer, such as the accident report form, photos, and police report. (Company)
  5. Maintain Records: Keep copies of all documentation related to the accident, including the police report, photographs, and communications with your employer. (FMCSA + Company)
  6. Follow-Up: Participate in any follow-up investigations or internal reviews required by your employer to discuss accident details and prevention strategies. (Company)

The FMCSA collects data from these reports to analyze trends and identify potential areas for safety improvements. This data helps inform future regulations and safety measures. After rounding up this information, you must immediately notify your insurance company. Following these steps efficiently can make the process much smoother - and keep a copy of all documents in your personal possession.

6. Do Not Make Any Statement about the Crash

Be factual in your discussions with police about the incident without admitting liability or fault, as this should be determined through an official investigation. Never discuss the accident with others on the scene beyond police.

7. Handling Special Cases

Sometimes, there are special cases that may require specialized protocols for effective management. Here are a few examples of how to navigate special cases following an accident:

  • Hazardous Materials: If it's a hazardous materials incident, follow specific procedures for handling and reporting these accidents. This includes securing the area and notifying relevant authorities immediately.
  • Severe Truck Accident Injuries or Fatalities: Accidents resulting in severe injuries or fatalities require additional steps, such as notifying regulatory bodies, cooperating with emergency responders, and participating in detailed investigations.
  • Major Traffic Disruptions: If the accident causes significant traffic disruptions, coordinate with law enforcement to manage traffic flow and provide accurate information about detours or closures.

By prioritizing safety and compliance in handling special cases, truck drivers and carriers can mitigate risks and uphold their responsibilities.

The Role of Technology in Improving Truck Safety

In the digital age, connected truck technologies are beginning to play a key role in enhancing truck safety and less room for driver error and fatal truck accidents. Check out the impact and strides made with truck safety technology, advanced truck driver assistance, truck telematics, and autonomous truck technology in the following sections below:

A graphic depicting various truck safety technologies, such as collision avoidance systems, GPS tracking, and autonomous driving features.

Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS)

According to IIHS, a 2020 study uncovered that forward collision warning and AEB minimized rear-end crashes from 44 to 41 percent. These findings underscore the efficacy of ADAS. ADAS is made up of many systems like collision avoidance, lane departure warnings, and adaptive cruise control. They leverage cutting-edge innovations that assist truck drivers in avoiding potential hazards. Here are some of the key components of ADAS:

  • Truck Collision Avoidance Systems: These use sensors and cameras to detect obstacles and potential collisions ahead.
  • Truck Lane Departure Warnings: These are designed to alert drivers when their truck unintentionally drifts out of its lane.
  • Adaptive Cruise Control for Trucks: This is an intelligent system that automatically adjusts the vehicle's speed to maintain a safe following distance from the vehicle ahead.

By integrating state-of-the-art features and proactive safety measures, these systems empower truck drivers.

Telematics and Monitoring Technologies

These are used for GPS tracking, electronic logging devices (ELDs), and vehicle monitoring and telematics systems bolster fleet management, compliance, and proactive maintenance. Fact: According to IIHS, a staggering fifty percent of large truck crash deaths in 2021 occurred between the hours of 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. Here's a closer look at how these are revolutionizing the industry:

  • Truck GPS Tracking: Trucking companies can monitor the real-time location and movement of their vehicles with unparalleled accuracy.
  • Electronic Logging Devices for Trucks (ELDs): Electronic logging devices (ELDs) have replaced traditional paper logbooks, providing automated and accurate recording of drivers' hours of service (HOS).
  • Truck Vehicle Monitoring Systems: Vehicle monitoring systems encompass a wide range of sensors and diagnostic tools designed to monitor the health and performance of trucks in real-time.

Leveraging telematics and modern technology could enable the industry to mitigate risks associated with daytime driving hours.

Autonomous and Semi-Autonomous Truck Technologies

Technologies like autonomous trucks and semi-autonomous truck systems, along with innovations such as truck platooning and connected truck technologies, hold promise for minimizing accidents caused by human error. According to Research Gate, LiDAR technology is being studied for its ability to craft high-resolution 3D maps of the environment. For more information on the impact these technologies are making, be sure to stay informed with Cota Systems News and our Cota Systems Blog.

Cota Systems and Truck Accident Prevention

Cota Systems and Truck Accident Prevention

For motor carrier safety, Cota Systems offers cutting-edge solutions to enhance safety, efficiency, and reliability in logistics operations. At the core of our offerings is a suite of advanced tools crafted to truly revolutionize trucking operations and place safety above all else. Count on Cota Systems CarrierPro™ for communication and load management, LoadBoost™ for reducing empty miles, and FreightPro™ for connecting shippers with vetted carriers. Through these solutions, we uphold a steadfast commitment to transparency, reliability, and efficiency.

At Cota Systems, we help lay the foundation for a safer and more resilient logistics realm where trucking accidents are minimized and operational efficiency is enhanced. Discover how we can help revolutionize your trucking operations and prioritize safety with cutting-edge solutions. Visit our website at CotaSystems.com to learn more and take the first step towards a safer, more efficient future.

Final Thoughts

Now that we're armed with the knowledge and insights learned from this in-depth exploration of truck accident statistics, we have the power to advocate for positive change and a safer trucking industry. Through the combined efforts of drivers, carriers, regulators, and technology, we can pave the way for a future where truck accidents can be minimized. At Cota Systems, we're all about building a future where every journey is met with confidence as we pave the way one mile at a time.

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