Truck crashes are not terribly common, but they are deadly. Because of their size and weight, any crash involving a truck is going to be more serious. In 2004, for example, truck crashes made up 6.5 percent of all vehicle collisions. These crashes, however, accounted for 11.4% of the traffic fatalities. In another study, it was found that trucks made up only 3-4% of registered vehicles, but accounted for 12-13% of traffic fatalities.
The relative size of the trucks also ensures that a car is always going to come out on the wrong end of a collision with a truck. As a result, it is the occupants of the car who are more likely to be injured. In the 2004, for example, 85% of the deaths and 76% of the injuries were to occupants of the car, and not the truck.
Trucking companies know these statistics when they send their drivers out on the road each day. Many such companies take this responsibility seriously and enforce rules to avoid accidents. Unfortunately, other companies are not so careful. Some encourage drivers to work long hours and risk falling asleep at the wheel. Some ignore evidence that the drivers are violating the rules by driving longer hours. Others allow drivers to speed, by ignoring proof that the runs are completed far in advance of schedule.
Mechanisms exist to improve truck safety. On board monitoring systems can tell the trucking companies how many hours their drivers are on the road. Simply recording departure and arrival times can show that a truck has been speeding. Screening of truck drivers can easily reveal drivers with a history of collisions or other problems.
Yet, the industry has fought many safety improvements. Unfortunately, the government has not always taken steps to reduce violations. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is charged with the job of reducing needless truck and bus deaths nationwide. According to a recent report by Public Citizen, however, the agency often “shortchanges safety for the productivity and economic health of the trucking industry.”
Among other things, the FMCSA has failed to issue regulations requiring basic knowledge and skills training for drivers; tried to increase the number of hours drivers can operate; and excluded requirements for monitoring systems that would monitor total hours of service.
When a truck collision occurs, there are often a number of things that have gone wrong. Driver error is certainly one, but frequently there are others. Finding evidence that the trucking company allowed or even encouraged its drivers to operate unsafely can be difficult. It is this evidence, however, that can make the difference. With it, the victims can get the compensation they need. And too, trucking companies can be forced to pay for their mistakes. In the end, this is what will cause them to improve safety.