Why do Trucks Crash?

Jan. 9, 2015 I-94 Pileup near Galesburg, MI

Over a period of 33 months, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) conducted the Large Truck Crash Causation Study (LTCCS). Of 141,000 large truck crashes, a sample of 963 crashes involving 1,123 large trucks and 959 motor vehicles that were not large trucks, were studied and field data gathered.

Crash reconstruction experts rarely conclude that crashes are the result of a single factor. . . . In the LTCCS, ‘causation’ is defined in terms of the factors that are most likely to increase the risk that large trucks will be involved in serious crashes. 

Driver critical reasons leading to the Critical Event (the crash) were coded in four categories:

  • Non-Performance: The driver fell asleep, was disabled by a heart attack or seizure, or was physically impaired for another reason. (12%)
  • Recognition: The driver was inattentive, was distracted by something inside or outside the vehicle, or failed to observe the situation adequately for some other reason. (28%)
  • Decision: For example, the driver was driving too fast for conditions, misjudged the speed of other vehicles, or followed other vehicles too closely. (38%)
  • Performance: For example, the driver panicked, overcompensated, or exercised poor directional control. (9%)

Top 10 “Causative” Factors – Trucks 

  • Overweight (vehicle factor)
  • Making an illegal maneuver
  • Inadequate surveillance
  • Traveling too fast for conditions
  • Inattention
  • Following too close
  • Misjudgment of gap or other’s speed
  • Stop required before crash (roadway factor)
  • External distraction
  • Brake problems (vehicle factor)

(Factors in a study are also called independent variables, not changeable by other factors or variables.)

Seven of the Top 10 were driver factors, involving inadequate recognition or poor decisions. Two were vehicle factors: trucks being overweight, and trucks with brake problems. One factor was a roadway factor: a stop was required by a red light, congestion, work zone signal, etc.

It is well recognized that human error is the dominant contributing factor to motor vehicle crashes, although vehicle features and driving conditions may also affect crash risks in a road transport system composed of human, vehicle and driving environments. Lei Li – Monash University, Karl Kim-University of Hawaii at Manoa, J. R. Statist. Soc. A (2000)


Michigan State Police FACT Study

From 1996 to 2001, the Michigan State Police Motor Carrier Enforcement Division (MCD) sponsored the Fatal Accident Complaint Team (FACT) program to collect data on fatal commercial motor vehicle (CMV) crashes in Michigan.


In the majority of fatal truck crashes, the FACT data show 58.8 percent of the critical events resulted from the action of another vehicle, 6.0 percent from the action of a pedestrian or pedalcyclist, 20.9 percent from the action of a truck driver, and 6.0 percent from loss of control of a large truck.

Accident Prevention and Countermeasures

  • Reduce accident rates by establishing a company standard for safe driving.
  • Keep a current, updated safety manual for your drivers and instruct drivers on the company standard.
  • Have a formal fleet safety program and review its effectiveness.
  • Monitor driver qualifications and any driver safety infractions. Recognize and reward safe driving.
  • Accident countermeasures are examples of Defensive Driving strategies designed to reduce preventable accidents. A preventable accident is one which occurs because the driver fails to act in a reasonably expected manner to prevent it.


All the studies and data I have come across point to the preventability of most motor vehicle accidents. It’s a well known fact that changes can result in unintended consequences. Rapid growth can result in a lowering of recruiting standards. An economic downturn or loss of a large account can result in lower vehicle or maintenance standards or cutting of driver training and safety programs. The consequences show up months or years later. By then, the new standards are set and change is very difficult.

Thank you for stopping by.

Stay alert. Stay alive.

J Taratuta John Taratuta (989) 474-9599 @part380