Back in 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic took a lot of cars off the roads, as people spent more time at home rather than commuting to work and school or simply traversing America’s highways and byways. With fewer cars on the road, the number of accidents, including those involving trucks, decreased.
Statistics compiled by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) show that the number of fatalities as a result of truck accidents nationwide dropped slightly in 2020. The FMCSA’s Crash Statistics Summary, which reflects data from the Motor Carrier Management Information System, reported 5,082 fatalities in crashes involving large trucks in 2019 compared with 4,988 fatalities in 2020. However, this decrease was far from being a trend. Rather than indicating a downward trajectory in fatalities, data shows the number of fatalities surged to 5,701 in 2021, surpassing 2020’s numbers.
These fluctuations have experts wondering what is behind the increase in fatal accidents involving large trucks.
In a recent interview, Freightwaves.com discussed this issue with Brian Runnels, vice president of safety at Reliance Partners, a “trucking insurance brokerage providing safety consulting.” During the interview, Runnels mentioned three factors that he believes may be playing a role in the marked uptick in fatal crashes involving large trucks:
One: Aggressive driving.
According to Runnels, “we’re seeing a lot more aggressive driving out on the road.” Runnels blames the “huge increase” in vehicles on the road over the last couple of years.
The American Automobile Association (AAA), defines aggressive driving as “any unsafe driving behavior, performed deliberately and with ill intention or disregard for safety.” Per 2019 data compiled by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, close to 80% of drivers “expressed significant anger, aggression, or road rage behind the wheel at least once in the previous 30 days.”
AAA’s examples of behaviors that are considered aggressive driving include:
- Blocking cars that are attempting to pass or change lanes
- Changing lanes without signaling
- Cutting in front of another vehicle and then slowing down
- Failing to stop for red lights
- Speeding while in heavy traffic
- Tailgating (following another vehicle too closely)
- Using headlights or brakes to “punish” other drivers on the road
- Weaving in and out of traffic
All of these behaviors are dangerous, but the danger increases dramatically when a large truck is involved. A fully loaded tractor-trailers usually weighs around 80,000 pounds and an empty trailer weighs 35,000. In contrast, the average passenger car typically weighs under 5,000 pounds. Due to their size, large trucks have numerous blind spots where passenger vehicles may not be visible, and they require additional time and space to stop safely. These trucks also typically make wider turns, and are simply not as easily maneuverable as a passenger vehicle. When the driver of a passenger car drives aggressively around a large truck – especially if the driver of the passenger car does any of the behaviors included in AAA’s list of aggressive driving behaviors – the consequences can be deadly.
Two: More trucks in congested areas.
Runnels also attributes the increase in fatal accidents involving large trucks to the operational shift in the trucking industry, which saw freight volumes centralized. According to Freightwaves.com, the American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI) noted in its 2022 report a trend over the past decade that sees operations “shifting toward shorter trips.”
While shorter trips may initially sound like a positive, Runnels points out that in fact, this could be contributing to the spike in fatal truck accidents because “there are more trucks now in congested areas operating more miles in those areas than ever before.” The congestion Runnels refers to involves everyday traffic of commuters and local residents, the majority of whom are in passenger vehicles. Again, in an accident involving a large truck and a passenger vehicle, the truck is at a distinct advantage due to its sheer size and volume.
Three: Truck drivers’ pay structure.
Most truck drivers are paid by the mile, which works well when a driver is hauling a load of goods a long distance, but is not so lucrative during shorter trips. According to Runnels, the increase in distribution centers and manufacturing facilities being constructed in close proximity to major cities does more than add large trucks to already congested traffic patterns, it also translates into “drivers having to make a change in operation. They’re hitting docks more to get unloaded and reloaded, so there’s more pressure for them to get miles.” In other words, under the current pay structure, the only way drivers can earn comparable amounts with shorter trips as they earned with long-haul trips is to complete more short trips. However, time spent having their trucks loaded and unloaded – and sitting in traffic between destinations – limits truck drivers’ ability to log as many miles. This puts additional pressure on drivers to get from point A to point B as quickly as possible, just so they can clock enough miles to pay their bills. This can be dangerous.
Help for victims of fatal truck accidents in North Dakota
In North Dakota, truck accidents involving large trucks such as semis and tractor-trailers are so common that the state made the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) “deadly dozen” list as the ninth deadliest state in the U.S. for truck accidents.
If you or a loved one were involved in a truck accident in North Dakota, particularly a truck accident that involved serious injuries or a fatality, it is crucial that you speak with a Minot personal injury lawyer who has experience handling truck accident cases. Trucking companies have insurance companies and those insurance companies are not eager to pay settlements or judgments to injured people or their families. The insurance companies’ lawyers do their best to place the majority – if not all – of the blame for these accidents on the other drivers involved. And if it is a truck driver who is injured, the trucking company and their insurer typically look to place fault on the driver so they can reduce the company’s liability all around and reduce the amount they have to cover for their own employee’s injuries.
The skilled personal injury lawyers at Larson Law Firm P.C know every trick trucking and insurance companies like to pull. From our offices in Minot, Bismarck, and Fargo, our experienced truck accident lawyers fight hard to hold trucking companies accountable and ensure our clients receive the compensation they deserve. If you or a loved one suffered an injury in a truck accident in or around Minot – or if a family member was killed in a truck accident – we can help. Call us or complete our contact form today to schedule a free consultation. We handle accident cases on a contingency fee basis.