After reaching an historic low in 2009, deaths and injuries from truck accidents are on the rise. Why the turn for the worse? According to a startling report from the American Association for Justice, lax practices are forcing a growing number of unsafe trucks on the road that are often driven by overworked, underpaid and poorly trained drivers. Meanwhile, outdated insurance laws fail to provide adequate coverage for those involved in a car-truck accident. Since trucks move nearly 70 percent of our nation’s freight, you should know the facts and what is being done to better protect all Americans.
Commonsense Measures Can Help Prevent More Accidents
When a 76-year-old truck driver fell asleep at the wheel on an Oklahoma interstate and slammed his 40,000-pound rig into several cars that had slowed for a minor collision, 10 people were killed, including two families of four. The truck driver had started his shift at 3 a.m. with just five hours of sleep and had been driving for 10 hours when the accident happened. He never touched the brakes. Unfortunately, preventable truck-car accidents like this are on the rise. In 2011 (the most recent year complete data are available), 3,757 people died in collisions with trucks and 88,000 more were injured. It marked the second straight year fatalities were up and was an 11.2 percent increase over 2009.
Report Details Safety Hazards that Cause Truck Accidents
A report released in June by the American Association for Justice uncovers a number of preventable safety hazards that contribute to truck accidents. According to the Truck Safety Alert: The Rising Danger from Trucks, the problems are driven by an economic model that is fundamentally unsound. “Truck drivers – compensated by miles driven, not hours worked – are pushed to ignore safety measures, delay repairs and drive in a fatigued state,” it said. In addition, the report notes that artificially low insurance limits prevent unsafe trucking carriers from ever being held accountable for the damages they cause. While a fatal truck crash today can result in approximately $4.3 million in damages, the insurance minimum for cargo trucks has remained frozen at $750,000 since 1980. U.S. Rep. Matt Cartwright of Pennsylvania recently introduced the Safe Haul Act (H.R. 2730) to raise the required insurance minimum for motor carriers. Given that the percentage of freight traveling by truck is expected to reach 70 percent in the next decade, it is highly likely that more trucks will share the roadways with passenger cars. Thus, the report ends with this dire warning: If the current growth in the fatality rate for truck accidents continues, 58,000 people will lose their lives in the next 10 years.
Tips for Avoiding Car-Truck Accidents
- Know that large trucks maneuver differently from cars and be extra cautious as you approach.
- One-third of all crashes between large trucks and cars involve blind spots. If you can’t see a truck’s side mirrors, the truck driver can’t see you.
- Do not pass a truck on the right while the truck is turning right. The rear wheels follow a shorter path than the front wheels, so trucks must swing wide left to safely negotiate right turns.
- Large vehicles require a much longer distance to stop than a car. Cutting in front of a truck or bus could result in a serious or fatal accident.
- To properly pass a large truck or bus on the highway, accelerate slightly and maintain a consistent speed. Wait until you can see the entire cab in your rear-view mirror before you signal and pull in.
- If a truck appears to be starting a left turn, check which way the driver is signaling before passing on the right.
- Give trucks at least four to six seconds of space in wet conditions and at highway speeds.
- If you witness unsafe driving, report it to the authorities.