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Common Causes of Truck Accidents & Truck Crash Causation Study


Depressed man holding his head

In 2017, The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) conducted one of the most comprehensive studies on the common causes of trucking accidents.

Labeled as the Large Truck Crash Causation Study (LTCCS) (1), the crash causation study looked at 120,000 crashes involving large trucks (gross weight of over 10,000 pounds) from 2001 until 2003.  Researchers then selected 963 specific accidents out of this larger group as a representative sample to then be carefully studied.

Researchers compiled over 1,000 data points for each accident they studied. These data points included everything from vehicle maintenance, driver training, road conditions, other drivers’ behavior, and other circumstances that may have played a role in causing the crash.

These data points were then coded and divided into various causation groups to give an overall view of the most common causes of truck accidents.

In this article, we’ll go over the key findings of this comprehensive and exhaustive study on common causes of truck accidents as well as offer some tips to avoid being involved in a truck accident while on the road.

Critical Event Vs. Critical Reason For Truck Crashes And Truck Crash Causation

To begin, the study needed to create a groundwork for what causes truck accidents and the factors involved in why the accident occured. Researchers determined two main categories that could best explain truck crash causation. These two categories were referred to as critical events and critical reasons.

A critical event took place that put the vehicles involved on a path to collide with each other. For example, if a truck drifted out of its designated lane and into oncoming traffic, that was the critical event that led to the unavoidable collision once the critical event was set in motion.

Next, the critical reason was defined as what was the exact precursor to the critical event. 

To continue with our previous example, if the truck veered into the wrong lane because the driver was fatigued and fell asleep, that action would be labeled as the critical reason.

The critical reason is what led to or set into motion the critical event, which then caused the accident. In the example above, the critical event was the truck veering into oncoming traffic. The critical reason was the driver fell asleep while driving.

A key distinction to note is that a specific critical reason does not necessarily look to assess blame within the study. Instead, it is seen as a factor or data point that was present in the particular accident being studied. These factors can then be studied to see which are the most common in truck accidents.

How Common Are Minor and Fatal Truck Accidents?

With trucks being such a common mode of transportation for goods around the country, it’s not surprising to find that they are involved in accidents. In fact, they represent 9% of all vehicles involved in fatal accidents nationwide.

Annually in the United States, there are an average of over 380,000 trucking accidents nationwide over the past several years. Seven percent of those happen in Florida.

A majority of these accidents nationwide only result in property damage or minor injury. However, trucking accidents in 2020 resulted in 4,965 fatalities nationwide (2). In that same year, 146,930 people were injured in accidents involving large trucks.

Large Truck Crash Fatalities In Florida 

In Florida, there were a total of 4,846 fatal vehicle crashes in 2020. Of those, 351 involved large trucks (2), which accounts for just over 7% of the total. Of those crashes, the truck driver was listed as a fatality 45 times. The occupants of other vehicles involved in the crash were listed as fatalities 246 times.

Florida also accounted for just over 7% of the total truck accidents in the entire nation. For comparison, the neighboring state of Georgia accounted for 4.8% of the national total. Alabama accounted for 2.9% of the national.

This discrepancy can be mostly attributed to total population as the rates follow the population differences between states. Florida has a population of 21.78 million. Georgia’s population is nearly half that number at just over 10 million. Finally, Alabama comes in nearly half again at just over 5 million. All population numbers cited here compare 2021 statistics.

Severe Injuries In Florida Truck Accidents

Other than accidents caused by trucks that result in fatalities, the next most serious type of large truck accidents are referred to as severe injury accidents. These injuries are broken into two categories, those being incapacitating and non-incapacitating injuries

An incapacitating injury is one that requires the victim to be transported to the hospital for immediate care. These injuries can include broken bones or severed limbs as well as other injuries which prevent the victim from seeking medical care on their own.

A non-incapacitating injury is referred to as injuries such as bruises, abrasions, or minor cuts without substantial bleeding. These injuries can also involve non-descript injuries such as limping or general pain in certain areas of the body.

In Florida, the total number of incapacitating injuries in 2018 was 19,196 (3). In 2019 the number dropped slightly to 18,063. In 2020 the total number was 15,614.

Overall this shows a decline in total incapacitating injuries over the past three years according to the most recent complete studies up to 2020. However, the most recent trends not included in these studies show that highway injuries and fatalities have begun to increase post-pandemic. But these NHTSA findings (4) are too preliminary to determine a cause for this increase after years of decreases.

Light Injuries From Truck Accidents

Accidents studied involving large trucks can also include possible injuries as a classification. This means that there were no visible signs of injury, yet the victim complained of various pain or momentary loss of consciousness. If these victims do have a more serious injury after examination, they would be counted in the more severe categories of injury.

The final classification is a no-injury accident. This means all occupants of the vehicles involved received no injuries and even upon further examination, none required medical care or hospitalization. These accidents can still result in significant property damage.

In 2020, Florida reported a total of 27,044 (3) of these non-injury accidents involving heavy trucks which resulted in only property damage.

Common Causes of Truck Accidents: A Crash Causation Study

One of the most critical data points to come from the LTCCS is the information regarding the common cause of truck accidents. This can provide agencies and those involved within the trucking industry to better mitigate these accidents in the future and help prevent death and injury on the roadway.

Truck Driver Fatigue

Driver fatigue was one of the top 10 causes of large truck accidents when all of the data of the study was compiled. Driver fatigue accounted for 18,000 accidents in the study or 13% of the total.

This calculates to a total risk factor of 8 when it comes to driver fatigue. The total risk factor was a calculation created by the researchers involved in the study to determine the specific risk of this particular factor.

The risk factor is therefore a ratio between the critical risk reason cited in the crash and the factor being measured, in this case, driver fatigue. It is then compared to other truck incidents where the factor is not involved.

For clarification, this is why a certain factor may be a higher percentage of the total accidents, yet it may have a lower overall risk factor than other reasons coded.

In this case, driver fatigue increases the risk factor of a truck accident to be coded with the critical reason by 800% with the study. Yet, the highest percentage cause of trucking accidents was brake problems. But brake problems only had a total risk factor increase of 270%.

Distracted Driving

Distracted driving was broken into two categories for the purposes of this study to help refine the various differences that can cause truck drivers to lose attention.

Driver Inattention

This was the first category to be defined and driver inattention resulted in 12,000 accidents after being determined to be a factor.

External Distractions While On Road

The next category was designated as an external distraction and was a factor in 11,000 accidents. Interestingly, driver inattention had a much higher risk factor at 17.1 while external distraction only had a risk factor of 5.1.


Illegal drugs and alcohol were a factor in 3,000 and 1,000 accidents respectively. However, the risk factor for alcohol was higher at 5.3 compared to a risk factor of 1.8 for illegal drugs.

Overall, this sort of intoxication was found to be an associated risk factor at a much lower rate than prescription and over-the-counter drug use.

For example, OTC drug use was a factor in 25,000 truck accidents, with a risk factor of 1.3. So while having a slightly lower risk factor than illegal drugs or alcohol, OTC drugs were a factor in more accidents.

Prescription drugs were not broken out separately in this study as the researchers found no statistical difference between those and OTC drugs when administered legally.


Traveling too fast for conditions was the second-highest risk factor associated with truck crashes and accounted for 32,000 total accidents. The risk factor was also relatively high at 7.7%.

The only higher total factor cited in accidents was brake problems.

Maintenance Issues

Brake problems with the truck resulted in the highest total number of accidents in the study at 41,000 and a risk factor of 2.7.

The only other maintenance-related factor in the top 10 was cargo shifting. This can be attributed in some cases to maintenance issues with cargo straps and devices. It can also be the result of poorly trained operators who do not know how to properly secure cargo.

Overall, it resulted in 4,000 accidents but had a staggeringly high risk factor of 56.3. This made cargo shifting one of the leading causes of truck accidents when looking at risk factors and critical reasons for the accident.

Truck & car accident

How to Avoid Being A Victim of a Truck Accident?

When passenger cars are involved in an accident with a large truck, the chance of injury increases for the passengers inside that car.

So while you may not be able to avoid all accidents, there are several tips you can use while driving to mitigate the risk as much as possible.

Give Trucks More Room Than Other Cars

Trucks need much more time to brake or make evasive maneuvers. This means you should give trucks more room around your own vehicle than other passenger cars.

If a truck is following you too closely, try to change lanes and let the truck pass if it is safe.

The same can also be said for trucks on either side of your car. 

Don’t Make Sudden Maneuvers In Front Of A Truck

Avoid quickly changing lanes or swerving in front of trucks. They often cannot adjust their speed as fast as cars and may lose control if a car cuts in front of them.

Only Pass A Truck On The Left

It is common to only pass other cars on the left, but when it comes to trucks, this is even more important due to the nature of visibility for the truck driver. Also, make sure to always use your turn signal when changing lanes so the truck knows your intentions before you begin the maneuver.

By following these simple tips along with following all other rules of the road for your area, you should be able to share the road safely with large trucks and mitigate the risks of a truck accident as much as possible.

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