Large Truck Accident Statistics in the U.S.

What are the causes of most semi-truck accidents? Are drugs and alcohol related? How does it affect other drivers? Learn more below.

Try to think of the last time you drove on a highway and didn’t see a semi-truck or big rig. You probably can’t! That’s because the American economy runs on commercial trucks, which we use to transport goods and cargo to destinations across the country.

Unfortunately, when large trucks are involved in collisions with other vehicles, the consequences can be deadly. This article will review some crucial statistics about the number of large truck accidents and their common causes.

Notable Statistics:

  • In 2018, 4,951 people were killed in accidents involving large trucks.
  • Of the people killed in large truck crashes in 2018, 71% were occupants of another motor vehicle, 11% were nonoccupants, and 18% were large truck occupants.
  • Approximately 151,000 people were injured in large truck crashes in 2018, which averages to about 414 people each day.
  • 29,862 truck drivers failed drug tests or refused to take them in the first 6 months of 2020 alone.

Fatal Truck Accident Statistics

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), of the 36,560 traffic fatalities that occurred in the United States in 2018, 4,951 people were killed in accidents involving large trucks. This constitutes approximately 13.5% of deaths caused by motor vehicle accidents, even though only 4.5% of registered vehicles in 2018 were large trucks.

This number is part of an upward trend, with 4,905 (13.1%) of the 37,473 traffic deaths in 2017 occurring in large truck accidents and 4,678 (12.4%) of the 37,806 fatalities in 2016 involving large trucks. While the total number of car accident deaths has decreased, the number of people killed in large truck accidents has increased.

Of the people killed in large truck crashes, 71% were occupants of a passenger car or other motor vehicle involved in the crash, and 11% were nonoccupants such as pedestrians or bicyclists.  This means only 18% of the people killed were truck drivers themselves, showing just how much of a threat trucks can pose to smaller vehicles.Fatal truck accident statistics

Non-Fatal Crashes Involving Trucks

NHTSA approximates that 151,000 people were injured in crashes that involved large trucks in 2018, which averages to about 414 people each day. These injuries account for 5.6% of the estimated 2,710,00 people injured in all traffic accidents during the year.

As with large truck accident fatalities, the number of people injured in truck crashes increased over the last several years while the total number of people injured in motor vehicle accidents decreased. This trend may correspond with the fact that both the number of vehicle miles traveled and the number of large trucks registered also increased each year.

In 2017, 148,000 (5.4%) of the 2,745,000 people injured were hurt in crashes involving large trucks. Similarly, 135,000 (4.4%) of the 3,062,000 injured in 2016 were injured in large truck crashes.Non-fatal truck crashes

Contributing Factors To Truck Crashes

In 2007, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) conducted a large truck crash causation study to determine the causes of large truck accidents. This is the most recent and comprehensive review of the topic. The study considered any truck with a gross vehicle weight rating of more than 10,000 pounds to be a “large truck.”

For the study, FMCSA selected a nationally representative sample of the 120,000 large truck crashes that resulted in a fatality or injury between April 2001 and December 2003. The sample included 963 crashes resulting in 249 deaths and 1,654 injuries and involving 1,123 large trucks and 959 passenger vehicles.

As part of its methodology, the study assigned a “critical event,” which is the action or event that made the collision unavoidable, to the vehicle responsible for each crash.Contributing factors to truck crashes

The study assigned three major types of critical event to large trucks:

  1. Veering out of the current lane, either into another lane or off the road, was assigned to 32% of large trucks in the study.
  2. Losing control of the vehicle, due to traveling too fast for road or weather conditions, cargo shift, vehicle systems failure, or some other reason, was assigned to 29% of large trucks in the study.
  3. Rear-ending another motor vehicle in the truck’s current lane was assigned to 22% of large trucks in the study.

The study also assigned a “critical reason” for each crash, which it defined as “the immediate reason for the critical event.” Of all accidents analyzed, 55% of the critical reasons were assigned to the large trucks involved. However, only 44% of the critical reasons for crashes between a truck and a passenger vehicle were assigned to large trucks.

Alcohol and Drug Use in Truck Accidents

Drug and alcohol abuse is a common problem among truck drivers. To determine the effect of drugs and alcohol in trucking accidents, the National Transportation Safety Board collaborated with The National Institute on Drug Abuse to study fatal-to-the-driver trucking accidents in eight states.

29,862 truck drivers failed drug tests

Researchers investigated the deaths of 168 truck drivers who were killed in fatal crashes within one year. The study collected blood specimens obtained from the fatally injured drivers and ran comprehensive drug screens. These drug screens showed a high incidence of drug and alcohol use among the truck drivers who were killed.

The study found that:

  • 67% of the drivers had one or more drugs in their system
  • 33% of the drivers had psychoactive drugs or alcohol in their blood
  • Cannabinoids or ethanol were detected in 13% of the specimens
  • Cocaine or benzoylecgonine were found in 8% of the drivers
  • Amphetamine or methamphetamine were identified in 7% of the blood samples
  • Phenylpropanolamine, ephedrine, or pseudoephedrine was discovered in 7% of the specimens

The researchers also determined that the driver’s impairment contributed to the fatal crash in 50 of the 56 cases where psychoactive drugs or alcohol were detected. While this study was nearly 30 years ago, drug and alcohol abuse remains a continuing problem in the trucking industry.

In fact, FMCSA reported that 29,862 truck drivers failed drug tests or refused to take them in the first 6 months of 2020 alone. The report also noted that 684 drivers tested positive for alcohol or refused to take a required alcohol test.

No matter the cause of the crash, if you have been injured in a truck accident, you may be entitled to receive compensation. If you’re interested in pursuing a car accident claim, you should schedule a free consultation with a reputable personal injury law firm near you to determine the merit of your case.

Amy Grover is a licensed attorney in the state of Ohio. After graduating magna cum laude from the University of Cincinnati College of Law, then passing the bar exam in 2014, Amy began her diverse career as a practicing attorney. Amy has a range of experience in the legal field, including work with the Department... Read More >>