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Common Causes of Truck Accidents

Any traffic accident can lead to severe injuries and property losses, but the effects can be catastrophic when a tractor-trailer hits you. Injuries when an 80,000-pound vehicle slams into you can be life-changing or even deadly. Unfortunately, thousands of serious and often fatal commercial truck accidents happen yearly, with 5,700 people killed in 2021 alone. If the trucker or carrier were responsible for your injuries, you may be entitled to compensation for your damages and other losses.

There are many common causes of truck accidents, but whatever the reason, you don’t have to go through your claim or lawsuit alone. Our Nix Patterson truck accident attorneys will do everything we can to help you get compensation from those responsible for your damages.

Why Truck Accidents Happen

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) conducted the Large Truck Crash Causation Study to understand the reasons for serious truck crashes. From the 120,000 tractor-trailer accidents between April 2001 and December 2003, the study looked at 963 truck crashes that caused 249 deaths and 1,654 injuries. The reasons for those accidents are as follows:

Truck Driver Error

The top overall cause of truck accidents in the FMCSA study and others is different types of driver error. Driver error is estimated to be 10 times more likely to be a truck crash cause than anything else. The study pointed out four vital areas that lead to many truck accidents every year:

  • Nonperformance. The trucker fell asleep or was physically impaired for some reason.
  • Recognition. The truck driver was not paying attention, was distracted, or did not observe traffic conditions correctly for some reason.
  • Decision. The trucker was driving too fast for conditions, misjudged others’ speed, or followed other cars too closely.
  • Performance. The truck driver overreacted, panicked, or used improper direction control.

There are many types of truck driver errors that can fit into the above categories:

  • Speeding. Major carriers may use speed limiters or trackers, but smaller companies may not offer this technology. Speeding with a large vehicle is even more dangerous than with a car; the truck takes longer to stop and change direction, and drivers do not have as much control. Truckers who speed are reckless, and if they cause an accident, this will be considered a contributing factor.
  • Distracted driving. Like speeding, distracted driving is hazardous and illegal. With the massive size of a big rig, being distracted is even more dangerous and potentially deadly. Drivers who text or check their GPS when moving can cause fatal accidents and tens of thousands of dollars in property damage.
  • Aggressive driving. Truckers must drive long distances and are driving for many hours. When they can be under stress to meet a busy schedule, they can be more likely to get impatient and drive aggressively. If a driver tailgates, fails to yield the right of way, or cuts a car driver off, they could injure or kill others.

Lack of Proper Driver Training

Driver error being the top reason for truck accidents, but improper or inadequate driver training is another common cause. If carriers train their drivers better and for longer, fewer driver error-related accidents would likely occur.

Over the next several decades, tractor-trailers will move up to haul 40% more freight than they do now, per the Department of Transportation. The greater the volume of vehicles on the road, combined with an inadequate number of drivers, is bound to increase the temptation for carriers to hire less experienced truck drivers.

Truck Driver Fatigue

Many truck accident sources state that truck crashes are often due to driver fatigue. Commercial truck drivers have limits on the number of hours they can work and drive without a break. But some drivers break the rules, and their carriers may encourage them to push the limits to meet their delivery schedules. If it is determined that truck driver fatigue caused your accident, the driver and employer can be held liable.

Violated Federal Safety Regulations

There are many federal safety regulations that truckers violate that cause accidents. For example, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has rules that only allow drivers to operate their rigs for up to 11 hours after they have taken 10 hours of consecutive rest. Passenger-carrying drivers can only drive for up to 10 hours before taking eight hours of rest.

Despite the strict FMCSA rules, truckers and trucking companies still flout the rules and cause accidents. Examining the truckers’ electronic driving record in the cab can be critical evidence in determining truck accident liability.

Poor Vehicle Maintenance

A truck driver can be highly trained and experienced but is only as good as his or her equipment. A problem with the truck could lead to a severe or fatal crash. A recent insurance company study found that in 55% of truck crashes with injury the truck had at least one mechanical issue. The same study also found that 30% of big rigs had at least one equipment problem that should have triggered an out-of-service work order. The most common vehicle maintenance and failure issues were:

  • Brake problems
  • Worn or improperly inflated tires
  • Missing or defective safety equipment, such as underride guards
  • Faulty headlights or turn signals
  • Poor overall truck maintenance
  • Wrongly secured or unbalanced cargo
  • Part manufacturing problems

The FMCSA requires all truckers to perform a pre-drive inspection, regular checks, and maintenance all year. If the trucker or carrier did not perform the necessary checks and maintenance, they could be held liable in a truck accident lawsuit.

Cargo Securement Problems

Improperly secured cargo can cause many problems on the road: cargo shift, overloaded trailers, unbalanced weight distribution, and potentially, truck rollover or cargo spill accidents.

Determining that a cargo load is secured correctly and at the correct weight is essential when avoiding truck accidents. If another company loaded the trailer, they may be another defendant to consider suing in your lawsuit.


Far too many truck accidents have drug or alcohol abuse as a contributing factor. Truckers should be screened for substance abuse problems when hired and regularly screened. But some drivers still abuse drugs or alcohol when behind the wheel – a terrifying thought when the vehicle weighs up to 80,000 pounds and travels at 65 or 70 MPH.

Road Conditions

Poor weather or road conditions also lead to many truck accidents. Rain, ice, and snow can cut visibility and traction, making the road slippery and increasing the chances of accidents. However, truck drivers are held to a higher standard because they possess a commercial driver’s license. Drivers should know to slow down, drive more carefully, and use extra caution in bad weather to avoid accidents.

On top of these reasons, the FMCSA study found a number of secondary factors that contributed to accidents. Those include:

  1. Brake problems
  2. Traffic flow issues
  3. Not knowing the route or roadway
  4. Roadway problems
  5. Stop required before a crash, such as at a crosswalk
  6. Inadequate traffic surveillance

Truck Accident Liability

One possible complicating factor in a truck accident is that many people and entities could bear partial or total responsibility for the crash. A Nix Patterson truck crash attorney will review various data and information after a commercial truck crash to determine legal responsibility. Some evidence the attorneys may review are:

  • Crash scene evidence
  • Police reports
  • Examination of the truck and other vehicles involved
  • Downloaded data from the truck’s black box
  • Cell phone records
  • Witness statements
  • Truckers’ driving log

Some parties that could be held responsible for the crash include the following. Keep in mind that several parties could be held jointly responsible for the accident:

  • Truck driver. The trucker could have caused the crash for one of the reasons above, including driver fatigue, driver error, speeding, or distracted driving. There also could be a criminal case against the driver that is separate from your civil claim.
  • Carrier. The employer is responsible for the rigs and drivers it places on the road, including accountability for training and hiring practices. If the company hires drivers with previous infractions, they may be held accountable.
  • Cargo loader and shipper. Some trucking carriers are contracted to ship goods by other companies. They could be moving cargo that is sealed the entire time they move it. In this case, each party in this arrangement would be expected to follow state and federal regulations that apply. Either company can be held liable if negligence is established.
  • Other vendors. Depending on the size of the trucking company, there may be many other vendors that could potentially share liability, such as a driver training company, a background check company,or a drug and alcohol testing company.
  • Truck manufacturer. Some big rig accidents happen because the truck or a component failed, with problems such as brake issues, tire blowouts, or issues with the coupling or steering system. A product liability claim could be in order in this case.

Contact an Experienced Truck Accident Lawyer Now

Were you injured in a truck accident? Do you suspect the truck driver or carrier was at fault for your injuries, lost work time, and pain and suffering? You need the assistance of an experienced truck accident attorney to hold the negligent parties responsible for their actions.

Our truck accident injury attorneys at Nix Patterson are fearless in going toe-to-toe with truck company attorneys and insurance companies. We will fight for every dollar of compensation for you and your family. Contact our attorneys today, and remember, you don’t have to pay unless we win your case.


Nix Patterson only works on a contingency fee basis. Our clients pay us nothing unless we win. Schedule a free consultation today. Call 512.328.5333 or complete the form below. 

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