Accidents between large commercial trucks and passenger cars generally spell bad news for the passenger car. Fortunately, large commercial trucks are only involved in about 2.4 percent of all car accidents and are three times less likely to be in an accident compared to a regular motor vehicle. But when those accidents do occur, they are severe. Data from the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration shows how disastrous accidents involving large trucks can be. In 2008 there were 4,229 fatalities as a result of accidents involving large trucks, a number that accounts for 11 percent of all traffic fatalities reported in that year, or one out of every nine traffic fatalities for the year. Another 90,000 people suffered injuries as a result of those accidents. The data also backs up what common sense tells us: that the deaths resulting from accidents involving commercial trucks overwhelming affect the occupants of the smaller vehicle — a full 74 percent of the fatalities involved occupants of another vehicle.
Many of these accidents could be avoided with better operator safety, which means improving truck driver safety by addressing some of the key issues that are responsible for commercial truck accidents: long working hours, lack of rest that causes fatigue while driving, lack of appropriate monitoring of driver logs, and disincentives—such as pay by the mile—to follow traffic laws.
While stronger enforcement and more responsible truck drivers can curb the number and severity of accidents, there are also several things that drivers of passenger cars can do to prevent accidents involving large commercial trucks. In fact, it is estimated that more than 75 percent of truck driving accidents are the fault of the passenger vehicle. So, to make sure you stay safe on the road, follow some basic safety tips:
- Be aware that large trucks behave differently on the road than cars. You should always approach trucks with caution and be alert to their movements.
- Stay out of a commercial truck’s blind spots. Those signs that you see on the backs of trucks are correct: If you can’t see the truck’s mirrors, then the truck driver can’t see you.
- Do not cut in front of any large vehicle, including a truck or bus. Large vehicles that are loaded down require a much longer stopping distance and forcing these large vehicles to stop quickly can result in a fatal accident.
- Observe a truck’s turn signals before trying to pass it. If the truck appears to be starting a left turn, check which way the driver is signaling before passing the truck on the right. Remember that trucks have to swing wide to the left before turning right safely and you should not pass a truck on the right while the truck is turning right.
- Use proper procedures to pass a large truck or bus on the highway. Accelerate and maintain a consistent speed while passing and wait until you can see the entire cab in your rearview mirror before signaling and merging into its lane in front of it.
- Do not cut off a truck on the highway to reach your exit or turn.
- Call the authorities and the safe driving number posted on the back of many trucks to report unsafe driving when you observe it.
About the Editors: The Shapiro, Cooper, Lewis & Appleton personal injury law firm, which has offices in Virginia (VA) and North Carolina (NC), edits the injury law blogs Virginia Beach Injuryboard, Norfolk Injuryboard and Northeast North Carolina Injuryboard as pro bono services.