Causes of Commercial Truck Accidents

By Peter DePaolis

According to, about 5,000 people are killed in truck accidents annually in the United States. Understanding what causes commercial truck accidents can aid in preventing them. To help pinpoint the most common causes of truck accidents, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s (DOT’s) Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), along with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), completed a large truck crash causation study. The agencies investigated a total of 967 crashes involving 1,127 large trucks, 959 non-truck motor vehicles, 251 fatalities, and 1,408 injuries.

Brake and Tire Defects

In its executive summary of the large truck crash causation study, the FMCSA reports that nearly 30 percent of the trucks involved in crashes experienced brake problems. Brake failure can result from:

  • A manufacturing defect
  • Failure to properly maintain all components of the brake system
  • Overloading the truck
  • Operator error

While brake failure contributes to a significant number of commercial truck accidents, tire failure can also cause a large truck to crash. As such, it is important for trucking companies to properly maintain tires and to stay abreast of tire recalls, just as it is important for truck drivers to perform pre-trip tire inspections. Maintenance mistakes that can lead to a tire blowout on a commercial truck include:

  • Driving on tires that do not meet the minimum tread depth as required by the DOT
  • Installing mismatched tire sizes or tires with significantly different wear
  • Using both bias and radial tires on the same axle

If the truck accident that caused your injuries was the result of brake or tire failure, you may be entitled to compensation from the truck driver, the trucking company and/or the auto part manufacturer. An experienced personal injury attorney can advise you of your legal rights.

Driver Error

While some truck accidents are caused by defective auto parts, most are caused by driver error. According to the FMCSA’s congressional report concerning the large truck crash causation study, “an action or inaction by the drivers of the truck or the other vehicles involved were important reasons leading to crashes in a large majority of the cases.”

As revealed by the large truck crash causation study, some of the most common truck driver errors that contribute to accidents are:

  • Driving under the influence of prescription or over-the-counter drugs
  • Crossing the lane line or going off the road
  • Driving too fast for the conditions
  • Becoming distracted by something inside or outside the vehicle
  • Falling asleep or experiencing driver fatigue
  • Misjudging the speed of other vehicles
  • Following vehicles too closely
  • Freezing up or overcompensating when dealing with a hazardous situation

However, non-truck drivers cause truck accidents too. In fact, in the large truck crash causation study, the passenger vehicle was the critical reason for the crash in 56 percent of accidents involving a large truck and passenger vehicle. Just like truck drivers, motorists can become fatigued, make illegal or dangerous maneuvers, drive under the influence of alcohol or drugs, become distracted, drive too fast, or react improperly to hazardous situations.

If you have been injured in any type of transportation accident, or if your loved one was killed in one, contact a qualified personal injury lawyer today to learn more about personal injury and wrongful death claims.

About the Author
Peter DePaolis joined the firm in 1980 and has since represented a large number of individuals involved in automobile collisions, truck accidents, bus crashes, defective products, and medical malpractice cases. A significant portion of Mr. DePaolis’ practice is devoted to working on behalf of people suffering from asbestosis, mesothelioma, and other asbestos-related cancers. He has led his firm’s fight against the asbestos industry and has recovered over $30 million in damages for asbestos victims and their families.