Who is causing the crashes?

By Tyson Fisher, staff writer

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has released its Large Truck and Bus Crash Facts for 2015. Here’s a breakdown of some of the most relevant findings for truck drivers.

Crash causes

Although who was at fault is nowhere to be found, FMCSA compiled stats that give us a look at what happened before and during the crashes.

The initial point of impact of the truck was in the front in more than half of fatal truck crashes, followed by the rear at 20 percent, left side at 10.2 percent, and the right side at

6.2 percent. Considering the lower rate of right-side crashes, it is possible that more crashes occur as a result of passenger vehicles passing trucks on the left side.

Perhaps the most revealing stat is comparing driver-related factors. When a truck rear-ends a passenger vehicle, both the trucker and car driver recorded driver-related factors 62.8 percent of the time. However, when a passenger vehicle rear-ends a truck, only 28.4 percent of truckers reported driver-related factors. The driver of the car? More than 90 percent had driver-related factors recorded.

Approximately two-thirds of fatal truck crashes reported another vehicle’s encroachment into a trucker’s lane or other vehicle in the truck’s lane as a “critical pre-crash event.” Only 21 percent of crashes involved a trucker losing control of the truck’s movement – e.g., crossing intersection, turning left or right, etc. Although fault is not determined, an argument can be made that passenger vehicles are the cause of these crashes, not large trucks, when looking at driver-related factors.

In fact, two-thirds of all fatal truck crashes reported no driver-related factors for the trucker. Narrowed down to distracted drivers, 94 percent of fatal truck crashes found the trucker was not distracted. Conversely, more than half (57 percent) of truck-car crashes found driver-related factors among the passenger vehicle drivers.

What about the vehicle itself? How many fatal crashes resulted from faulty equipment? For truckers, only 6 percent of fatal crashes involved vehicle-related factors, such as tires, brake system, etc. Four-wheelers have even less of an excuse. Only 3 percent of passenger vehicle fatal crashes reported vehicle-related factors.

A common gripe with local lawmakers is trucks parking on the side of the road. Approximately 5 percent of the fatal truck crashes involved a parked big rig.

Time, speed and location

More than half of fatal crashes involving trucks occurred at speeds between 50 and 65 mph. Less than 20 percent of fatal truck crashes were at speeds of 70-75 mph.

More than 60 percent of fatal crashes were in rural areas, 36 percent in urban areas, and the remaining unknown. This should not be too surprising as most of the nation is rural, with pockets of urban centers.

Also no surprise is when these fatal crashes were occurring. The vast majority of crashes happened during the day from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Split up in three-hour intervals, each time category within that time frame had approximately the same rate of crashes. Regarding days, the story was pretty much the same. Most crashes happened Monday through Friday. No one day or time had significantly more crashes than the other.

Although common wisdom tells people that weather is a major factor on the roadways, FMCSA’s crash stats suggest road conditions are not as big as a factor as one might think. More than 86 percent of fatal truck crashes occurred on a clear or cloudy day, with 82.5 percent on dry roads. Rain, snow and ice were prevalent in only a small percentage of crashes.

Per 1 million people, in which states are more fatal crashes occurring? By a large margin, North Dakota leads all states at 48.88 fatal crashes per 1 million people, followed by Wyoming at 37.54. States with the lowest rates include Rhode Island (0.95) and Alaska (1.35).

Fatal crashes

Fatal crashes involving large trucks went up 5 percent in 2015 compared to the previous year to 3,598. Over a five-year period, crashes were up 10 percent. However, crashes were down 21 percent over a 10-year period. The all-time high was in 1979 when there were 5,684 fatal truck crashes.

Compared to passenger vehicles, trucks fared slightly better. Fatal crashes with passenger vehicles increased by 7 percent in 2015, and also increased over five years and decreased over 10.

Across all motor vehicles, Americans drove nearly 4 trillion miles in 2015, an all-time high. Since records began in 1975, mileage has consistently increased year by year. Fatal truck crashes per 100 million vehicle miles traveled (VMT) was up slightly to 1.29. Regarding the number of trucks, the rate moved up to 1.45.

Passenger vehicle crashes per 100 million VMT was similar at 1.01 crashes and 1.37 vehicles. From 1975 to 2006, large trucks were involved in more fatal crashes per 100 million VMT. However, from 2007 to 2010, more passenger vehicles were involved. In 2014 and 2015, the rate between the two vehicle types was close to the same.

Truckers are driving more sober than passenger vehicle drivers. Only 1.5 percent of fatal truck crashes involved the trucker reporting a blood alcohol content greater than 0.08. However, 21 percent of passenger vehicle drivers involved in a fatal crash reported 0.08 or greater BAC.

Which types of truck cargo are involved in fatal crashes? According to the stats, van trailers (44.8 percent) led in type of cargo, followed by flatbeds at 10.2 percent. The ratio of dry vans to other trailer types could be a factor. More than half of crashes involved trucks less than 10 years old.


Injuries from truck crashes rose by 1 percent to 83,000 in 2015, up 48 percent over five years and an increase of 6 percent over a decade. For passenger vehicles, the injuries went up 4 percent to 1.652 million injuries, an 11 percent increase over five years and down nearly 6 percent over a decade.

Regarding the 100 million VMT rate, 29.5 crashes involved a rate of 31.2 trucks. For passenger vehicles the rate is more alarming. The rate among passenger vehicles is 59.4 crashes involving an average of 107.3 cars.

Since injury records began in 1995, the passenger vehicle 100 million VMT rate for number of vehicles involved in a fatal crash has been significantly higher than the truck rate, at times as much as three times higher. LL