Traffic accidents are a major cause of injuries and fatalities on the nation’s roads and highways. Even right here in Texas, with miles upon miles of sparsely populated roadways punctuated by bustling urban city centers, thousands of people are hurt or killed in wrecks each year.
However, there are a lot of different factors that contribute to car and truck accidents. In Texas, 2014 data from the Texas Department of Transportation shows that the statewide causes include everything from a wild animal in the road (6,717 crashes) to unsafe lane changes (29,571 crashes). A big part of preventing accidents is understanding what causes them. To help you understand what causes dangerous motor vehicle accidents, here is an overview of the major contributing factors, both statewide and nationally.
Top Five Contributing Factors to Texas Car Crashes
According to the Texas Department of Transportation, these are the top five factors that contributed to a motor vehicle crash in Texas in 2014, ordered by the total number of crashes:
- Failure to control speed: 125,126 total crashes with 452 fatalities
- Distracted driving: 91,833 total crashes with 346 fatalities
- Failure to drive in a single lane: 32,937 total crashes with 520 fatalities
- Changing lanes when unsafe: 29,571 total crashes with 54 fatalities
- Failure to yield when turning left: 28,713 total crashes with 87 fatalities
The Texas Department of Transportation also broke down crash data by looking at contributing factors for both urban and rural crashes. While there were some minor variances in the major factors and the numbers, the contributing causes were largely the same, with speeding, driver inattention, and unsafe maneuvers on the ranking highly in both city and countryside.
Other Major Factors in Motor Vehicle Accidents Nationwide
While the contributing factors above may be the most common in Texas, there are many other factors that contribute to the hundreds of thousands of accidents that occur nationwide each year. These include:
- Driver performance. Drivers who are overtired, distracted, rushing to get to a destination, or under the influence of alcohol or prescription medication are all traveling down the nation’s highways as we speak. These kinds of choices affect the driver’s ability to operate a car or truck safely and also affect the safety of everyone sharing the road.
- Weather and road conditions. Bad weather might include rain, snowstorms, high wind, or fog. These kinds of weather conditions can cause wet roads, icy roads, reduced visibility, and other issues that make driving dangerous. Road conditions that aren’t related to the weather can also contribute to accidents, such as potholes, poorly maintained surfacing, missing guardrails, obstructed signage, and other issues.
- Careless or reckless driving. Speeding and unsafe lane changes are leading crash factors in Texas, but there are a number of other unsafe decisions drivers can make on the road. Any time a driver fails to follow traffic laws, drives recklessly, makes sudden decisions behind the wheel, or chooses to drive under the influence of drugs or alcohol, it potentially puts other people at risk.
- Mechanical problems. Problems with brakes, tires, and other vehicle parts and features can contribute to accidents. These kinds of problems can crop up when vehicles aren’t maintained or serviced regularly, or there may even be auto manufacturing defects that the vehicle’s owner is unaware of until after an accident has already happened.
Contributing Factors in Truck and 18-Wheeler Crashes
While crashes of all kinds claim lives, tractor-trailer accidents are a major contributor to death and serious injury across the nation. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), nearly one in four fatal multiple-vehicle collisions involve a tractor-trailer or other large truck. Not only that, but the occupants of passenger vehicles are far more likely than the occupants of large trucks to be severely injured or killed in an accident. According to IIHS data, 3,660 people died in large truck crashes in 2014, and 83 percent of those deaths were the occupants of smaller passenger vehicles, pedestrians, bicyclists, or motorcyclists.
Unfortunately, it can be particularly difficult to narrow down the exact causes of major truck accidents, and there can be hundreds of potential factors to consider. However, an accident with a large truck can be very unlike an accident with another passenger vehicle, and there are some contributing factors that are unique to large commercial trucks. For example, here are some of the main factors that may figure into tractor-trailer and large truck accidents:
- Driving while drowsy. Truck drivers spend a great deal of time behind the wheel, and there is always pressure for them to get where they are going as fast as possible. This can mean that some drivers push themselves harder than they should, physically and mentally. Federal regulations exist to prevent drivers from getting behind the wheel of an 18-wheeler when they are too tired to drive, but unfortunately laws are not always enough. The facts are clear: fatigued drivers are dangerous drivers. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) estimates that more than 750 people die and 20,000 more are injured each year due to fatigued commercial vehicle drivers.
- Failing to properly inspect trucks. All trucks should receive regular inspections to comply with state and federal regulations. To ensure safety, drivers should inspect their vehicle before every trip. Brake conditions should be checked regularly, as well as tire pressure and condition, brake and engine fluids, lights, and turn signals. All mirrors should be properly adjusted. Failure to complete basic maintenance or regularly inspect a large truck can lead to equipment failure, which can be deadly when it happens at 65 miles per hour.
- Not watching blind spots. All large trucks have blind spots, but not every driver watches his blind spots vigilantly. Other vehicle drivers often don’t realize exactly where a tractor-trailer’s blind spots or know how large they are, which is why about a third of all truck-versus-car crashes involve the truck’s blind spot. Because of this, truck drivers need to use extra care when changing lanes or performing other maneuvers that could harm a vehicle in their blind spots.
- Inadequate stopping distance. Some drivers “tailgate,” which means they don’t leave enough room between their large truck and the car in front of them. Because tractor-trailers require more room to stop than smaller vehicles, tailgating can lead to a serious accident should the truck need to come to a stop quickly.
- Drugs and alcohol. Impaired truckers are a safety hazard on our roadways. That is why the rules are designed to keep impaired truckers off of our roadways. A major section of the federal trucking regulations deals with controlled substances, alcohol use, and intoxicated driving. These rules are very detailed; they discuss testing procedures, timing requirements, and many other factors. The rules also call for post-accident testing of drivers who may be impaired. Keep in mind, too, that the effects of over-the-counter and prescription drugs can also impact driving safety.
- Unqualified, untrained, and unsupervised drivers. Drivers who don’t have the qualifications, training, or feedback they need to do their jobs well are also going to have a hard time operating a large, heavy truck safely and avoiding accidents. Trucking regulations include specific requirements for hiring, training, and supervising commercial truck drivers, but not all trucking companies are necessarily playing by the rules.
- Overloaded trailers. An overloaded trailer will increase both a truck’s stopping time and its force of impact. Even so, some truckers and trucking companies willingly overload their trucks and put others at risk. The size of a truck, its weight, and the load it carries can all contribute to an accident when regulations and recommendations for use aren’t followed appropriately.
- Violating other trucking regulations. There are hundreds of complicated laws and regulations that truckers and trucking companies must follow, and these rules have been designed to protect the safety of drivers and the driving public. When companies ignore these rules or put other goals ahead of safety, it puts other drivers, cyclists, motorcyclists, and pedestrians at risk.
Some factors that contribute to large truck accidents happen immediately before the crash takes place, such as a tire blowout, snowfall, or sudden traffic decisions. However, some of these contributing factors can start weeks or months before an accident, such as issues with driver training or truck maintenance. Overall, researchers have found that there is typically more than one factor involved in injury-causing or fatal truck crashes, making it even more difficult to directly address core safety issues in the trucking industry.
88% of Truck Accidents Are Caused by Driver Error
However, there is one thing that overwhelmingly contributes to truck wrecks. Driver behavior is more than ten times as likely to contribute to a tractor-trailer crash as other factors, like weather, road conditions, or vehicle performance. This fact was revealed in a Large Truck Crash Causation Study by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), the agency whose primary mission is to reduce crashes, injuries, and fatalities involving large trucks and buses.
This unprecedented study revealed that, in 88 percent of the crashes studied, driver error was the reason for the accident. This includes factors such as the use of drugs (prescription and over-the-counter), excessive speed, driving while tired, driver inattention, distracted driving, the nature of trucking work environments, and lack of familiarity with the road. While this information may not seem all that surprising, given the number of trucks on the road and the nature of the work, it’s important to remember that traffic crashes involving driver errors are ultimately preventable accidents.
At VB Attorneys, we know that many crash victims have questions about what caused an accident or what their rights are after they’ve been hurt. If you need answers, or if you need help investigating the reasons for a wreck that injured you or a family member, don’t hesitate to reach out for help. Our experienced attorneys have been instrumental in helping the victims of car and truck accidents get the compensation they deserve after serious accidents, and we have many years of experience investigating the circumstances and contributing factors. For more information, call our law office today at 1-877-724-7800, or request a copy of our helpful book, The Truth About Texas Car, Truck, and Motorcycle Accident Cases.