Fatalities From Large Truck Crashes

Large trucks account for a disproportionately large share of traffic deaths based on miles traveled. The fatal crash rate for large trucks is 50 percent greater than the rate for all vehicles on the roads.

Large Trucks

Fatalities from large truck crashes have increased approximately 10 percent from 1995 through 1998, moving up from 4,918 deaths in 1995 to 5,374 deaths in 1998. Large trucks - including tractor-trailers, single-unit trucks and certain heavy cargo vans with gross weight more than 10,000 pounds - account for a disproportionately large share of traffic deaths based on miles traveled. The fatal crash rate for large trucks is 2.6 deaths per 100 million vehicle miles traveled more than 50 percent greater than the rate for all vehicles on the roads.

People in passenger vehicles are especially vulnerable in collisions with large trucks because of the great difference in weight between cars and large trucks. In 1998, ninety-eight percent of the fatalities in two-vehicle crashes involving passenger vehicles and large trucks were occupants of the passenger vehicle. Large truck safety is an important concern for all highway motorists.


  • 5,374 people were killed in crashes involving large trucks in 1998, representing thirteen percent of all traffic fatalities. Of these, 78 percent were occupants of another vehicle, 14 percent were large truck occupants and 8 percent were non-occupants. An additional 123,000 people were injured in those crashes. (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, or NHTSA)
  • In 1997, large trucks made up three percent of all registered vehicles and seven percent of all vehicle miles traveled. Yet, large trucks constituted nine percent of all vehicles involved in fatal crashes, and four percent of all vehicles involved in injury and property-damage-only crashes that year. (NHTSA, 1999)
  • In 1998, large trucks were more likely to be involved in a fatal multiple-vehicle crashes opposed to a single-vehicle crash than were passenger vehicles (84 percent of all large trucks in fatal crashes, compared with 62 percent of all passenger vehicles). (NHTSA, 1999)
  • One out of eight traffic crash fatalities in 1998 was the result of a collision involving a large truck. (NHTSA, 1999)
  • Most of the fatal crashes involving large trucks occur in rural areas (67 percent), during the day (68 percent) and on weekdays (80 percent). (NHTSA, 1999)
  • A loaded tractor-trailer requires 20-40 percent further stopping distance than a car. With an empty trailer, the discrepancy between the truck and the car is even greater. (NHTSA, 1999)
  • Of the trucks with out-of-service violations, more than one-third of them have problems with brakes. (Federal Highway Administration, 1998)
  • All new tractors and trailers are required to have anti-lock brakes. Anti-lock braking systems are effective in preventing wheel lock and loss of steering in emergency stopping, especially on wet roads.
  • Federal regulations allow drivers of large trucks to drive up to 16 hours a day. However, drivers under the regulations can compile 60 hours in less than five days by alternating ten hours of maximum permitted continuous driving with the minimum eight hours off duty. Surveys reveal that many drivers of large trucks violate the regulations on hours of service. Studies also show that driver fatigue plays a role in large truck crashes and that drivers are more likely to crash after many long hours of driving. (IIHS) The Department of Transportation is currently considering a revision of these hours-of-service rules.
  • Almost 30 percent of large truck drivers involved in fatal crashes in 1998 had at least one prior conviction for speeding, compared to slightly less than 20 percent of the passenger vehicle drivers in fatal crashes. (NHTSA, 1999)


Antilock Brakes

Antilock brakes have been proven to be very effective in preventing wheel lock and loss of steering control in emergency stopping, particularly on wet roads. Anti-lock brakes also help the driver keep better control of the vehicle in a skid, and may help prevent a motor vehicle from going off of the road, a key factor in rollover crashes. Advocates believes that antilock brakes should be incorporated in all passenger cars and required in all commercial vehicles, including trucks.

Cab Safety

Truck cabs currently do not have to meet safety standards for passenger cars, including occupant protection standards requiring the installation of three-point belts and air bags. Advocates supports standards that increase the crashworthiness of truck cabs through improvements to interior features of cabs and cab integrity, as well as requiring occupant restraints and three-point safety belt systems. (Adopted April 1992)

Commercial Drivers License

Until the implementation of the Commercial Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 1986, truck drivers were able to acquire multiple drivers licenses from different states in order to avoid license suspension or other penalties as a result of numerous traffic violations. This act limits commercial drivers to no more than one license (from their home state), increases uniformity among the states' testing and licensing programs and creates a national network allowing states to quickly check a driver's record. Advocates supports the Commercial Drivers License program and the national network that allows prompt and effective tracking of the driving records of commercial drivers and the prompt license suspension of serious offenders. Advocates strongly opposes efforts to allow any additional exemptions from the program other than those allowed under the original legislation. (Adopted April 1992)

Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Regulations

Recent rulemaking proposals from the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) will weaken the stringency of motor carrier safety requirements for hours of service and driver qualifications. Some of the proposals would decrease federal oversight of both trucks and drivers by eliminating certain reporting requirements. In addition, the agency plans, in the future, to review the entire corpus of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations. Advocates opposes any weakening of current federal rules on hours of service, driver qualifications and vehicle safety measures.

On-board recorders that track the hours of operation of heavy trucks help to enforce hours-of-service regulations and reduce crashes due to driver fatigue. Advocates supports requiring on-board recorders to keep automatic records of truck operations. (Adopted April 1992)

Hazardous Materials Transportation

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, each year more than four billion tons of hazardous materials are hauled on U.S. roadways, some 500,000 daily shipments. In 1990, DOT received reports of about 8,500 mishaps in these shipments. Advocates supports rigorous standards for the transportation of hazardous materials to assure adequate protection for those transporting such materials and other highway users.

Gasoline, diesel and fuel oil shipments compromise more than 95 percent of all hazardous materials trips in the U.S. The federal government should establish standards for the transport of non-radioactive hazardous materials, especially of combustible fuels by tank trucks. (Adopted December 1992)

Motor Carrier Safety Assistance Program

Since the inception of the Motor Carrier Safety Assistance Program (MCSAP) in 1982, the number of trucks inspected for conformance with Federal motor carrier safety regulations has been increased by a factor of ten. However, the percentage of carriers and drivers receiving out-of-service citations has not decreased. Almost one-third of the inspections result in citations for vehicle equipment or hours of service violations. In addition, the program inspects only a small minority of the trucks on the road. Advocates urges strengthening the MCSAP program at both the federal and state level to increase the number of vehicles and drivers inspected and to decrease the percentage of out-of-service violations.

Overweight and oversized vehicles violating federal and state restrictions continue to endanger other highway users and inflict enormous damage to our roads and bridges. Advocates supports the extension of the MCSAP program to include MCSAP size and weight inspection and certification actions and supports full funding and implementation of these provisions. (Adopted April 1992)

Radar Detectors

Truck Conspicuity and Lighting Display

Regulations governing truck lighting requirements for both cab and cargo unit are inadequate and have not changed since the 1940s. Many drivers, especially the elderly with lower contrast sensitivity and poorer night vision, do not detect trucks in enough time to avoid crashes.

Improvements to truck cab and trailer lighting and reflectivity will increase their visibility and prevent crashes by providing early detection and recognition of trucks by motorists. Advocates supports federal rules improving truck exterior lighting and establishing an easily-visible lighting "signature" for trucks to improve motorist detection and judgment of the presence, speed and headway of trucks. (Adopted April 1992)

Truck Size and Weight Limits

Over the past four decades, the United States has increasingly relied on truck transportation to move both industrial and consumer goods. The creation of the Interstate Highway System facilitated a vast increase in truck commerce, and has resulted in Congressional approval for larger, longer and heavier vehicles on the nation's highways. At the same time, the average size and weight of passenger vehicles has declined, making the vehicle mix more disparate and contributing to the highway safety problem.

When tractor-trailers are operated in an unsafe manner, other motorists are likely to be the victims. Of the 5,031 people who died in large truck crashes in 1996, only 12% were truck occupants. In crashes involving a large truck and a passenger vehicle, 98% of the fatalities were the occupants of cars, vans, pickup trucks or sport utility vehicles.

Multi-trailer trucks are involved in much more serious crashes than single-unit trucks or typical tractor-trailer combinations because of their tendencies to jackknife, rollover, and suffer trailer separations. Advocates supports the legislated "freeze" on the spread of these Longer Combination Vehicles such as Turnpike Doubles and Triple-Trailers outside the states where they currently operate. Advocates also opposes attempts at the state or federal levels to increase the maximum sizes and weights of commercial vehicles and supports efforts to control truck sizes and weights in order to enhance highway safety.
(Amended April 1994)
(Amended December 1996)

Truck Tires

Adequate tires on heavy trucks are essential to assure the consistent and safe operation of heavy trucks, prevent the need for emergency handling procedures due to tire blow-outs, and to minimize damage from wear and tear on roadways. Advocates supports requirements to upgrade the quality and reliability of truck tires (e.g., carcass design and tread depth) to improve skid resistance, stopping performance and fuel efficiency per payload, to mitigate damage to highway pavement and to assure the optimal performance of antilock brake systems. (Adopted April 1992)

Truck Underride/Override Protection

In 1989, approximately 700 passenger car and light truck fatalities were due to side and rear impacts with large trucks. Small vehicles involved in side- and rear- crashes with large trucks have much higher than average frequency of serious physical injury. The front ends of passenger vehicles often slide underneath the cargo units of large trucks; in some cases, the passenger compartment is sheared off. Passenger vehicles are also subject to front underride of large trucks as well as rear override by large trucks; both situations result in serious injuries and fatalities to occupants of the passenger vehicles.

Truck underride and override guards can substantially mitigate the severity of passenger vehicles-large truck crashes. Advocates supports federal requirements that underride protection be installed on large trucks. This protection should begin with energy-absorbing rear underride guards that are adequate for preventing passenger vehicles from underriding large trucks. These guards should be required to meet dynamic performance standards. Advocates supports NHTSA research into and consideration of protective guards to prevent side underride, front underride and truck override protection. (Adopted April 1992)

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I can say with that with the exception of a few science fiction books, I've never read so much biased, unmidigated hogswallop in my life. Hate of anything and the ability to place it in a web page can be a very dangerous commodity in any society. You staggers me that you and people of you ilk still love to hate the very things that provide for you each and every day. Grow up

I have just completed a 3K trip on the US East Coast. I have witnessed more reckless driving and speeding from semi drivers than anyone else on the road. Motorists need to stand up for their rights and take on the trucking lobby to make sure we can continue to drive on our highways safely.

I appreciate the basis of your article - that accidents involving large trucks are a major safety concern in the US. However, if you research the subject, you'll find that every one of your 'citations' are already industry standards for truck drivers. For example, hazardous materials must be transported by a qualified CDL holder with a Hazmat Endorsement who has passed Federal background and fingerprinting checks. Trailers have been required to have 'ICC Bars or DOT Bumpers' to prevent smaller vehicles from being crushed underneath. It is statistically proven that most car-truck accidents involving a fatality are caused by the driver of the passenger car. Instead of harping about problems that have been solved for decades, we need to instill in the American public that driving around large trucks requires more skill, patience and intuition than driving with other cars. For more info, check out the FMCSA's (Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration) website on the subject: http://www.sharetheroadsafely.org/.

Your stats are near total falsehoods. Based on stats of miles/km driven transport trucks have far fewer accidents than cars. Transport drivers are proffessional and trained v/s car drivers that take many liberties on the road. Transport drivers are regulated and car drives are not. The facts are available if you care to take a minute to read them.

PLEASE GOOGLE 'DEFORMABLE KINGPIN' that explains a simple to understand solution to forbid a tractor to follow into destruction during rollover events. The concept is the same as to why you have fuses or circuit breakers in electrical systems in your home, office or car -- a failsafe -- to prevent further destruction. This innovation is a simple modification of a component, the trailer

Driving a truck requires more than a 4-6 week course to learn thwe driving skills of the professional driver. The driving skills of the typical graduate are questionable at best. New commercial drivers are ill prepared to deal with adverse conditions just as young drivers who just obtained a regular licence are. Put both factions together and it is a recipe for disaster.
Angry motorist should be looking to the Federal DOT to address the untrained drivers who are driving both cars and trucks who have graduated out of some of these so called driving schools. Shouldn't the schools be held accountable for giving these young drivers false confidences? Why do we not start at the root of the problem instead of stereotyping all truck drivers as 'bad drivers' Open your eyes people!

If you see large truck ahead of you, you should keep your distance.. Dont tailgating on the large truck.

I think it depends on what kind of car you drive, it predicts how they react to you as well, when I drove a mustang, and a Mazda RX7 no one ever pulled out in front of me or cut me off or turned in front of me, now I drive a HONDA CIVIC and they always cut me off, tailgate me, turn in front of me etc. And I not just talking about semi's I also mean SUV pickup truck and all kinds of trucks. They also give me the finger like they never did in the other cars. I dont like the fact that they perceive my honda as slow as a slug; it is a stick shift like my RX7 and my mustang had a V-8. I just think people are more rude in general now days and that includes all drivers -- not just truckers.

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