About 1 in 10 highway deaths occurs in a crash involving a large truck.
Based on their numbers on the road and on the amount they travel, large trucks (tractor-trailers, single-unit trucks, and some cargo vans weighing more than 10,000 pounds) account for more than their share of highway deaths. Large trucks have higher fatal crash rates per mile traveled than passenger vehicles, although a higher percentage of large truck travel occurs on interstates, the safest roads.
Most deaths in large truck crashes are passenger vehicle occupants rather than occupants of large trucks. The main problem is the vulnerability of people traveling in smaller vehicles. Trucks often weigh 20-30 times as much as passenger cars.
Truck braking capability can be a factor in truck crashes. Loaded tractor-trailers take 20-40 percent farther than cars to stop, and the discrepancy is greater when trailers are empty, on wet and slippery roads, or with poorly maintained brakes.
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. 1987. Heavy truck safety study. Report no. DOT HS 807 109. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Transportation.
Truck driver fatigue also is a known crash risk. Drivers of large trucks are allowed by federal hours-of-service regulations to drive up to 11 hours at a stretch and up to 77 hours over a 7-day period. Surveys indicate that many drivers violate the regulations and work longer than permitted.
Braver, E.R.; Preusser, C.W.; Preusser, D.F.; Baum, H.M.; Beilock, R.; and Ulmer, R. 1992. Long hours and fatigue: a survey of tractor-trailer drivers. Journal of Public Health Policy 13 (3): 341-366.
McCartt, A.T.; Hammer, M.C.; and Fuller, S.Z. 1997. Work and sleep/rest factors associated with driving while drowsy: experiences among long-distance truck drivers. Proceedings of the 41st Annual Conference of the Association for the Advancement of Automotive Medicine, 95-108. Des Plaines, IL: Association for the Advancement of Automotive Medicine.
McCartt, A.T.; Hellinga L.A.; and Solomon, M.G. 2005. Work schedules before and after 2004 hours-of-service rule change and predictors of reported rule violations in 2004: survey of long-distance truck drivers. Proceedings of the 2005 International Truck and Bus Safety and Security Symposium, in press. Itasca, IL: National Safety Council.
The following facts are based on analysis of data from the U.S. Department of Transportation's Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS).
A total of 4,812 people died in large truck crashes in 2006. Sixteen percent of these deaths were truck occupants, 71 percent were occupants of cars and other passenger vehicles, and 12 percent were pedestrians, bicyclists, or motorcyclists. Large truck crash deaths have declined 26 percent overall since 1979, when they were at an all-time high. There has been a greater percentage decline among occupants of large trucks (45 percent) than among occupants of passenger vehicles (19 percent).
Deaths in crashes involving large trucks, 1975-2006
Ninety-eight percent of vehicle occupants killed in two-vehicle crashes involving a passenger vehicle and a large truck in 2006 were occupants of the passenger vehicles.
Large trucks accounted for 4 percent of registered vehicles and 7 percent of miles traveled in 20065. Eleven percent of motor vehicle crash deaths in 2006 occurred in large truck crashes.
Seventy-three percent of deaths in large truck crashes in 2006 were in crashes involving tractor-trailers and 28 percent were in crashes involving single-unit trucks.
Sixty-seven percent of large truck occupants killed in multiple-vehicle crashes in 2006 occurred in collisions involving another large truck.
Eleven percent of all passenger vehicle occupant deaths and 23 percent of passenger vehicle occupant deaths in multiple-vehicle crashes in 2006 occurred in crashes with large trucks.
Among vehicle occupants killed in large truck crashes, both the rate of passenger vehicle occupant deaths per truck mile traveled
Federal Highway Administration. 2007. Highway statistics, 2006. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Transportation. Available: http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/policy/ohim/hs06/pdf/vm1.pdf .
and the rate of large truck occupant deaths per truck mile traveled declined substantially from 1975 to 2006. The percentage decline in the death rate for large truck occupants (70 percent) exceeded the percentage decline in the rate for passenger vehicle occupants (55 percent).
Vehicle occupant deaths in large truck crashes per 100 million truck miles traveled, 1975-2006
Fifty-nine percent of deaths in large truck crashes in 2006 occurred on major roads other than interstates and freeways, 29 percent occurred on interstates and freeways, and 10 percent occurred on minor roads.
Sixty-five percent of large truck crash deaths in 2006 occurred during the day (6am to 6pm), compared with 46 percent of crash deaths involving other types of vehicles.
Sixteen percent of large truck crash deaths in 2006 occurred on Saturday and Sunday, compared with 38 percent of crash deaths involving other types of vehicles.
Fifty-three percent of large truck occupant deaths in 2006 occurred in crashes in which their vehicles rolled over. This was lower than the percentage of SUV occupant deaths (59 percent) that occurred in rollover crashes and higher than the percentage of occupant deaths in pickups (48 percent) and cars (25 percent) involving rollovers.
Sixty-one percent of large truck occupant deaths in 2006 occurred in single vehicle crashes, compared with 51 percent of passenger vehicle occupant deaths.
Seventeen percent of large trucks in fatal crashes in 2006 were involved in single-vehicle crashes; in contrast, 40 percent of passenger vehicles in fatal crashes were involved in single-vehicle crashes.
Thirty-four percent of fatally injured large truck drivers in 2006 were using seat belts, compared with 42 percent of fatally injured passenger vehicle drivers. Belt use was unknown for 21 percent of fatally injured large truck drivers, compared with 7 percent of fatally injured passenger vehicle drivers.
In contrast with passenger vehicle drivers, large truck drivers killed in fatal crashes rarely have high blood alcohol concentrations (BACs). Truck drivers are subject to strict government regulations concerning drinking and driving. Only 5 percent of fatally injured large truck drivers in 2006 had BACs at or above 0.08 percent, down from 17 percent in 1982. Thirty-three percent of fatally injured passenger vehicle drivers in 2006 had BACs at or above 0.08 percent, compared with 51 percent in 1982.
©1996-2015, Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, Highway Loss Data Institute | www.iihs.org
Subscribe to news updates
Watch our channel
Mobile ratings & news