Semi-Truck vs Car Accident Statistics in the U.S

April 14, 2023

Motor Vehicle and Semi-Truck Accident Statistics

In 2020, the most recent year the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) published data, there were 35,766 fatal motor vehicle crashes. This fatality rate is equivalent to 17.01 fatalities per 100,000 licensed drivers in the U.S., or 0.017%.

The NHTSA does not identify semi-trucks as a specific class, so trucking accident statistics are based on what the NHTSA calls "large trucks." 

The NHTSA defines a large truck as any medium or heavy truck weighing more than 10,000 pounds, except for buses and motor homes. Large trucks include commercial trucks and non-commercial trucks. For reference, a semi-truck with an empty trailer weighs roughly 35,000 pounds.

How Many Accidents per Year Are Caused by Semis

Based on the NHTSA's definition, 18-wheeler accident statistics and semi-truck accident statistics, as well as some commercial truck accident statistics, are captured by the category "large trucks." In 2020, the NHTSA released a report that showed large trucks were involved in crashes that killed 4,965 people and injured 146,930 others.

The number of people injured in these large truck accidents is down 8% between 2019 and 2020 from an estimated 159,359. Additionally, the number of people killed in 2020 decreased by 1% from the prior year's fatality rate.

In 2020, fatal truck crashes affected the following parties:

  • Large truck occupants, 17%
  • Other vehicle occupants, 71%
  • Nonoccupants, 13%

Of the 146,930 injuries from large truck accidents, the following parties were affected:

  • Large truck occupants, 31%
  • Other vehicle occupants, 68%
  • Nonoccupants, 2%

These "other vehicle occupants" include other vehicle types, such as passenger vehicle drivers and some single-unit trucks. 

How Many Accidents Are Caused by Cars

Fatal crashes involving cars claimed the lives of 42,338 people in 2020. The NHTSA does not separate the statistics by which vehicle type caused the accident. Instead, the statistics detail the number of car occupants who were killed in fatal accidents total.

The Most Common Truck Driver Accidents

There are countless causes of motor vehicle accidents. Passenger vehicle drivers cause some accidents. Other accidents are linked to poor policies set by trucking companies. These accidents can cause trucks to jackknife or rollover. Regardless of the cause of the accident, these crashes can result in property damage, severe injury, and death. 

Some of the most common causes of trucking accidents include speeding, exhaustion, bad weather, and driving under the influence of drugs and alcohol. 

Speeding and Distracted Driving

Governments set speed limits for a reason. When semi-truck drivers exceed the speed limit with their heavy loads, they put all other drivers on the road at risk. Even if the truck driver is exceptionally skilled, they cannot account for other drivers' potential errors. 

When distraction is introduced to the equation, the risk increases. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recognizes three types of distractions while driving:

  • Cognitive: Something distracts your mind while driving.
  • Manual: You take your hands off the wheel.
  • Visual: You take your eyes off the road.

These distractions are not limited to truck drivers. Most passenger vehicle drivers have been guilty of these distractions at some point. However, semi-truck accidents can be more damaging than car accidents due to tractor-trailer trucks' size and weight. 

Being Tired and Working Long Hours

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) regulates the maximum working hours of truck drivers and when they must take breaks from driving. 

For example, the FMCSA limits truck drivers carrying passengers to 10 hours of driving after taking an 8-hour break. Truckers carrying property rather than people are allowed to drive up to 11 hours after a 10-hour off-duty break.

However, some employers pressure truck drivers to drive longer than the law allows. Some truck drivers work hours that would equate to two full-time jobs. Drowsy driving is particularly risky and perhaps even riskier than drunk driving.

Presence of Illegal Drugs and Alcohol

Driving while under the influence of drugs or alcohol is taken seriously in the U.S. This is especially true for transportation employees in the trucking industry. 

However, some truck drivers still turn to drugs and alcohol. They may drink alcohol to help with the boredom associated with long hours on the road. Or, they may turn to drugs, such as amphetamines, to help them stay awake at the end of a long shift. 

The problem with truck drivers operating their vehicles while under the influence is the risk of speeding, judgment errors, not responding to their surroundings, or engaging in risky behavior.

Weather and Road Related Issues

Bad weather can increase the risk for all drivers on the road, but especially for semi-truck drivers. Driving a large, heavy truck is not easy, and complicating factors like torrential rain, snow, ice, or high winds can be perilous for big trucks operating on major roads.

Each of these factors can complicate driving a semi-truck and increase the risk of accidents and injury for everyone on the road. When you have been injured in a large truck accident, a truck accident attorney can help.

Get the Right Representation for Your Truck Accident Claims

If you or your loved one have been hurt in a roadway accident, you need to know who you can turn to for help. Whether your accident involved a rideshare company or a commercial truck, the motor vehicle accident lawyers at McEldrew Purtell can help. 

Contact us today to arrange your free consultation.