Truck driving is considered one of the most dangerous jobs in the country.  There are numerous safety issues in the trucking industry. The biggest danger facing truck drivers is driving distracted or tired.  Truck drivers are paid by the mile and are subject to tight deadlines, which gives them incentive to continue driving while tired or fatigued.

The dangers of trucking are one of the reasons the trucking industry faces a shortage of drivers.  Facing high demand, limited workers and high turnover, companies may be incentivized to hire less qualified drivers.  The driver shortage also puts added pressure on drivers to work longer hours and drive when they are tired or fatigued. 

Leading Causes of Trucking Accidents

Driver Fatigue

In 2007, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) reported that 40% of large trucking accidents happened because the driver was inattentive or fell asleep.  Nearly all of these could have been prevented by extra sleep or improved focus.

The CDC recommends 7 or more hours of sleep per night for adults.  Drivers who miss 1-2 hours of sleep double their risk for a crash.  This means that any truck driver who misses 1-2 hours of sleep at night doubles their risk of being in a crash the following day.  Three out of every four commercial drivers report having experienced at least one type of driving error because of drowsiness.

Unhealthy lifestyle, long working hours, and sleeping problems are the main causes of drivers falling asleep while driving.  Stress, heavy lifting, and lack of exercise are all common in the trucking industry and contribute greatly to the poor health of drivers. 

Lack of sleep also leads to a variety of other health conditions including obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, hypertension, anxiety, depression and alcohol use.  Poor truck driver health is a major risk, not only for the driver, but also for other drivers on the road.  There is a correlation between trucking accidents and poor health of drivers.

Many drivers combat fatigue with caffeine, smoking, drugs, and alcohol.  Excessive intake of caffeine can cause insomnia, headaches, irritability, and nervousness which detract from the driver’s focus and ability to drive safely.  Some drivers turn to stimulants like amphetamines to stave off fatigue.  Stimulants can cause dangerous changes to the driver’s perceptions and ability to react on the road.  Alertness tricks like turning up the radio or opening the window are not real cures for drowsiness and may give truck drivers a false sense of security.

Drowsiness affects a driver’s ability so greatly that it may not be much different than being drunk.  Being awake for 18 hours is comparable to having a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08 percent, which is legally intoxicated and leaves you at equal risk for a crash.

Distracted Driving

A 2009 study found that 71 percent of large-truck crashes occurred when the truck driver was doing something besides driving the truck.  Distracted driving includes cell phone use, texting, using dispatching devices, eating, reading, and adjusting the radio. Distractions outside of the vehicle include passing cars, buildings, billboards, and people. 

Low Visibility

Visibility is a major component of safe truck driving and safe driving in general.  Low visibility can be caused by adverse road or weather conditions such as dust, rain, fog, hail, or snow.  Low visibility can create dangerous conditions, even for experienced drivers.  This is why the FMCSA requires certain commercial trucks to be equipped with reflective tape, which requires regular maintenance and upkeep in order to work properly.

Other Causes of Trucking Accidents

Safety rules violations are a common cause of trucking accidents.  Other common causes of trucking accidents include:

  • Mechanical failure (such as brakes)
  • Driving under the influence
  • Improperly loaded cargo
  • Negligent hiring/training of drivers
  • Tire blowouts
  • Dangerous roads
  • Improper maintenance
  • Overweight cargo

Who Is Liable for a Trucking Accident?

Depending on the circumstances, a trucking accident may involve several liable parties including the truck driver, trucking company, cargo loader, manufacturer of a defective part and/or the government agency responsible for maintaining safe road conditions.  Expect each at-fault party to deny liability and responsibility and blame others for the accident.

Assigning liability in trucking accidents typically requires an extensive fact gathering process which requires the knowledge and skill of an experienced lawyer.  It includes the analysis of hour logs, safety records, training and license requirements, and manufacturing recalls or defects.  If you were injured in a trucking accident, we suggest contacting an experienced trucking accident lawyer as soon as possible to best protect your legal rights.  Trucking companies and their insurance companies will conduct their own “investigation” of the accident with the goal of gathering evidence to deny your claim.

Commercial truck drivers are required to carry significant insurance in case of accidents.  Specifically, truck drivers must maintain public liability insurance, cargo insurance and a surety bond. 

Compensation for Victims

Injuries caused by trucking accidents are often severe due to the size and weight of the vehicle and include brain, spine and burn injuries.  People injured in trucking accidents may recover for past and future medical expenses, physical pain and suffering, emotional pain and suffering, lost wages, lost earning capacity, loss of enjoyment of life and other damages.

If a person has died, their loved ones may be eligible to file a wrongful death lawsuit. Such claims may include loss of financial support, medical expenses related to the accident, lost companionship, funeral and burial costs, pain and suffering, and other intangible losses like guidance and care.

California Truck Driver Safety Laws

The stakes are higher when commercial vehicles are involved because they can do much damage.  Thus, the law imposes enhanced safety duties on commercial truck drivers.  These duties cannot be avoided.  Truck drivers are required by law to drive very safely.

California law requires truck drivers to meet drug testing, logbook, load securement and safety equipment requirements.  Truck drivers also must comply with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations and other federal laws.  

Truck drivers must limit their driving time and meet rest requirements for safety purposes.  Federal ”hours of service” laws limit driving time and require minimum rest periods.  These laws are designed to ensure that drivers remain awake and alert while driving.  However, some trucking companies and drivers skirt these rules by falsifying logbooks.

In general, all commercial truck drivers must comply with the hours-of-service limitations.  Commercial trucks are not limited to 18-wheelers and big rigs, and may include pickups and vehicles used to transport hazardous materials.

Tips on Sharing the Road Safely with Semi-Trucks

1) Avoid driving in blind spots

Semi-trucks have large blind spots.  The larger the vehicle, the larger the blind spots.  If you cannot see the driver’s face, then he or she cannot see you.  Semi-trucks have four major blind spots: directly in front, directly behind, and along both sides — particularly the right side.  The blind spots can span multiple lanes.  Avoid driving in the truck’s blind spots at all times. 

2) Pass safely

Make sure you use your blinkers to let the truck driver know your intentions.  The truck’s blind spot is bigger on the right, so pass on the left-hand side.  Do not cut in front of semi-trucks.  They are larger and take much longer to stop than regular sized vehicles.  As a rule, the larger the vehicle, the longer it takes to stop.  Make sure you leave plenty of space between you and the truck and when merging in front of semi-trucks.  Always maintain a safe leading distance.  The faster the truck is going the more leading distance is necessary.  Extra leading distance is necessary if the road is wet, frozen or contains debris such as dirt which could cause the truck to slide.

3) Avoid distractions at all times

Distracted driving is always dangerous and illegal, but it is especially dangerous when driving near a semi-truck.  Do not text or call while driving, and especially do not so while driving near trucks.  Do not engage in any activity which causes you to take your hands off the wheel or your eyes off the road.  Remaining fully focused on driving is your best defense against accidents.

4) Prioritize your sleep

As a driver, it is essential to prioritize your sleep and avoid driving while tired or fatigued.  One in three adults don’t get enough sleep.  Many people wouldn’t think of getting behind the wheel after drinking alcohol, but far too many get behind the wheel after not getting enough sleep.


Truck drivers perform a dangerous, high stress job and are often pressured to cut corners when it comes to sleep.  Lack of sleep leads drivers to drowsiness, lack of focus, poor health and substance use – all of which make the driver more likely to be involved in an accident.  Commercial vehicles are particularly dangerous on the road because of their size and weight.  Thus, an overtired truck driver poses a particularly great risk not only to themselves, but to everyone else on the road.  Even a momentary lack of focus can cause a devastating accident when driving a commercial truck.  When you combine driver fatigue with challenging driving conditions, such as poor visibility or slick roads, you have a recipe for disaster. 

If you were injured in an accident with a commercial truck, you should contact an experienced trucking accident lawyer without delay.  Trucking companies and their insurers will do everything in their power to avoid financial responsibility for your injuries.


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