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Study: Car Drivers at Fault in Most Fatal Accidents With Trucks

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Car Crashes Into a TruckAbout three quarters of the time, car drivers are at fault when involved in fatal crashes with trucks, according to a February 2013 report from American Trucking Associations (ATA). To arrive at its conclusions, ATA looked at reports from several large studies, including the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, and the University of Michigan’s Transportation Research Institute (UMTRI), as James Jaillet reports for Commercial Carrier Journal.

In studying 8,309 fatal truck crashes to determine fault, UMTRI found that 81% of the time, car drivers were responsible for those accidents, Jaillet writes. The ATA report says that critics have said that attribution of driver error in fatal car-truck crashes might be a reflection of who survived the crash, rather than the actual events that caused it, because in those cases, the driver who did not survive such crashes has no voice. The report says:

UMTRI addressed this theory by studying those fatal crashes (1,245 fatal crashes or 15% of the total) where both drivers survived but there was some other fatality, usually a passenger. In 73% of these, the car driver was cited with a factor, while in 34% the truck driver was cited.

A NHTSA study assigned responsibility for fatal car-truck crashes in a similar way, the report says, with cars being responsible 91% of the time during head-on crashes, 91% of the time in opposite direction sideswipes, 71% in rear-end crashes, and 77% in same direction sideswipes, Jaillet writes. Cars were assigned responsibility in 85% of fatal car-truck crashes during 2007 and 2008 by FMCSA’s study, and 81% in 2009, Jaillet notes.

Jaillet quotes ATA President Bill Graves:

‘Every crash, and every fatality and injury, suffered on our nation’s highways is a tragedy,’ ATA President Bill Graves said.  ‘Preventing them from happening requires a proper understanding of the causes of these crashes. It is also tragic that carriers and drivers across this country are saddled with guilt and blame for many crashes they could do nothing to prevent.’

In this study, the ATA report defines cars as including vans, SUVs, and pickup trucks, as well as cars, as opposed to large trucks. The report says it appears the allocation of fault between trucks and cars becomes more equal (approximately 50-50) as crash severity level decreases. ATA produced the report — which evaluates fault and the nature of the errors that increase crash risk — “to design and implement cost-effective truck safety programs that yield the greatest safety benefits.” Factors involved in highway crashes in general include: traffic density, and unsafe operating behaviors, like speeding, following too closely, alcohol use, and driver fitness, the report says.

Image by Louie Baur.

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