The Connection Between Commercial Truck Accidents and Fatigued Drivers

Jul 9, 2018 | Articles

There are more than 15 million commercial trucks transporting over 70% of all U.S. goods every year. This high number of commercial trucks on the road experience a lot of unfortunate accidents.

Despite FMCSA’s best efforts in implementing rules and regulations to avoid such incidents and improve driver/vehicle safety, there’s been a 20% increase in the number of commercial truck accidents over the past decade.

In this post, we drill down why do these accidents happen and is there a pattern to it.

Truck Crash Causation Study

According to a survey conducted by the FMCSA and NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration), the main reason behind commercial truck crashes are fatigued and overworked drivers. These crashes often sadly result in serious injuries and fatalities.

The Truck Crash Causation Study reported over 12,000 commercial truck crashes over a span of almost three years, which resulted in more than 249 deaths and 1,654 injuries. 73% of those crashes involved a large truck colliding with at least one other vehicle.

“An action or inaction by the drivers of the truck or the other vehicles involved were important reasons leading to crashes in a large majority of the cases”, the study reveals.

The data was collected through inspection of the crash site, interviews with drives, witnesses of the incidents, driver logbooks and other documentations. The researchers also looked at police crash reports and hospital records. For each crash, data was collected based on a lot of different factors, including:

  • The condition of the drivers and the other drivers involved before the crash
  • The behavior of the driver during the crash
  • The condition of the truck
  • The condition of other vehicles involved in the crash
  • Roadway factors
  • Weather conditions

And several other factors that could contribute to the accident.

Top 4 Driver-Related Reasons for Accidents

According to the 33-month long survey, there were approximately 12,000 fatalities and injury crashes nationwide that involved at least one large commercial truck. The most commonly recorded critical reason behind the crash was driver error. As shown in the following table, the top four critical reasons were non-performance, failure in recognition, indecision, and bad performance.

Critical Reasons Number of Trucks Percentage
Drivers 68,000 87%
   Non-Performance 9,000 12%
   Recognition 22,000 28%
   Decision 30,000 38%
   Performance 7,000 9%


The driver fell asleep, was disabled by a heart attack or seizure, or was physically impaired for another reason.


The driver was inattentive, was distracted by something inside or outside the vehicle, or failed to observe the situation adequately for some other reason.


The driver was driving too fast for conditions, misjudged the speed of other vehicles, or followed other vehicles too closely.


The driver panicked, overcompensated, or exercised poor directional control.

Driver Fatigue

Falling asleep or experiencing driver fatigue can lead to unnecessary risks and and can often lead to accidents. Unrealistic schedules and expectations of trucking companies that encourage drivers to hurry, despite safety risks involved, are the main culprits behind these crashes.

Although the exact causes can be manifold and the crashes are usually a result of many interlinked factors, the most common reason is still the driver’s physical or mental exhaustion. According to the survey, major factors behind these crashes are fatigue and speeding to meet the deadlines. These factors combined with other factors, such as driver experience, highway condition, poor weather conditions, and vehicle design, etc. can increase the risk of a crash.

The following table shows a total of 19 associated factors that were coded most frequently for large truck accidents.

19 Factors Associated With Road Accidents

Factors Number of Trucks Percent of Total Relative Risk
Vehicle: Brake problems 41,000 29% 2.7
Driver: Traveling too fast for conditions 32,000 23% 7.7
Driver: Unfamiliar with roadway 31,000 22% 2.0
Environment: Roadway problems 29,000 20% 1.5
Driver: Over-the-counter drug use 25,000 17% 1.3
Driver: Inadequate surveillance 20,000 14% 9.3
Driver: Fatigue 18,000 13% 8.0
Driver: Felt under work pressure from carrier 16,000 10% 4.7
Driver: Made illegal maneuver 13,000 9% 26.4
Driver: Inattention 12,000 9% 17.1
Driver: External distraction 11,000 8% 5.1
Vehicle: Tire problems 8,000 6% 2.5
Driver: Following too close 7,000 5% 22.6
Driver: Jackknife 7,000 5% 4.7
Vehicle: Cargo shift 6,000 4% 56.3
Driver: Illness 4,000 3% 34.0
Driver: Internal distraction 3,000 2% 5.8
Driver: Illegal drugs 3,000 2% 1.8
Driver: Alcohol 1,000 1% 5.3

Of the 19 factors listed in Table 2, 15 are driver-related factors. Those 15 factors can be divided into two major groups.

  • One group — fatigue and illness — reflects the condition of the driver before the crash.
  • The second group — excessive speed, inadequate surveillance, illegal maneuver, inattention, distraction (outside the truck and inside the truck), and following too close — reflects driving mistakes. We see that most of the crashes involve more group-one problems, in which drivers’ are suffering and are not to be blamed.

Other Associated Factors

Other associated factors involved problems with trucks, such as brake problems, traffic flow interruptions like congestion and previous crashes, prescription drug use, traveling too fast for conditions, unfamiliarity with roadway, over-the-counter drug use, inadequate surveillance, and fatigue.

Job Stress

The job of a commercial truck driver can be very stressful and the long hours are exceptionally hard. Some fleet managers often exploit the drivers’ hours of service and pressurize them into working longer shifts without little to zero breaks. It’s also tragic that most fatalities involve the truck driver himself, which is tragic and horrible.

Driver fatigue and illness is also the main reason behind crashes that occur between a commercial truck and a passenger vehicle (car, van, pickup, sport utility vehicle etc.) Most of the data indicated that the commercial truck drivers were subject to adverse physical conditions more often, before the crashes occurred.

As the truck drivers rush to meet their tough deadlines, they are more prone to meet accidents. The loss of lives and the physical, emotional, financial pain associated with such accidents can be avoided if simple precautions and adjustments are made associated with the commercial trucks, their drivers, and the fleet managers.

The Ideal Solution to Eradicating Road Accidents

Federal regulations limit the amount of time a commercial truck driver can log driving per week. There is a maximum 11-hour driving limit allowed for truckers carrying cargo after a consecutive 10 hours off duty. This is to help prevent driver fatigue and give drivers a chance to get the adequate amount of sleep or the rest they need. Often scheduled routes included hundreds, if not thousands of miles, and this can wear on even the most experienced drivers.

An even simpler solution to avoid such tragic accidents and to decrease the stress on the commercial truck drivers is the shift to electronic logging devices, which makes the process of logging very easy. The fatigue caused by filling and maintaining a proper paper log will be immediately eradicated, and the process would become automatic with the help of an ELD.  So drivers will have one less thing to worry about. ELD providers have extra features that make drivers’ jobs much easier and also warn them if they are approaching a violation, which significantly decreases the risk of an accident.

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