Tractor-trailers are typically the heaviest vehicles on the road. This makes big rig trucks very dangerous. Serious injuries and fatalities are more likely in truck-related collisions than in accidents involving standard passenger vehicles only. This is why large commercial trucks are required to carry “high-limit” liability insurance coverage. But the limits are not high enough to give truck accident victims in many cases.
Common Causes for Big Rig Truck Accidents
Accidents with big trucks can happen for all the same reasons as any other auto accident. But the unique nature of big trucks and the commercial trucking industry make certain types of accidents more common. Common accident causes that are unique to the trucking industry include:
- Fatigue: Yes, we all have driven when we are tired. But commercial truck drivers spend many hours on the road. This makes them more likely to suffer from fatigue than the average motorist. Despite federal regulations limiting time behind the wheel, trucking companies and drivers routinely ignore these rules and drivers end up getting pushed to their physical limits. This makes driver fatigue one of the most common causes of big truck accidents.
- Poor Training: Truck drivers are required to have significant training and experience before getting behind the wheel. However, not all trucking companies hire experienced, well-trained drivers. This is because of the costs associated with training. As a result, there are truck drivers on the road with little experience or training. This means that they may not know how to properly avoid a collision, which puts many lives at risk.
- Poor Vehicle Maintenance: Commercial truck companies are required to keep their vehicles in good condition. This ensures that they are run safely and smoothly. However, truck companies may not conduct regular maintenance because of the associated costs and time. Poorly maintained trucks are more likely to cause a collision.
- Distracted Driving: Any type of accident can involve distracted driving, but recent statistics suggest that truck drivers are much more likely to be “multitasking” behind the wheel. This is a reflection of the long hours that truck drivers spend on the road. With hours of time to pass on the road, truck drivers invariably use their phones to check their texts and emails or browse the web. Driving a truck while texting on using a cell phone is extremely dangerous and has been linked to an increasing number of big truck accidents.
Truck Accident Statistics
The statistics of the harm big truck do in the country is stunning. We need big trucks. But we have to find a way to transport goods more safely. I’m hoping Pete Buttigieg takes a long look at these statistics when he takes over the Department of Transportation and views improving these statistics as a big part of his success or failure at DOT.
- 499,000 collisions in 2018 involved a large truck. This comprises 8% of all collisions.
- 107,000 big truck collisions involved serious injuries
- 4,415 big truck collisions involved fatalities (13% of all fatalities)
- 4,410 large truck collision fatalities in 2018 involved vehicle occupants.
- 1,673 were passenger car occupants
- 1,524 were light truck occupants
- 865 were large truck occupants
- 284 were motorcycle occupants
- 25 were bus occupants
- 19 were occupants of an unknown vehicle
- 541 large truck collision fatalities in 2018 involved non-motorists
- 442 were pedestrians
- 76 were cyclists
- 23 had an unknown non-motorist status
Federal Mandatory Coverage Minimums for Commercial Truckers
The Federal Carrier Motor Safety Administration (FCMSA) sets mandatory coverage minimums for commercial truckers. These minimums vary based on hauled material and the gross weight of the truck.
- Independent contractors hauling non-hazardous material in trucks weighing less than 10,001 pounds are required to carry $300,000 in coverage.
- Independent contractors hauling non-hazardous material in trucks weighing over 10,001 pounds are required to carry $750,000 in coverage.
- Independent contractors and trucking companies hauling gasoline are required to carry $1 million in coverage.
- Trucks hauling hazardous materials other than gasoline are required to carry $5 million in coverage.
Can Trucking Companies Require Higher Insurance Minimums?
Yes. Trucking companies can require independent contractor drivers to carry coverage higher than the federally mandated minimums. This helps ensure that truck drivers carry enough insurance for specific freight. Trucking companies may also require additional types of coverage not required by federal law including cargo insurance.
Truck Insurance Minimum Are Often Not Enough for Victims
The federal mandatory coverage minimums for trucks took effect in 1985. They have not been updated since. Because of inflation and rising health care costs, these minimums are often not enough to give truck accident victims full compensation. In June 2020, the American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI) found that the average truck accident jury verdict increased significantly.
Their data comprised 600 collisions between 2006 and 2019. Between 2006 and 2011, only 26 cases exceeded $1 million. Between 2014 and 2019, about 300 cases exceeded that amount. This means that the $300,000 to $750,000 in coverage for trucks hauling non-hazardous material is not enough anymore.
The ATRI also found that the average verdict increased by 51.7% each year between 2010 and 2018. These increases occurred while standard inflation increased 1.7% each year and while healthcare costs increased 2.9%. This data strongly suggests what you knew was true before you started reading this post: raising truck insurance minimums is necessary to ensure that truck accident victims receive fair compensation.
Why Legislative Efforts to Increase the Minimum Truck Insurance Requirements Have Failed
There have been legislative efforts to raise the minimum insurance coverage requirements for trucking companies. On June 17, 2020, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee approved an amendment to raise the minimum trucking insurance coverage from $750,000 to $2 million. It also required coverage to be adjusted every five years based on inflation.
This amendment was inserted into the INVEST in America Act which intends to invest almost $500 billion in transportation. The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) strongly opposed this amendment. They argued that it threatened small-trucking businesses. The American Trucking Association (ATA) also opposed this amendment. They argued that proposed mandatory minimum coverage changes should be proposed with the trucking industry’s input. This opposition from trucking lobbyists showed their interest in putting profits over victims. Are you surprised?
Maybe things change under Joe Biden. But I’m not betting on it.
Is There a Way to Get Around a Lack of Insurance?
There is sometimes a path to get more money for truck accident victims beyond the truck’s insurance policy. We often bring claims against the broker and the shipper of the goods the truck is hauling.
Contact the Truck Accident Lawyers at Miller & Zois
If you have been injured in a big rig truck accident, our truck accident lawyers can help make sure you get every penny of the financial compensation you are entitled to. Call us at 800-553-8082 for a free consultation.