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Sharing the roads with heavy trucks – commonly referred to as tractor trailers, big rigs, semis or 18 wheelers – is unavoidable considering there are roughly two million of them travelling on roads all across the country. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, it is estimated that 500,000 heavy truck crashes occur in the U.S. every year, killing roughly 5,000 people. This works out to one truck crash related death every 16 minutes.

Roughly 98 percent of big rig crashes involve a passenger vehicle, a pedestrian, a motorcyclist or a bicyclist. Statistics show that truck accidents are significantly more dangerous for you than the truck driver. In 2010, crashes involving a tractor trailer and a passenger vehicle killed occupants in the passenger vehicle 97 percent of the time.

Many truck accidents occur in rural areas, and it is for this reason that the state of Virginia, which is largely rural, experiences a significant number of truck accidents.

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virginia crashes

According to data from the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA), 87 people lost their lives in Virginia truck accidents in 2010. This represents an 11 percent increase in large truck accidents from 2008.

In 2011, there were 120,513 total traffic accidents in Virginia, which represents roughly a 3.5 percent increase from 2010. This means that every five minutes a car accident occurs in Virginia. A total of 764 people were killed in car and truck accidents in 2011, a 3 percent increase from 2010.

virginia Truck Safety

Virginia is an important corridor for the shipping and transport of goods. Some of the nation’s most widely used highways run through Virginia, and the ports along the eastern seaboard are bustling with freight movement. Agriculture is the state’s largest industry, with an economic impact of about $55 billion annually. The state’s 47,000 farms also create a need for trucking to move Virginia commodities in and out of the state.

Among U.S. states, Virginia typically finds itself in the top 15 for most deaths resulting from large truck crashes.

The simple fact is that these trucks are more likely to be involved in multiple vehicle accidents, and more likely to be involved in fatal accidents. You are twice as likely to be killed in a crash with a tractor trailer as you are in a crash with another passenger vehicle.

A disturbing trend has been emerging for years regarding truck safety; a significant percentage of truck accidents are caused by truck drivers. A causation study conducted by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) shows that driver-related truck accidents account for roughly 87% of all large truck crashes. A significant portion of driver-caused truck accidents is the result of poor decisions, such as speeding, misjudging the speed of other vehicles or tailgating. Other factors include poor recognition of driving situations or inattentiveness.

Still, issues with the vehicles themselves and environmental factors can easily lead to a crash. The Causation Study indicated that roughly half of all truck crashes occurred due to either brake problems or environmental factors. Tire problems also played a role in 6% of all truck crashes. 

To learn more about Virginia car accident and truck accident statistics, visit our Virginia Transportation Districts page.

Causes of virginia truck crashes

The two main factors that make large trucks dangerous in an accident are their size and weight. The average length of commercial trucks varies, but according to the Rand McNally Motor Carrier Atlas, trailers in the U.S. are usually between 48 and 53 feet long. This puts some tractor trailer combinations at a length of over 80 feet long, possibly longer if they are hauling two trailers. As far as weight is concerned, commercial trucks  weigh up to 80,000 pounds, or more if they have oversize/overweight permits.

The size and weight of these big rigs means that it requires significantly more time and distance to slow to a stop. As a matter of fact, The Trucker’s Report estimates that it takes a big rig 40 percent longer to come to a complete stop compared to a passenger vehicle. Even bobtailing (the term truckers use when they are not hauling a trailer) can be problematic. Trucks respond to the road differently when they are not hauling the weight of a trailer behind them. In wet weather conditions, bobtailing can actually be more dangerous than hauling a trailer. Causes of Virginia truck crashes include:

  • Brake Problems
  • Tire Problems
  • Speeding
  • Fatigue
  • Driver Distraction
  • Tailgating
  • Improper Turning
  • Parking on Shoulder
  • Driver Under the Influence of Drugs or Alcohol
  • Unsecured Cargo
  • Traffic Flow Problem (Previous Crash)
  • Unfamiliarity with Roads
  • Driving in Unsafe Weather Conditions

Some other factors in many heavy truck accidents include the behaviors of truck drivers. Fatigue, for example, is a leading cause of many accidents. Surveys on truckers indicate that “many drivers violate the regulations and work longer than permitted.” Truck drivers are allowed by law to drive only 70 hours per week, and are required to take a break after driving for eight hours. Drivers violate the hours of service rules in large part because their employers expect them to transport cargo to a destination under intense deadlines. When trucking companies and truck drivers bypass these laws and regulations, they are putting the lives of people on Virginia roads at risk.