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Spike in truck accident fatalities over past 3 years

Written by Steve Gursten Posted January 13th, 2014

NHTSA data reveals more truck wrecks in three years, including spike in multi-vehicle wrecks, and an increase in deaths among occupants of non-commercial vehicles involved

Truck accident fatalities

More and more truck wrecks occur on our roads every day, as many dangerous truck companies choose to cut corners on safety for a bigger bottom line. Because of this,  more people are injured and killed in preventable truck accidents.

The numbers don’t lie.

According to a recent report from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), fatalities from serious truck accidents increased by 3.7% in 2012 from 2011.

In 2012, there were 3,921 fatalities resulting from semi-truck wreck, compared to from 3,781 people who were killed in 2011.

Unfortunately, according to the NHTSA data, this is the third straight year that truck accident deaths rose, since hitting a low point in 2009.

But the bad news doesn’t stop there. In fact, it gets even scarier. Among serious truck accidents, multi-vehicle truck wrecks rose significantly — to the tune of 18%.

Having litigated dozens of multi-vehicle truck accidents, I know that these crashes are very violent and often result in devastating injuries or death. Take for example, this horrible North Carolina truck accident,
where a truck driver slammed into a line of stopped traffic, leaving five people dead.

The NHTSA data also revealed that among all deaths caused by serious truck accidents, the vast majority of fatalities were the occupants of other vehicles. Motorists in other vehicles accounted for 2,843 of all the 3,921 truck wreck deaths. To put that in perspective — that’s roughly 72% of victims that were occupants of other vehicles – innocent drivers. What’s even more terrifying is that the number of other occupants killed rose by almost 5% from the 2011 figure.

Not surprisingly, the American Trucking Associations (ATA) was quick to criticize the NHTSA data. The organization’s President, Bill Graves, said the data from NHTSA “paints an incomplete and misleading picture of the nation’s trucking industry.”

“When the public hears the term ‘large truck,’ they naturally think of the millions of large tractor-trailers that deliver their most essential goods.

However, data released lumps those tractor-trailers in with millions of smaller, non-freight-hauling vehicles whose crash rates are higher than in the trucking industry. The federal government should not be so casual with its terminology and should provide further information and clarity to the public,” Graves said.

I’ve been a lawyer involved in litigating these cases for a very long time.  I’ve served as President of the American Association for Justice Truck Accident Lawyer Litigation Group, and I’m familiar with the ATA position on these matters – the ATA is the lobbying arm of the truck industry and it is not surprising that they always say the data is incomplete and misleading.

Whether or not you buy into Mr. Graves’ statements, one thing is indisputable: Fatal crashes involving large commercial vehicles are increasing. Whether it be truck accidents, bus accidents, or other commercial vehicles, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has its work cut out for it.

Increasingly dangerous highways seem to have become the status quo in America — as indicated by the three consecutive years of increased truck accident deaths. Something must be done, and it must be done quickly.

And as a truck safety proponent, I hope that new HOS regulations, safety programs (like Operation Airbrake, for example), and changing attitudes and ideals within the industry itself, will lead to safer highways for everybody who uses them. Hopefully this time next year, the NHTSA will have some good news — that the number of fatal truck accidents has decreased putting an end to this disturbing trend.

In the meantime, the Truck Accident Attorneys Roundtable was created to  hold bad trucking companies accountable when they cause preventable crashes that kill people. Take a look at our video about how we’re doing that:

Steven Gursten Photo

About Steve Gursten

Attorney Steven Gursten is president of the Motor Vehicle Trial Lawyers Association and past president of the American Association for Justice Trucking Litigation Group. He has been named a Michigan Lawyers Weekly "Leader in the Law" for his efforts to prevent truck accidents and promote national truck safety. Steve was also a Michigan Lawyers Weekly "Lawyer of the Year" for a record settlement in a truck accident case. He has received the top reported truck accident jury verdict and top reported truck accident settlement in Michigan for multiple years, according to published year-end compilations of all jury verdicts and personal injury settlements by Michigan Lawyers Weekly. He has been named a "Top 50 Super Lawyer," by SuperLawyers, is listed in Best Lawyers in America, and has been awarded an AV-rating by Martindale-Hubbell, which is the highest rating for legal ability and ethics. Steve speaks to lawyers throughout the country on truck accident litigation. He is a founding member of the Truck Accident Attorneys Roundtable, head of Michigan Auto Law, and has dedicated his legal career to making our roads safer.
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