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What do we know about large truck crashes?

The Large Truck Crash Causation Study (LTCCS) is a nationwide and pioneering investigation based on 120,000 truck crashes that occurred between 2001 and 2003. Drawing a sample of 963 crashes, LTCCS analyzed the causes, vehicles and circumstances of each crash in minute detail.

What might car and truck drivers in Colorado learn from the study?

We'll leave aside what the study calls the "critical events" leading to the crash, i.e. the vehicle action that made the crash unavoidable, like turning or rear-ending. It is more to the point to look at the "critical reasons" of the accident, namely the failures that led to the critical events. The three critical reasons are:

  • 1. driver error
  • 2. vehicle failure
  • 3. environment (weather, road conditions, etc.)

Of the large truck crashes involving a passenger car (car, van, pick-up truck, SUV) forty-four percent were caused (critical reason) by the truck. This means the majority (56 %) ofcar-truck crashes are caused by passenger vehicles.

The study further shows that, of all accidents, 87 percent were caused by the driver, 10 percent by a vehicle failure and just 3 percent by the environment.

Associated factors causing a truck crash: LTCCS makes a careful analysis of the elements leading and contributing to the critical reasons, looking at a wide range of factors that can be associated with the truck involved in the crash. Associated factors could be brake problems or driver fatigue, for instance.

It is important to figure out if a factor is associated more frequently with a truck when it causes the accident than when it does not cause the accident. In the table below, the column "relative risk" shows that trucks that have caused the accident are associated with"travelling too fast" 7.7 times more frequently than trucks not having caused the accident, which means that speeding increases the probability of causing an accident close to 8 times. Had the relative risk ratio been equal to 1, speeding would not have been a factor in causing accidents.

The table also mentions the percentage of associated factors assigned to all the studied truck crashes (Percent of Total). Only a few significant associated factors are mentioned hereafter.

Associated factor Percent of Total Relative Risk

Brake problems 29% 2.7

Travelling too fast 23% 7.7

Inadequate surveillance 14% 9.3

Fatigue 13% 8.0

Pressure from employer 10% 4.7

Illegal maneuver 9% 26.4

Inattention 9% 17.1

Following too close 5% 22.6


A few of the conclusions that can be drawn from the above figures are:

Brake problems are present in a large share of the trucks involved in crashes (which is not really reassuring), but are only moderately likely to be the cause of the accident.

On the other hand, tailgating is not frequently associated with truck crashes, but when it is, it is almost always associated with the truck having caused the accident.

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