There’s a silent problem in the trucking industry, one that even most truck drivers aren’t aware of until after the crash. Truck accidents caused by negligent maintenance are a big problem and can be a significant contributing factor even when they don’t directly cause the crash. But what’s driving this issue and why is it so widespread? Let’s take a closer look.
How Often Is Maintenance a Factor?
There are approximately 450,000 semi-truck accidents per year. According to data collected by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, roughly 1-in-10 of those crashes are directly caused by poor vehicle maintenance or failed parts. Yet that only tells half the story.
In analyzing crash data, the FMCSA considered dozens of associated factors. Among those, maintenance issues were a factor in a combined 40% of all truck crashes, even those caused by driver error. Of those, a handful of persistent maintenance issues stood out from the rest.
Types of Maintenance Issues
Brake malfunctions were the number one associated factor in truck crashes, appearing in 30% of all accidents. These are due to a combination of worn brakes and unresponsive brakes (often due to wear on the brake pads) or even issues with the air compressors that allow the brakes to work.
In rare cases, failed brakes could also lead to a runaway truck incident. When this happens, everyone on the road is in danger, and it almost always ends in some kind of injury. That’s because the momentum of the moving truck becomes so great that the brakes cannot exert enough physical force to slow the vehicle in any meaningful way.
Tire problems are much more likely to directly contribute to a crash than brakes. Semi-trucks are prone to tire blowouts, incidents where the truck tire bursts. If you’ve ever seen tire scraps on the side of the road, it’s probably because a truck had a blowout.
This causes two things to happen: First, a truck with a tire blowout is likely to lose control and may even drift across lanes as the truck driver struggles to regain control. Second, the tire scraps can fly into oncoming traffic and can potentially damage a car or even go through the windshield at high speeds.
Though rare, fires are the direct cause of about 1-in-25 truck accidents. Most often, this is due to tires and failed brakes, but it can also involve faulty electrical systems (such as on a refrigerated truck).
If the truck is going too fast or if the brakes fail, the friction of the brakes can inadvertently cause a fire in the wheel well as the tires become so hot that they ignite. In this way, two minor maintenance issues (underinflated tires and worn brakes) can become a much more serious and even life-threatening problem that could have been avoided had the truck received regular maintenance.
Responsibility for Truck Accidents
In all of this, it’s important to remember that the majority of truck drivers do not own their vehicle. Rather, their employer owns the vehicle, and they drive it. That means it is typically the employer’s responsibility to ensure that trucks in their fleet are getting routine maintenance and replacement parts.
If an investigation shows that a crash was caused by negligent maintenance and the truck driver does not own their vehicle, injured victims may be able to pursue damages directly from the trucking company rather than the driver. This is called vicarious liability, and it is one of the best ways to hold negligent business owners accountable and help the injured recover the full compensation they need to move forward.
If you or someone you love suffered serious injuries or wrongful death in a trucking accident, we are here for you. To discuss your crash with an experienced Kansas City Truck accident attorney from Shamberg, Johnson & Bergman, send us an email or call us at (816) 542-5999 for a free consultation.