July 24, 2002

AAA study reveals car drivers cause most fatal crashes with big trucks

Dearborn, Michigan – A study by the American Automobile Association confirms that the actions of car drivers contribute more to fatal car-truck crashes than do the actions of truck drivers – a finding first publicized by AAA Michigan in its 1999 Sharing the Road series in Michigan Living magazine.

Driving near a big truck is different from driving near another passenger car, but many motorists don’t change their behaviour to adjust for the difference, according to the study. The study focused on driver errors, which account for more than half of fatal car-truck crashes (54%). The most common actions that get drivers of both cars and large trucks into trouble include:

  • Failure to keep in lane or running off the road
  • Failure to yield the right of way
  • Driving too fast for conditions or above speed limit
  • Failure to obey signs and signals
  • Driver inattention

“Motorists don’t recognize that trucks behave very differently from cars, so they think trucks can stop on a dime and change lanes quickly,” says Richard J. Miller, manager of Community Safety Services for AAA Michigan. “In reality, trucks take a long time to stop and cannot whip from lane to lane. As a result, a mistake near a truck can have catastrophic consequences for a motorist. In fact, in our study over 90 percent of those killed were car occupants.”

Miller suggests that drivers adopt the following strategies:

  • Never change lanes abruptly around a truck
  • Slow down to let trucks have the right of way
  • Drive at a safe speed
  • Stay alert to traffic signals and road conditions
  • Use turn signals
  • Avoid driving alongside or immediately behind a truck
  • Never cut in front of a truck, especially when it may need to stop

“These tragedies are preventable,” Miller says. “When car drivers understand how trucks are different, they can make allowances for the big rigs’ limitations. By adjusting their driving style, motorists can safely and confidently share the road with large vehicles.”

The study analyzed nearly 46,000 fatal two-vehicle crashes recorded in the Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) from 1995-1998. FARS is a national database of all fatal vehicle crashes in the United States and is based on police observations and investigators’ findings.

The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety is an independent, publicly funded, charitable research and educational organization founded by the American Automobile Association in 1947.

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