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  • Rear-End Large Truck Crashes












  • Rear-End Large Truck Crashes

    Each year about 400,000 trucks are involved in motor vehicle crashes. Eighteen percent of the trucks are involved in rear-end crashes. For this analysis, rear-end crashes were divided between those where the truck is the striking vehicle and those where the truck is struck by another vehicle. These two crash types are very different.

    Many factors can affect the risk and results of rear-end crashes. Trucks can be 40 or more times heavier than the other vehicles in the traffic stream. They are less maneuverable, start more slowly, and take longer to stop. Truck drivers usually sit up much higher than passenger vehicle drivers, so the truck driver can see much further down the road. In addition, trucks are used almost exclusively in a work setting as part of a job. These factors affect the risk and results of rear-end crashes

    Multi-Vehicle Crashes

    In 18 percent of all rear-end crashes where the truck was the striking vehicle, there were three or more vehicles involved in the crash. However, there were three or more vehicles involved in only 5 percent of the crashes where the truck was struck in the rear. The difference is even greater in fatal rear-end crashes. Almost 46 percent of fatal rear-end truck-striking crashes involved three or more vehicles, while only 16 percent of fatal truck-struck rear-end crashes involved three or more vehicles.

    The large difference between the mass of trucks and the mass of other vehicles may explain this phenomenon. A typical loaded tractor semi-trailer has a gross weight of 80,000 pounds, while most cars weigh less than 4,000 pounds. Striking a passenger vehicle in the rear will not bring a heavy truck to a stop or even slow it appreciably. Thus the impact itself does relatively little to keep the truck from continuing on and involving other vehicles. Conversely, when a car hits a large truck in the rear, it usually does not move the truck.

    The formation of truck “convoys,” a common practice during high-speed long distance travel, may also contribute to the large number of multiple-vehicle, truck-striking, rear-end crashes. If trucks in a convoy operate in close proximity, there should be a higher proportion of trucks among the vehicles in multi-vehicle crashes than other crashes. That appears to be the case. In 14 percent of rear-end crashes involving only two vehicles, the truck strikes another truck. In rear-end crashes involving three vehicles, over half (52 percent) had at least two trucks involved. Where there were four vehicles involved, almost two-thirds of the crashes included at least two trucks.

    Divided Highways

    Rear-end truck crashes are more likely to occur on divided roads than other truck crashes. About 45 percent of all truck-striking rear-end crashes and 42 percent of all truck-struck crashes occurred on a divided road. By contrast, only 33 percent of all other truck crashes took place on divided highways.

    Interstate highways are always divided highways. 58 percent of the truck striking crashes that resulted in at least one fatality took place on an interstate highway, as did 41 percent of those crashes where the truck was the struck vehicle. By contrast, only 20 percent of all other fatal truck crashes took place on interstate highways.

    Non-Junction Crashes

    Most truck crashes take place away from junctions – intersections, ramps, driveways, or other points where roadways intersect. Thirty-six percent of all truck crashes are junction-related. However, 42 percent of truck-striking crashes are junction-related, while the figure is only 31 percent of truck-struck crashes. In junction-related rear-end crashes, trucks are more likely to be the striking vehicle than the struck vehicle.

    When only fatal rear-end crashes are considered, the difference between truck-struck and truck-striking crashes effectively disappears. However, the contrast with other fatal truck crashes is deepened, as shown in Figure 2. About three-fourths of both truck-striking and truck-struck, fatal rear-end crashes occurred away from intersections, compared with 62 percent of other fatal truck crashes that happened away from junctions. These data are consistent with the analysis in the previous section on divided highways (i.e., rear-end truck crashes are more likely to occur on divided highways, which have fewer intersections per mile than non-divided highways).

    Light Conditions

    When another vehicle hits the rear of a truck, it is almost twice as likely to be in the dark or in dark but lighted conditions, as opposed to when a truck strikes another vehicle, where almost 90 percent of all truck crashes occurred in daylight. About 87 percent of truck-striking, rear-end crashes happened in the daylight, as well as 77 percent of truck-struck crashes. However, 10 percent of truck-striking, rear-end crashes occurred in dark or dark but lighted conditions, while almost twice as many (18 percent) of truck-struck, rear-end crashes occurred under diminished lighting conditions. Thus, when another vehicle hits the rear of a truck, it is almost twice as likely to occur under diminished lighting conditions.

    Fatal rear-end truck crashes are even more associated with dark or dark but lighted conditions. In fatal rear-end crashes where the truck is the striking vehicle, about 31 percent occurred in dark or dark but lighted conditions. When the truck is struck, the proportion of dark or dark but lighted rises to 46 percent. Thus, almost half of fatal truck-struck rear-end crashes occur when visibility was diminished. Both these numbers are higher than the 29 percent of all other fatal truck crashes that occurred in dark or dark but lighted conditions.

    Alcohol Involvement

    Drivers of other vehicles involved in crashes with trucks had been drinking more often than truck drivers. In all types of rear-end trucks crashes, the truck drivers had been drinking in 0.2 percent of the cases, and the other driver had used alcohol in 2.1 percent of the crashes. The greatest disparity is in rear-end crashes in which another driver struck the rear of the truck. When the truck was struck, almost none of the truck drivers had been using alcohol, but about 4.9 percent of the other drivers had been drinking. However, when the truck was the striking vehicle, only 0.2 percent of truck drivers and 0.1 percent of the other vehicle drivers had been drinking.

    For fatal crashes, the proportion of drinking drivers is much higher. This is true for both truck drivers and the other drivers in the crash, but the incidence of alcohol use is much higher among the other drivers. In all fatal rear-end crashes, about 1.3 percent of truck drivers had been drinking and about 15.5 percent of the other drivers had been drinking.

    When the data are divided between truck-striking and truck-struck crashes (see figure 4), there are greater differences for the drivers of the other vehicles. Truck drivers had been drinking in 2.0 percent of the crashes where the truck was the striking vehicle, and 0.4 percent of the cases where their vehicle was struck. By contrast, other drivers had been drinking in 21.2 percent of the crashes where their vehicle was the striking one, and had been drinking in 4.9 percent of the cases where their vehicle was struck by the truck.

    Overall, trucks strike other vehicles in the rear much more often than they are struck by other vehicles. This finding is expected, given the more difficult task of slowing a large truck versus a small passenger vehicle. However, there are major differences when the severity of the crash is taken into account. In fatal crashes, trucks are struck in the rear much more often than trucks striking other vehicles (461 cases to 271 cases).

    The explanation may lie in part with the data on light conditions and alcohol use. Even though most truck crashes take place in daylight, almost half of fatal rear-end crashes where trucks are struck by other vehicles occur in dark but lighted conditions. In these degraded light conditions, recorded in nationwide TIFA data, truck conspicuity may be one factor. The Michigan FACT data also suggests that trucks that are hit in the rear have more lighting violations than those that hit other vehicles.

    Alcohol may also contribute to truck-struck rear-end crashes at night. FARS data indicates that alcohol use by other drivers in rear-end crashes is much higher than among truck drivers. In fatal rear-end crashes, 1 percent of the truck drivers had been drinking and 16 percent of the other drivers had been drinking. But in fatal truck-struck, rear-end crashes in dark or dark but lighted conditions, 36 percent of the other drivers had used alcohol at the time of the crash. The FACT data do not include information on the condition of the non-truck drivers, so they cannot cast any light on the issue of alcohol use by drivers of the other vehicles.

    The Michigan FACT data also suggest that truck brake conditions may play a role in crashes where trucks strike other vehicles. In rear-end crashes in which a truck was the striking vehicle, the incidence of defective or poorly adjusted truck brakes was almost twice as high as in cases where other vehicles struck trucks. TIFA and GES databases do not have detailed data on truck mechanical condition.

    A variety of road type factors were considered in this analysis. The TIFA and GES data show that rear-end truck crashes are more likely to occur on divided roadways and interstate highways–overlapping categories–than other truck crashes. Over 40 percent of all truck-striking and truck-struck, rear-end crashes take place on divided highways, as opposed to one-third of all other truck crashes. With regard to fatal crashes, 58 percent of truck striking crashes and 40 percent of truck struck crashes occurred on interstate highways, as opposed to 19 percent of all truck fatal crashes. Given that divided highways have fewer junctions per mile than other roadways, and that the junctions have fewer or no (in the case of interstates) stoplights or stop signs, the finding that most rear-end truck crashes take place away from intersections is not unexpected.

    Taking the roadway data results together, one prevailing theme is that rear-end crashes are more likely to occur on divided highways, often Interstates. In these situations vigilance, both that of truck drivers and drivers of other vehicles, may be relaxed so that when a stopped or slower-moving vehicles appears in front, the driver is unable to quickly respond. This is true in both the cases of the truck striking another vehicle, and the truck being struck by another vehicle.



    This information came from an
    FMCSA online article.

    *** Any law, statute, regulation or other precedent is subject to change at any time ***

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