Who's to Blame for Truck-Car Fatal Crashes?

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While public debate on the safety of large, commercial trucks usually focuses on the driving behaviors of truck drivers, such as fatigue and speeding, they are not to blame for most fatal crashes involving trucks and passenger vehicles, says a University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, researcher. In a study of national crash data on fatal two-vehicle accidents involving a heavy truck, Daniel F. Blower of the university's Transportation Research Institute (UMTRI) found that the actions of drivers of passenger vehicles contribute to 70% of the crashes. On the other hand, truck drivers commit driving errors in 16% of the accidents, while both drivers make errors 10% of the time.

"Taken at face value, this seems to indicate that passenger-vehicle drivers contribute disproportionately to fatal crashes involving a truck and a passenger vehicle," notes Blower, who maintains that the purpose of his study is not to assign blame, but to understand the full range of actions that contribute to fatal truck accidents. One explanation for the disparity, he says, could be that, since it is typically the driver of the passenger vehicle who is killed in such fatal crashes--about 40 times more often than the truck driver--the deceased driver obviously cannot give his or her side of what happened.

Blower argues that the "surviving driver" hypothesis is too simple. In crashes where both drivers survive, the driver of the passenger vehicle is still the primary cause more than twice as often as the truck driver. Accident investigators have other sources of information to determine what happened in a crash beyond deciding which of the drivers' stories to believe. "Physical evidence about what happened--who ran into whom--is a powerful indicator and usually...

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