From significant blind spots and heavy or uneven loads to driver fatigue or inattention, there are often major risks when sharing the road with large commercial trucks, especially for drivers and occupants of much smaller passenger vehicles.
According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, large truck crashes led to 4,119 deaths in 2019 alone: a 31% increase from 2009. Of those fatalities, 67% were occupants of passenger vehicles and another 15% were pedestrians, cyclists or motorcyclists.
Smaller vehicles are vulnerable
A large truck may weigh 20 to 30 times as much as the typical car. Additionally, commercial trucks often have much greater ground clearance, which may lead to smaller vehicles underriding a tractor-trailer and becoming caught or crushed beneath.
Large trucks require longer braking times
Even a well-maintained truck requires a much greater distance to come to a safe stop. Fully loaded, a commercial tractor-trailer may take 20 to 40% farther than a passenger vehicle to stop safely. If brakes are faulty or if weather conditions are poor, a driver may need much longer for braking or even lose control altogether.
Commercial drivers often face fatigue
The IIHS also reports that commercial truck drivers continue to face long hours on the road and demanding delivery schedules. Under federal service regulations, drivers may travel up to 11 hours in one stretch, but many choose to work longer and drive farther to meet tight scheduling deadlines.
While it is important for the average driver to be cautious when traveling near large commercial vehicles, it is also important that truck operators understand that even a relatively minor collision with a smaller car may result in catastrophic injuries or death.