Knowledge Leads to Know-How: Understanding Crash Causes is the Key to Prevention

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) have released their Large Truck Crash Causation Study (LTCCS), which examined the reasons for serious crashes involving large trucks over 10,000 pounds. The accidents sampled occurred between April 2001 and December 2003 and involved at least one large truck and resulted in a fatality or injury.

While it may be stating the obvious, the FMCSA declares that “Motor vehicle crashes are complex events,” and adds, “Crash reconstruction experts rarely conclude that crashes are the result of a single factor.” However, the study did find three predominant “critical events” – or primary causes of accidents:

  • Running out of the travel lane, either into another lane or off the road (32 percent).
  • Vehicle loss of control due to traveling too fast for conditions, cargo shift, vehicle systems failure, poor road  conditions, or other reasons (29 percent).
  • Colliding with the rear end of another vehicle in the truck’s travel lane (22 percent).

Yet those are the actions; what caused them to happen in the first place? Knowing this is the key to changing crash statistics in the long run.

It turns out that most accidents are caused by simple human error, which is not terribly surprising, but important to understand. In fact, 87 percent of major accidents can be traced back to driver behavior or poor decisions, versus vehicle condition/malfunction or the environment, including weather or road conditions. The four primary categories of error, in order of their demonstrated occurrence include:

  • Decision (38 percent): The driver was driving too fast for conditions, misjudged the speed of other vehicles, or  followed other vehicles too closely.
  • Recognition (28 percent): The driver was inattentive, was distracted by something inside or outside the vehicle, or  failed to observe the situation adequately for some other reason.
  • Non-Performance (12 percent): The driver fell asleep, was disabled by a heart attack or seizure, or was physically impaired for another reason.
  • Performance (9 percent): For example, the driver panicked, overcompensated, or exercised poor directional control.

Why are the results of this study so important? Because it confirms what Canal has long known – training is key. It’s why we work so hard with insureds to provide training and education opportunities. If you’re not taking advantage of these opportunities, we hope the insight from this study will compel a change. After all, one of the best ways to prevent tomorrow’s accidents is with training that starts today. Visit to see the many safety training, tips and tools available for insureds.