Car drivers more likely to cause car-truck fatalities than truckdrivers

| 8/27/2002

Cars and trucks collided in 349 fatal crashes in California last year, according to the Automobile Club of Southern California, often because car drivers didn't realize that they need to behave differently around trucks than other cars.

A new study, released recently by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, says nationally car drivers are more likely to cause car-truck fatalities than truck drivers. An examination of California data by Steven Bloch, Ph.D., senior researcher for the Auto Club, suggests the same holds true for the state.

Although law enforcement officers are unable to determine fault in all cases, truck drivers were at fault in at least 31% of all truck-related fatal crashes in 2001. However, car drivers, pedestrians, bicyclists, motorcyclists and other causes were at fault in 69% of the crashes.

The Auto Club analysis, based on California Highway Patrol data, also shows, however, that drivers of cars and trucks are almost equally to blame in injury and property damage crashes. Statistics show that truck drivers are at fault in at least 46% of personal injury crashes and at least 52% of property damage accidents in truck-car related accidents. The AAA Foundation study did not look at injury and property damage crashes.

"Any fatal crash is one too many," said Bloch. "Car drivers need to realize that greater precautions must be taken when driving near trucks."

"Truck drivers need to be aware of speed, abrupt lane changes and to check blind spots for smaller vehicles. If both truck and car drivers drive safely and responsibly, the chances of crashes diminish."

The AAA Foundation study points out that car drivers account for nearly 98% of driver fatalities in car-truck crashes primarily because of the differences in the size of the vehicles. It notes that five driving behaviors contribute to the majority of the fatal crashes.

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

The Auto Club and AAA are recommending that drivers change the way they drive around big trucks by:
-- Not changing lanes abruptly
-- Slowing down to let trucks have the right of way
-- Driving at a safe speed
-- Staying alert to traffic signals and road conditions -- Using turn signals -- Never cutting in front of a truck
-- Avoiding driving alongside trucks whenever possible because if you can't see the truck driver's face in the side mirror, he or she can't see you
-- Avoiding tailgating

"The good news is that despite increasing numbers of cars and trucks on California roads and highways, the number of fatal car-truck crashes declined 6 percent from 1995 through 2001," said Bloch. "However injury crashes involving cars and trucks went up 4 percent during the same time period. Both car and truck drivers need to be careful and take precautions when driving near each other to save lives and reduce injuries."

The California Highway Patrol currently operates an "Operation Road Share" program where officers focus on the driving behaviors of both car and commercial vehicle drivers in an effort to increase safe driving.

The Automobile Club of Southern California says it will be sharing the AAA Foundation study with various law enforcement organizations and will publish information for members about driving safely near trucks in its Westways magazine.

The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety Study can be found at