Semi-truck accidents appear to be on the rise, and a recent report from the American Association for Justice (AAJ) indicates that trucking-industry hazards and inadequate safety limits shift the burden of paying for much of the resulting financial burden to injury victims and taxpayers.

According to the AAJ’s “Truck Safety Alert: Rising Danger from Trucks and How to Stop It,” a fatal truck accident causes about $4.3 million in damages. Yet despite the risk of severe injuries and death to passenger-vehicle occupants in tractor-trailer accidents, the insurance minimum for cargo trucks is $750,000 and has been so since 1980.

In 2011, 3,757 people died in collisions between passenger vehicles and semi-trucks, according to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s “Commercial Motor Vehicle Facts” report; that represents an 11 percent increase over 2009. Approximately 98 percent of those killed in tractor-trailer accidents were occupants of passenger vehicles.

The AAJ report implies that lax safety enforcement and compensation programs that promote fatigued driving are leading contributors to truck accidents. Other causes of truck accidents include:

  • Insufficient vehicle maintenance
  • Inadequate driver training
  • Overloaded or improperly loaded cargo
  • Motor vehicle defects
  • Driving under the influence of alcohol or other drugs
  • Texting while driving or other form of distracted driving

Early estimates of motor vehicle accidents for 2012 released by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) suggest that fatalities may be on the rise again, although the agency’s initial report did not break down accidents involving semi-trucks. Full statistics for 2012 will be available later this year.

The NHTSA’s projections for 2012 traffic accident fatalities show an approximately 4-percent increase in the region that includes Kentucky and a 5-percent increase in the region that includes Indiana.