— Car drivers are at fault more often and substantially more likely to die in accidents with big-rig trucks, according to a study released today by the Automobile Association of America.
In 2000, 5,211 people were killed and about 140,000 injured in crashes involving large trucks, according to AAA's Foundation for Traffic Safety, which analyzed 10,000 fatal car-truck accidents.
In those crashes, 98 percent of fatalities occurred in the car. Car drivers were to blame in 75 percent of the accidents, while truckers were deemed responsible in the rest.
"Car drivers are unfortunately driving around trucks the same way they are driving around cars, which can lead to catastrophic circumstances," said Peter Kissinger, president and CEO of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.
The AAA blamed the majority of the crashes on five driving actions the group deems unsafe:
Failure to stay in your lane. Not yielding the right of way. Speeding. Violating signs and signals. Driver inattention.
Those five actions accounted for about 65 percent of unsafe driving actions, the study found.
Car Drivers Said to Lack Awareness
The AAA study says drivers lack proper education about driving with big rigs.
"We have a lot of inexperienced drivers in cars across the board," said Kissinger. "There is definitely more information that would be helpful to educate people on the differences between cars and trucks."
But on the road, car and truck drivers are playing the blame game.
Dana Lee of Houston commutes 40 minutes to work every day at Texas Children's Hospital. She has had her share of close calls with trucks.
"Truck drivers seem to think that they have the right of way even when they don't," she said. "They drive, most of them, very dangerously."
Like many car drivers, Lee thinks truck drivers are to blame for many problems on the roads.
"They have bigger, more dangerous vehicles," she said. "They need to be a bit more careful, a bit more cautious and watch out for those in little cars."
But Robert St. John, who's been driving a big rig on the East Coast for nearly 30 years, has a different opinion. He sees lots of driver mistakes.
"Sometimes I wonder if turn signals aren't an option in some cars," he said, "because I can react as a professional to anything that anybody does if you let me know what your intentions are."
Like the AAA, St. John stresses the importance of education and knowledge of proper driving around trucks.
"There is nowhere in the book, there is nowhere in the test when you go to get your driver's license on what you need to do around a truck to be safe," he said. "People just don't know."
Education may become even more important in the next decade as highways become even more crowded. In just the last decade, 1990 to 2000, the number of trucks registered in the United States increased 30 percent and the number of miles traveled rose 41 percent.
Like with cars, AAA warns of a truck's blind spots, the areas on both sides of a truck where the driver cannot see other vehicles in his rear-view mirrors. St. John agrees and says drivers should never "hang around" the truck.
"If they are going to come up alongside the truck, just don't stay in those areas," he said.
Braking distance is also a major concern. A large truck can require almost the length of a football field to come to a complete stop.
"If a car driver cuts in front of a heavy truck and slams the brake on, unfortunately, that could lead to a major accident," Kissinger said.
Drivers also need to understand that trucks cannot move like cars, said Kissinger. "A truck is less maneuverable. It doesn't stop as quickly, and therefore you need to give that truck more room," he said. "You need to give it more margin for error when you are driving around the vehicle."