The transport of goods and products around this great nation of ours is part of the backbone of our economy. Raw materials, grains, foods, fuels and products of all kinds provide us with the necessities as well as the luxuries of life. It’s the semi-truck driver, after all, who gets each shipment where it needs to be, on time and in one piece.

In an ideal world, this would happen every time, with every shipment, without a hitch. However, we all know that such is not the nature of life. Mistakes happen, the unexpected happens — and unfortunately, accidents can happen. This is just how it is, and it’s better to face this fact than avoid it. Squarely facing the facts of a situation is empowering because effective action can then be taken to improve conditions going forward.

The anatomy of an accident

Many variables can be at play during highway semi-truck crashes, but the variables that emerge from the data tend to fall into one of these three key categories:

1. The Critical Event: This is the primary event or action that sets the vehicle (or vehicles) on a trajectory that makes the accident unavoidable.

2. The Critical Reason for the Event: This is the primary reason or failure that triggered the critical event. It is usually one of the following:

Driver Error – Includes physical impairments, the inability to stay awake, inattentiveness, speeding, poor judgment panicking or any other lapse in judgment.

Vehicle Malfunction or Failure – This can include tires blowing out or brakes malfunctioning.

Environmental Conditions – This can include an irregular roadway or inclement weather.

3. Associated Factors: This category can include just about any other possible factor contributing to the crash. The top 10 associated factors for accidents coded for semi-trucks and their drivers were as follows:

• Issues with the semi’s brakes
• Traffic flow interruption such as congestion or a previous accident
• Prescription drug use
• Driving too fast for weather conditions
• Unfamiliarity with the road or driving route
• Problems with the roadway
• Traffic control device or crosswalk requiring a stop
• Over the counter drug abuse
• Inadequate attentiveness
• Driver fatigue.

Collecting data about drivers to help improve performance

In light of this information about the major causes of crashes, employers should collect appropriate information from applicants and monitor current drivers on their fleet to help reduce the chances for accidents going forward. Employers should screen their employees based upon driving record, their use of alcohol or drugs in the past and whether or not they have a criminal record. Regular random drug screening of drivers could help determine if current employees are a safety risk.

Using good judgment to hire safe drivers

Since so many traffic accidents boil down to poor judgment, trucking companies should strive to screen applicants for evidence that they possess good judgment. Semi drivers should have excellent driving records and a good head on their shoulders. While it may be impossible to avoid the unforeseen, variables that can come up during a run such as unexpected weather changes, sudden debris on the road or inattentive drivers on the roadway, a semi-truck driver with good judgment and no substance issues stands a far better chance of navigating a crisis. This driver will be able to bring himself and his shipments to their destinations unscathed time and time again, and the result will be safer roads for all.

Even though the driver himself is the one who ends up involved in any incidents, the fleet owner can–and should–exercise a great deal of control over the drivers they hire and the safety of the entire fleet, preventing the kind of situation that could lead to an incident for a driver.