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Commercial Motor Vehicle Accident Factors or Causes

Commercial Motor Vehicle crashes may be caused by one or more sets of factors. Oftentimes it is difficult to isolate a single cause, and potentially even more difficult to demonstrate responsibility or fault. Common crash factors include:

Driver factors

  • Fatigue
  • Alcohol and/or drug abuse,
  • Carelessness and distractions
  • Poor judgment and/or tendency to engage in risky behaviors like speeding
  • Basic biographical data such as age, gender, height, weight, and employment record

Those drivers who disregard safety regulations tend to do so habitually and over the course of a career as a CMV driver. Studies show that “a driver’s past safety performance is a strong predictor of future safety performance.” 1

Vehicle factors

  • Type of vehicle involved
  • Malfunctioning in the vehicle’s machinery or systems, for example, tires or breaks

Environmental factors

  • Road conditions
  • Weather conditions
  • Spills or obstructions on the highway

Managerial or administrative factors

  • Driver supervision
  • Loading procedures
  • Safety and maintenance record keeping

Driver factors such as fatigue are especially precarious because, unlike mechanical problems such as deficient tires, they cannot be identified or remedies in advance of a long drive. A worn-out tire or a malfunctioning steering system can be spotted during a maintenance survey, and repaired before the drive begins. Fatigue, by contrast, emerges as an extremely high risk slowly, imperceptibly, and while the drive is still underway.

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Distracted Driving

By definition, distracted driving is when “a driver’s attention is diverted away from driving by a secondary task that requires focusing on an object, event, or person not related to the driving task.” 2 According to a report from the National Highway Safety Administration, external distractions include objects and events outside of the vehicle, for example roadside crash scenes, billboards, pedestrians, bicyclists, other drivers, emergency vehicles, animals or remarkable features of the landscape. By comparison, internal distractions occur inside the vehicle and may include use of a handheld electronic device, adjusting mirrors, sound, or other vehicle controls such as air conditioning, retrieving an object from the front passenger seat or floor of the cab, eating, drinking, or smoking.

Electronic Device

One of the most insidious forms of distracted driving involves a handheld electronic communication device, such as a cellphone. As such devices present a serious hazard for people driving their own cars, they present an even more serious danger in the context of a large, fast-moving truck. The National Highway Safety Administration classifies three kinds of electronic device use while driving:

  • Driving while holding a phone to the ear
  • Driving while speaking into a wearable headset
  • Driving while manipulating a handheld device, including a cellphone, smart phone, tablet, or video game. This would include text messaging, using a device to locate driving directions, checking emails, browsing a calendar or work order schedule, playing a handheld game, or entering data into an electronic log. 3


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1 David E. Cantor et al., “A Driver Focused Truck Crash Prediction Model,” Transportation Research Part E 46 (2010): 689.

2 National Traffic Law Center. (2017, May). Investigation and prosecution of distracted driving cases (Report No. DOT HS 812 407). Washington, DC: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. LINK

3 T. M. Pickrell, et al., Driver Electronic Device Use in 2015 (Traffic Safety Facts Research Note. Report No. DOT HS 812 326). Washington, DC: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. LINK



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