There are more than ten million motor vehicle accidents in the United States every year, causing nearly forty thousand deaths, roughly one-third of the accidental deaths ever year, making car accidents the leading cause of death for children over 5 and adults under 34. Even staying out of a car isn’t enough to be safe: over five thousand pedestrians and bicyclists die every year after being struck by an automobile. Cars are essential to many of our jobs and for fulfilling many of our family responsibilities, but they’re still dangerous. Auto accidents are the single most common cause of spinal cord injury and the second most common cause of traumatic brain injury (after falls).
Commercial Vehicles Like Tractor-Trailers, Heavy Trucks, And Passenger Vans Make Accidents Deadlier
It’s a matter of physics: the less massive a vehicle is in an accident as compared to other vehicles involved, the more likely it is that a passenger in that smaller vehicle will be injured or killed. Data from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Fatal Accident Reporting System (FARS) confirms that large trucks and other commercial vehicles are overrepresented in the proportion of fatal car accidents, accounting for 9 percent of fatal wreck even though they only account for only 3 percent of registered vehicles and 7 percent of total miles traveled.
Public relations professionals for the trucking industry and other industries which operate large vehicles, like commercial shipping and tour buses, are quick to point out that their drivers are better trained than typical drivers, and that they have strict policies relating to alcohol use and fatigue. That may sometimes be the case — although, in our experience, we have seen many intoxicated commercial vehicle operators, many drivers who are encouraged to forgo sleep to complete trips faster, and many companies which don’t bother to enforce their safe driving policies — but, truth is, commercial vehicles have very little margin for error when operating on interstates and highways alongside much smaller passenger vehicles.
Many Vehicles Are Not “Crashworthy” Because They Are Defectively Designed Or Include Defective Parts
More than a century after the invention of the automobile, eighty years after the first crash test (conducted by General Motors), fifty years after the first standard three-point seat belts (in Volvos), and twenty years after airbags became mandatory, motor vehicles today still aren’t always designed or manufactured with safety as the first priority.
Passenger vans are a common, and tragic, example of a defective automobile that nonetheless persists on the road. In 2001, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration issued a report on the “The Rollover Propensity of Fifteen-Passenger Vans” followed by two unprecedented consumer advisories — followed by a ban on using those vans for school-related transport of students in high school or younger — describing how 15-passenger vans are more prone to lose control when heavily loaded, more difficult to recover when they go out of control, and more prone to rollover, particularly when loaded with 10 or more passengers. In short, passenger vans (like sport utility vehicles) have too high a center of gravity, a center of gravity made higher with each additional passenger.
Passenger vehicles aren’t immune to similar stability and crashworthiness problems. Roof crush accidents, in which the pillars holding up the roof give way, are common during a rollover, as are seat belt, buckle, and airbag failures. Defectively designed or manufactured airbags can also fire prematurely, causing concussions, contusions, and fractures of the nose and jaw. Tire failures and blowouts are also a common cause of crashes, not least since many “new” tires are actually a decade old or older, making them more susceptible to separation of the layers or tread.
If you or a loved one have been in a car accident, please contact our Philadelphia car accident lawyers using the form below for a free, confidential consultation.
We represent clients across Pennsylvania, focusing our car accident law practice on Philadelphia, Montgomery, Bucks, Delaware, Chester, and Lancaster counties. In New Jersey, we focus on Camden, Burlington, Glouchester, Salem, Mercer, Ocean, and Atlantic Counties. In Delaware, we focus on New Castle and Kent counties.
You can also read some of my car accident blog posts, such as:
- Driverless Cars And Crashworthiness Under The Common Law
- Did Ryan Dunn’s Passenger Assume The Risk Of Riding With A Drunk Driver?
- Proving Intoxication In Auto Accident Lawsuits Despite Legal Blood-Alcohol Levels
- Another Falsified Logbook, Another Preventable Truck Accident Death
- Lawsuits Are The Primary Reason Cars Are Safer Today