Someone who is in an accident or rear-ended by a commercial vehicle often has questions about the driver, their experience, and the likelihood of a crash. Here are a few FAQs and statistics about commercial vehicles and how they operate on the road.
What is the difference between a commercial and a regular license or vehicle?
The vast majority of Americans have a general license because they just drive their personal cars (weighing less than 8,000 lbs) throughout the day. However, professional drivers need a special license, known as a Commercial Drivers License or CDL, if they are going to operate certain vehicles.
You need a CDL license if you plan to operate vehicles weighing more than 26,001 lbs. Additionally, you can get certain endorsements if you are going to be driving more than 15 people, carrying hazardous materials, or driving trucks with tankers or double trailers.
There are certain limitations to receiving a CDL. You must get the license in your home state and must be at least 18 years old to apply. You must be at least 21 years old to drive vehicles carrying hazardous materials. The licenses also have more requirements and higher fees than a normal driver’s license.
Conversely, you can apply for a non-CDL learner’s permit at the age of 15 and a license when you turn 16. However, some states have regulations for what times of day younger drivers can be on the road (with a set curfew) and who can be in the car at that time.
What different laws are there for commercial drivers?
Along with different laws on who can get a CDL, there are set restrictions for where commercial drivers can go and what they need to do. One of the biggest concerns that states have in regard to commercial drivers is the size and weight of their cargo. Most states have a maximum weight of 34,000 for trucks to pass on their roads, and they build weigh stations along their borders to make sure incoming trucks pass are within these limits.
Weigh stations take into consideration both the axle weight (the amount of weight carried by each axle) and the gross weight (the total weight of the truck) during the weighing process. States also use weigh stations to collect taxes based on the weight of the goods and to get an idea for the level of traffic on interstates.
Do commercial vehicles get into more or less accidents than regular cars?
There are many factors that go into play when determining whether more cars or trucks get into accidents. For example, the typical non-fleet driver will only driver 12,000 to 15,000 miles annually. Considering the average person gets into a car accident an average of once every 15 years, there’s likely only a six percent chance that a personal driver will get into a wreck annually. However, fleet drivers drive an average of 20,000 to 25,000 miles or more, significantly increasing the chances that they will get into an accident.
Despite the fact that commercial drivers are on the road more often than passenger drivers, there are still more passenger drivers on the street. According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, 4,400 large trucks or buses were involved in fatal accidents in 2016. In 2016, there were 34,439 total fatalities from car accidents. While means trucks or buses only made up about 13 percent of total fatal wrecks.
Interestingly, in the event of a car and truck accident, passenger cars are more likely to be at fault. The University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute studied 8,309 fatal car-truck crashes and found that the driver of the car (not the truck) was found to be at fault 81 percent of the time, compared to 27 percent for truck drivers. A similar study of more than 10,000 car-truck crashes by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found similar results.
Because of the number of people on the road, civilian drivers are still responsible for more accidents. However, the size of commercial vehicles makes any accident that involves them potentially more dangerous.
Are there different dangers for commercial drivers than regular drivers?
As we saw earlier, the biggest challenge facing commercial drivers is non-commercial drivers. Non-commercial cars are more likely to cause accidents, many of which can be fatal. However, there are some unique challenges that truck drivers experience that make their jobs more dangerous. These include:
Fatigue: driving long hours on the road can wear you down, while most non-commercial drivers can stop for the night and rest.
Difficulty parking and navigating city streets: large trucks and buses need large and tall parking spaces. Without adequate space, they run the risk of hitting other cars. The same can be said for driving through cities and on small roads with sharp turns. The risk of hitting something is much higher.
General workplace safety: commercial drivers need to be careful when loading items, getting out of the truck, and remaining in one position for several hours. They are also at risk of encountering unsafe situations if they stop late at night in remote rest stops.
There are other hazards that both commercial and non-commercial drivers share. Winter weather, rain, and wind can make conditions dangerous. More people on the road (for spring break or summer vacation) can also increase the chances of getting into an accident. However, driving is optional for many non-commercial drivers, who can wait for bad weather or traffic to pass. Many truck drivers have to drive through it in order to finish the job.
There isn’t much of a difference between commercial and non-commercial drivers. It’s possible to drive dangerously as a non-commercial driver and put the lives of everyone on the road at risk.
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