Are Semis Safer than Cars? What the Statistics Say

by cjadmin | June 17th, 2024

Driving on California’s highways and city streets means navigating the road with large semi-trucks. If you’ve ever paid attention to their size versus a passenger vehicle, you may wonder whether it’s safer to be in a semi or a car during an accident.

Today’s cars are equipped with cutting-edge safety technologies such as advanced airbags and automatic emergency braking (AEB), making them appear to be the safer choice.

Semi-trucks, which can weigh up to 80,000 pounds, are fortified with features like reinforced cabs and air brake systems that primarily protect their drivers in collisions. However, the sheer mass and build of these trucks can lead to more severe consequences for passenger cars in the event of an accident.

Learn which is safer, a semi-truck or car, and how a California truck accident lawyer can help if you’re hurt in a crash.

Accident and Fatality Stats

Analyzing traffic accident and road fatality statistics provides an objective perspective on the safety of different vehicle types, such as trucks and cars. Here are some national trends for passenger vehicles and large trucks that shed light on their safety:

StatisticPassenger VehiclesLarge Trucks
Fatal Crash Involvement Rate76% (46,822 vehicles) 9% (523,796)
Fatal Crash Rate12.53%41.13%
Fatalities26,325 passenger vehicle occupants5,788 people
Contributing FactorsAlcohol (24%)Previously recorded crashes (18.2%)Speeding (22%)Alcohol (3%)Previously recorded crashes (20.8%)Speeding (23%)

So, what do these numbers show? At first glance, it may seem like large trucks are safer vehicles as they have fewer deaths, injuries, and crash involvement rates. However, large trucks are only 5% of all registered vehicles and 10% of total vehicle miles traveled (VMT). Passenger cars comprise 92% of registered vehicles and 88% of total VMT.

The statistics show a concerning disparity: large trucks have a fatal crash rate three times higher than passenger vehicles, at 41.13% versus 12.53%. Despite making up only 5% of registered vehicles, large trucks are associated with many road fatalities.

The fatality rate per registered vehicle percentage further highlights this risk—large trucks see approximately 1,158 fatalities per 1% of registered vehicles, compared to 286 for passenger vehicles. This shows that the fatality risk for large trucks is about four times higher than that for passenger vehicles, illustrating the increased danger associated with large trucks on the road.

Large truck statistics also show the following:

  • 72% of fatalities in large-truck crashes in 2021 were occupants of other vehicles.
  • 71% of injuries in large-truck crashes involved occupants of other vehicles.
  • Large trucks had a 1.74% rate per 100 million large truck VMT for fatal crashes but a 36% rate for injury crashes per 100 million large truck VMT.
  • 81% of large trucks in fatal crashes were in multivehicle incidents, compared to 63% for passenger vehicles.
  • 26% of fatal truck crashes occurred on interstates and 55% in rural areas.
  • California had the second-highest number of large-truck occupant fatalities at 48.

What Do We Mean By “Safer”?

When looking at the safety of passenger cars versus semi-trucks, semis may be the more dangerous vehicle on the road. However, California has various regulations for cars and big rigs to help keep everyone safe, including:

  • Vehicle Weight and Size Regulations: California enforces strict limits on the weight and dimensions of semis to prevent overloading and reduce the risk of accidents due to vehicle instability. This includes a maximum height of 14 feet, up to 75 feet in length for semi-trucks, and a weight limit of 80,000 pounds. 
  • Mandatory Safety Equipment: Commercial vehicles in California must have safety equipment like fire extinguishers, lights, and windshields.
  • Regular Vehicle Inspections: Both state and federal law require semi-trucks to undergo rigorous inspections to maintain the vehicle and protect road user safety. California also requires passenger cars to undergo regular inspections for preventative care for systems like brakes, steering, and tires for optimal protection.
  • Speed Limits and Driving Rules: Different speed limits may apply to semis, especially in urban areas or on certain roads, to manage the risk posed by their size and weight. For instance, cars may travel up to the marked speed limit on highways, while semi-trucks are limited to 55 mph.
  • Training and Licensing Requirements: Semi-truck drivers must obtain a commercial driver’s license (CDL) with specific endorsements based on the type of vehicle and cargo, ensuring they have the necessary skills and knowledge to operate a large truck safely.
  • Alcohol regulations. Federal law (49 CFR 382.201) imposes a strict .04% Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) limit on commercial truck drivers to help reduce the risk of alcohol-related accidents. Passenger car drivers are held to a BAC of 0.08% or less to avoid legal repercussions.

Get Legal Assistance After a Traffic Accident

If you’ve been in an accident with a semi-truck on California roads, you need skilled legal representation to protect your rights. Our California truck accident lawyers at Berg Injury Lawyers have helped accident victims receive the guidance and compensation they deserve for over 40 years.

We can help you understand your rights and discuss possible strategies for winning your claim. Contact us today for a free consultation.