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Why has there been so many high-profile semi crashes in the Seattle metro area lately?

Here’s a sample of what we found in just the last few weeks in King County and Pierce County.

On April 5, a truck driver was killed when his vehicle’s brakes failed on a downhill slope in Tacoma, forcing him to crash the vehicle into a building.

A day later, brakes failed in another tractor-trailer, according to the Washington State Police. The truck collided with two other vehicles on West Valley Highway (SR 181).


On April 12, a pedestrian was seriously injured after being struck by semi truck on a ramp to I-5 near Mill Creek.

April 15: A semi crashes on I-5 near Mercer Avenue, and partially dangles off the freeway overpass.

A week later, a tractor-trailer turned over on westbound I-90, east of I-5, blocking two lanes for hours.

On April 27, a serious injury pile-up on SR-18 in Federal Way involved two semis and several vehicles.

The very next day, the driver of the semi-truck fell asleep and struck a concrete barrier on I-5 in Lakewood. The truck and trailer rolled over, blocking northbound traffic for several hours.

The day after that, a semi-truck rolled into the ditch on SR-302 in Gig Harbor. The trucker was driving too fast to stop for traffic ahead.


May 5: A semi-truck collision at Pacific Highway and Port of Tacoma Road in Fife blocked traffic for hours.

May 7: First, a collision involving two vehicles and a pedestrian led to traffic slowing to a stop. Then, a Fed-Ex truck rear-ended a semi-truck at a high enough speed to push it into another truck. Two of the trucks were carrying perishable food: respectively, cream and milk, and 30,000 pounds of fish.

This most recent messy pileup has prompted people to start wondering why it seems like there are more big truck crashes than usual.


The Washington State Department of Transportation in Tacoma shared images of the recent wreck that spilled milk, cream, and fish all over I-5.

What is causing all these semi crashes?

Commercial truck crash data is tracked at a federal level. That is a long process, so we don’t know exactly what we are looking at yet, but here are a few possibilities.

  • A few high-profile crashes is giving the appearance of an unusually large number of semi crashes.
  • There is an increase in semi-truck traffic due to an uptick in shipping, populations shifts, or even warehouse locations.
  • We are seeing an increase in the number of semi-truck crashes based on vehicle miles traveled, either regionally or nationally.

What we do know is that there are a few truck crash causes that we see over and over again.

A factor in most truck crashes

In some of these recent incidents, the photos tell us the story. In others, police officers cited causes including excessive speed, driver distraction, and failed brakes.

Among these causes, distraction is a common contributing factor. It prevents drivers from properly monitoring the road and watching for potential hazards.

Brake failure is less common, since a truck’s brakes are supposed to be checked regularly by the motor carrier, but the resulting collisions often end with fatalities.

Speed is almost always a big factor in serious or fatal collisions involving all types of vehicles. (There’s been so many speed-related crashes lately that the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department has been tweeting out videos from officers begging drivers to slow down.)

It’s an even bigger problem with semi-trucks, which are much heavier and therefore, require more time to slow down.

“In the entire Seattle metro region, speeds are up about 15% over 2019,”

“People are traveling faster, so what happens is when people are traveling faster and there’s an accident, that accident tends to be more severe.”

Bob Pishue, transportation analyst for INRIX (King5)

In the random handful of local truck wrecks in the last few weeks, we can see that speed contributed to three jackknifed trailers, a rollover, and several pile-ups.

The most concerning thing about these recent incidents, some of which were absolutely devastating for the people involved, is how accustomed we have all become to them. Aside from the collisions deemed newsworthy because they resulted in multiple deaths or disastrous spills, the majority of semi crashes are only mentioned by police or traffic reporters.

We do not have to accept that this level of traffic violence is just a normal part of life, instead of a persistent public health crisis.

We can, and should, think about we can all do to make our roads safer.


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