Early on the morning of Aug. 1, 2006, as Dan Lindner prepared to leave his Illinois home for work, he kissed each of his two boys good bye. But before he could walk out the door, 15-month-old Aidan came waddling over for a second kiss. Not to be outdone by his little brother, Danny, 3, ran to his dad to get a second kiss goodbye of his own.
That was the last time Lindner ever saw his boys alive.
Later that morning, Lindner's wife Angela loaded the boys into the family minivan along with her mother, Dorothy Meller, for a four-hour drive to visit family in Ohio. Soon they got caught in congestion on Interstate 80, slowing down just behind a flat-bed truck.
But behind them, a three-axle Intercontinental 9400 semitrailer didn't slow down in time. That truck plowed into the Lindner's minivan at high speed, crushing it, and slammed into the flat-bed truck ahead, creating a horrific fire. Angela, the boys and her mother were all killed instantly. Clyde Roberts, the 57-year-old truck driver of the 9400, also died at the scene.
Fatal truck accidents like the one that killed Dan Lindner's family are all too common—happening nearly 11 times every single day in this country on average, and killing nearly 4,000 people each year, according to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.
On top of that, more than 100,000 people are injured every year in truck crashes. That's as bad as if a commuter jet crashed every single week of the year, killing everyone on board. And the numbers have been getting worse: Truck-crash fatalities have increased since 2009, as an improving economy leads to more goods being shipped on American highways and more pressure being placed on trucking companies—and drivers—to get the loads delivered on time.
Interviews by CNBC with regulators, industry, lawyers and victims reveal a toxic mix of causes for the deaths. The reasons why are as varied as overly tired drivers, companies that don't screen for problem drivers and government that is slow to force new safety technologies on to American roads. Some blame even goes to passenger vehicles weaving dangerously in and out of the way of heavier, slower-reacting trucks.
What is clear is that, in any other industry, thousands of deaths a year would generate a national outcry. But because trucking deaths are scattered in small numbers across the country, they don't often get covered in the national news—although this summer's fatal crash in New Jersey involving actor Tracy Morgan was a rare exception.
And with trucking as the backbone of a U.S. economy that's struggling to grow, both government and industry are wary of putting too many restrictions in place that could harm the country's ability to do business.