What if I told you, the trucks you share the highways with are safe and getting safer, would you believe it? You wouldn’t know it from reading the news these days, but it’s true.
The trucking industry spends more than $7 billion annually on safety training and technology in order to prevent crashes and make sure that more American families, motorists and, yes, professional truck drivers arrive at their destinations safely.
Recently, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration gave us the most recent look at truck safety by releasing the 2014 edition of their Large Truck and Bus Crash Facts report. The full report can be found here, and while it offers a mix of good and bad news, we believe the overall themes are positive for trucking and for motorists.
First, the report points out that in 2014, the number of truck-involved fatal crashes fell 3.7% from the previous year. That’s good, but only a small part of the story. The larger tale, and the one that is most important in our eyes is the long-term trend. Since 2004, the number of fatal crashes involving large trucks had dropped 23.5%. Perhaps not coincidentally, the drop has come mostly under the current hours-of-service rule, the rule that does not restrict drivers’ use of the 34-hour restart.
Now, there are groups that will try to dismiss both last year’s decline and the long-term trend, by falsely claiming fatalities only really fall at times of economic hardship and ignoring the trend that since 1980, when trucking was deregulated, fatal truck crashes have dropped 32%, through times of economic boom and bust.
FMCSA’s report also highlights, yet again, that the most common cause of a truck-involved crash is speeding and aggressive or inattentive behavior by passenger vehicle drivers. While anti-truck groups hold out fatigue and more restrictive hours-of-service rules as a silver bullet, commercial driver fatigue is cited as a factor in less than 4% of crashes. Even if you assume some underreporting and double, or triple that figure, it doesn’t add up to the number of times passenger vehicle speeding or inattentive driving or passenger driver fatigue leads to a crash.
One other thing the report makes clear is that the riskiest time of day for commercial vehicles to be on the road is during the day – more than 60% of fatal crashes, and nearly 80% of other crashes – happen between 6am and 6pm. This is just one reason why ATA is pushing to retain the current hours-of-service rules, ones that don’t needlessly restrict the use of the 34-hour restart. Those restrictions push more traffic into daytime hours, leading to more crashes.
The news wasn’t all positive in FMCSA’s report however, and it is important to acknowledge that. The report showed that while fatal crashes fell, crashes involving property damage or injuries rose. This is an area where technology is already helping save lives by making vehicles more crashworthy, but where continued improvements in active safety systems, along with education can do more. ATA believes we will see great advances in the technical arena, with devices like automatic emergency braking, that this trend will starting heading back in the right direction soon. We also caution that fatal crash figures are very accurate, other crash figures are estimates.
ATA believes we all need to do more to reduce crashes. That includes reducing highway speeds for all vehicles, using technology to cap truck speeds and to ensure compliance with hours-of-service rules and enforcing safe driving laws on our highways. It also includes better driver education, whether by ATA’s Share the Road Professionals or in the classroom, but we believe that by taking the right steps to address the most common causes of crashes, we will see even greater safety improvements in the future.
Note: This article originally appeared on the ATA's website.