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Past Truck Driver Behavior Can Predict Future Crashes

Nov. 15, 2022
New study from ATA uses scientific methods to predict likelihood of highway crashes.

Truck driver behavior is a key predictor of whether any driver will be involved in a road accident in the future, according to the American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI), the nonprofit research arm of American Trucking Associations (ATA).

“Having a science-based model for predicting crashes is one of the most important tools the trucking industry can have,” declared Dan Horvath, ATA’s vice president of safety policy. “ATRI’s Crash Predictor research allows carriers to target and monitor those truck driver behaviors that matter most. With truck crashes increasing, there is no better time to have this data in our hands.”

The new report provides an update to the organization’s Predicting Truck Crash Involvement research, which was first aired in 2005 with updates published in 2011 and 2018 as well as this year.

“Four years have passed since the release of the last Crash Predictor report,” ATRI noted. “Since then, [there have been] substantial changes in the regulatory environment, technology adoption, safety performance and working conditions.”

However, the report’s authors made the point that the time periods covering when the study was conducted generally preceded the impacts stemming from the COVID pandemic. “The industry’s efforts have generally shown promise: from 2005-2010, fatal truck-involved crashes decreased significantly by 24.8%,” they said. “Unfortunately, recent upticks in truck crashes may negate the long-term progress.”

ATRI’s analysis identified more than 25 different violations and convictions that increased the likelihood of future crashes, five of which increased future crash likelihood by over 100%. Simply having a previous crash increased a truck driver’s probability of having a future crash by 113%, which is 28.4% higher than previous ATRI Crash Predictor reports.

According to the institute, its research has succeeded in designing and testing a predictive model that is capable of identifying statistically significant relationships between truck driver safety behaviors and future crash probability. The new 2022 report uses the same statistical methods and is based on looking into more than 580,000 individual truck driver records.

A number of behaviors have consistently been strong indicators of future crash involvement across three or more reports, ATRI pointed out. In the 2022 report these were found to be:

· A reckless driving violation increased crash likelihood by 104%, showing an 8.8% decrease from 2018 to 2022.

· On the other hand, a failure to use/improper signal conviction increased crash likelihood by 116%, a 41.5% hike from 2018 to 2022.

· Prior crash involvement showed a 113% increased likelihood of a driver being involved in a future crash, 28.4% higher than previous reports.

· A failure to yield right-of-way violation increased crash likelihood by 141%, a 39.6% increase from 2018 to 2022.

· Improper or erratic lane changes conviction predictability remains at 79%, unchanged from previous reports, ATRI said.

Age and Gender Measures

The 2022 Crash Predictor update includes several new analyses, including a safety comparison between 18- to 20-year-old truck drivers and those who were older than 24 years. What ATRI found was that drivers younger than 21 years old have statistically fewer crashes than those older than 24.

Due to the small sample size of drivers under the age of 21, however, further research on young driver safety is necessary, the researchers admitted. Also, because they are currently excluded from obtaining a commercial driver’s license for operating in interstate operations except in highly supervised pilot research projects, most of their truck driving occurs in local service.

When it comes to gender, the analysis also documents a surprising differential between the percentage of female truck drivers overall (6.7%) and their much smaller representation among truck driver inspections (2.7%). Several explanations are being tested to better understand the basis for the difference, according to the researchers.

“While ATRI research corroborates that female truck drivers are safer, there is no clear basis for female truck drivers being inspected less frequently than male truck drivers—as is shown in this latest Crash Predictor data,” the researchers said.

They examined the inspection anomaly further by testing several hypotheses through research and interviews with female drivers. Most of these theories failed to pass muster (e.g., that they tend to drive for well-known, safer fleets), but one that appears to be accurate is that females are more conscientious about driving clean and well-maintained trucks.

Based on the inspector interviews and site visits, inspectors generally look for damage, cleanliness and odd driving behaviors. In addition, the researchers said a number of female drivers mentioned in their survey responses that they tend to be more inclined to pursue jobs where they can be home at the end of the day. This may motivate them toward Class B and Class C licenses, shorter trip lengths, and straight truck configurations, ATRI said.

Leaving inspections behind, when it comes to breaking the law, ATRI found that males continue to be more likely than females to have violations, convictions and crash involvement for all statistically significant events. From 2018 to 2022, males continued to be significantly more likely than females to commit 11 behaviors that are considered predictive of future crash involvement, the researched explained.

Of these behaviors, three experienced an increased likelihood compared to 2018. These three behaviors include a medical certificate violation (up 49.2% from 2018); failure to obey traffic sign conviction (up 50% from 2018); and failure to obey traffic control device violation (up 26.1% from 2018).

The remaining eight behaviors, while still more likely among males than females, had a lower increased likelihood in 2022 than in 2018. These eight behaviors include: a seat belt violation (down 2.6% from 2018); hours-of-service violation (down 30.0% from 2018); and a failure to obey traffic signal or light conviction (down 46.6% from 2018).

Also, violations by males were more likely to presage another incident, an out-of-service (OOS) violation (down 24.4% from 2018); false/no log book violation (down 28.3% from 2018); any conviction (down 42.5% from 2018); speeding more than 15 miles over speed limit conviction (down 55.8% from 2018); and a past crash (down 30.0% from 2018).

A female driver explained to the researchers, “Women have more to prove than men in this industry, and we have an image to uphold, so we have to make sure our record is clear.”

Finally, the report includes an updated list of the 10 Top Tier States for truck safety, ranked by the relationship between traffic enforcement inspections and crashes. Washington State was the top-ranked state, followed by Indiana, New Mexico, Arizona and Massachusetts. The others were (in order of ranking) Georgia, Pennsylvania, Illinois, California and Michigan.

Over the course of the ATRI studies conducted over the years, it said a correlation has been found between the number of state law enforcement inspections and the number of truck crash incidents—the more inspections conducted by a state, the lower the number of accidents.

A full copy of the report is available through ATRI’s website here.

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