Have We Reached Peak Trucking Safety?

There’s a prevailing thought out there that if you take a look at long-term fleet trends, especially going back around 25 years or so, that there has been a steep decline in the crash rate for large, Class 8 commercial motor vehicles.

Then, if you take a closer look at just the past ten years, you will see that the decline has leveled off somewhat, though it still continues to drop. The reason for this might be quite simple. Has the “safety low hanging fruit”, if you will, already been plucked?

Reaching Peak Safety

Consider that better braking systems, speed limiters, advanced stability control systems and enhanced truck driver screening methods have seen incredible advances and one can only wonder how much more we have to go.

This is especially true in the area of vehicle technology. The fact is, fleets have to work even harder to find the next revolutionary safety tool.

It’s a point that can be illustrated by taking a look at the Large Truck and Bus Crash Facts report released in April. From 1979 to 2009, total fatal crashes witnessed a decline from 6,007 to 3,193. But if you then take a look at 2009 to 2014, you’ll find that fatal crashes increased slightly, from 3,193 to 3,649.

Another part of the report focuses on the large vehicle crash rate per 100 million vehicle miles traveled. If you dig down into those numbers, the same leveling off is occurring. During the same 30-year period, the rate went from 5.6 to 1.1, an astonishing drop. Again, from 2009 to 2014, that number inched up from 1.1 to 1.3.

So what’s next for safety technologies? Has the industry really hit a safety wall?

What the Future Holds

While many are talking about autonomous trucks and smart highways, we may need to take a more short term view of the problem. One area where there can still be marjor improvement is in the area of video systems, which represent an excellent truck driver coaching tool.

Video has a number of important uses. First, it can be used to corroborate or conflict with a truck driver’s story and two it can help truck drivers become better at what they do. Consider that truck driver behavior is the main factor in almost four-fifths of all large commercial motor vehicle crashes and you can see where video has a part to play.

Video can also be used to get a better glimpse into the trucking industry’s overall safety performance. Truck drivers are often frustrated by the behavior of other motorists, and video technology can help provide evidence to vindicate truck driver behavior.

The Smart Highway and Trucker

Beyond video and other burgeoning safety technologies, one thing that could significantly impact the so-called safety curve is that of autonomous vehicles and smart highways. With the DOT putting an advisory committee together on new rules, expect to see this industry expand at a rapid clip.

Some believe that semi-autonomous trucks and smart highways could impact safety statistics by 50% or more. Imagine a day when that 3,649 truck-attributable road deaths drops in half because smart highways are communicating with smart trucks and passenger cars.

In the end, however, the one thing that can most impact how safe big rigs are on the road is that of truck driver behavior. Quite frankly, it will be a long time off before the first smart highway interacts with smart trucks and cars, so until then, we need to rely on our truckers to be the best drivers they can be.

Do you have a comprehensive truck driver safety program in place? Remember, this is about more than CSA scores, this is about the safety of your employees and others on the road. As fleets make the right decisions, utilizing technology and driver training, perhaps we haven’t hit peak safety after all!