Of course, an inescapable collision with a heavy-duty commercial vehicle is anyone’s worst nightmare. Still, there are plenty of instances where truck crashes don’t result in major injury, and the numbers have been dropping steadily over the decades, so should people be worried?
Let’s look at the hard data. First, we’ll start with the fact that heavy-duty commercial trucks were involved in 411,000 crashes in 2014. That represents a doubling over 2010, when the numbers began to rise a bit.
As we’ve reported on before, in 2014, 3,903 people died in trucking-related accidents. Truck-occupant deaths have seen a quarter-point rise, while trucking accident injuries have seen a 39 percent jump. So should we be worried?
Consider a couple counterpoints. The recession put the brakes on the trucking industry, so crash statistics likewise saw a dip where reporting measures are concerned. So these new numbers pretty much track right alongside the industry’s recent recovery. But is there still a threat to the system somewhere? And how do rules and regulations play into the picture.
Fatigue and Regulations
Driver fatigue is a problem in the trucking industry, but is often under reported. But according to recent studies, when truck drivers and fleet managers are trained to recognize sleep disorders and combat the onset of fatigue, fewer accidents result. Near-crash scenarios, such as nodding off, dropped by a full 40 percent.
According to the FMCSA’s numbers, nearly all truck drivers involved in a fatal crash during during 2013 were either considered fatigued or had exceeded the hours-of-service limits.
Last summer, the NHTSA and FMCSA put forth a proposal that would mandate all heavy-duty commercial trucks and other similar vehicles be maintained with speed-limiting governors. The agencies say the lower truck speeds could save as many as 500 lives a year. They also say that lower speeds translate into lower fuel economy.
Finally, pointing a dollar figure to the problem, the regulatory groups posited that the initiative could save the industry up to $1 billion in fuel annually. And while the American Trucking Associations (ATA) has been heavily lobbying for this change, the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association is firmly against it.
At this point in time, truck drivers can legally drive for 60 hours over seven days. They can also do 70 hours over eight days, but they do have a 34-hour rest period before starting again. In 2013, trucking companies were able to get the 1:00am to 5:00am mandatory rest period suspended.
The ATA was vehemently opposed to mandated nighttime rest periods, saying the rule made the roads less safe. They mentioned that they weren’t necessarily asking for additional hours, but rather the flexibility to use them efficiently and effectively, in the method of their choosing, within the law.
Then, in 2014, another transportation bill amendment saw a rider attached that would have expanded a driver’s on-duty time to 82 hours a week. Again, that amendment was cut. The new version now allows 73 hours in seven days, which stands at 13 hours over the current limit.
Still, this is about more than effective fatigue training. There are more pieces of legislation in the works. One would raise the maximum vehicle weight from 80,000 to 91,000 pounds. Consider that in Minnesota it is already legal for logging trucks to weigh up to 99,000 pounds and it isn’t hard to see where this could all go.
The final few pieces of pending legislation that could have a big impact on safety includes one that seeks to block all trucking safety records from the public for a minimum of two years.
Finally, the FMCSA is proposing to institute a “non-preventable” crash clause where the truck driver is proved not at fault. So where will all this go? While no one knows just yet, modern truck drivers have plenty to think about, and safety isn’t free.