A new report by Wards Intelligence provides some very interesting data on truck accidents, and tries to get below the surface to understand the reasons why such accidents are trending upward. Wards’ 2018 Commercial Vehicle Safety Report, “Who, Where & Why of Truck Safety Performance,” takes great pains to find the most up-to-date public and proprietary data sources to try to form a picture of the factors that caused truck-accident related fatalities to continue to increase after briefly decreasing in 2016.
There is, as you might expect, no single factor leading to the increase. Rather, it is a combination of social and mechanical factors that appear to have aligned last year to cause these fatalities to reverse a downward trend seen in 2016. To reach their conclusions, the authors relied on reports and/or data published by the Federal Highway Administration, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, FleetSeek, the U.S. Department of Transportation, and the Federal Motor Carrier Association. Based on these reports, the authors present useful statistics on a range of truck-related metrics such as truck related accidents 2007-2017; 2017 truck safety performance by state, truck weight, vehicle age, industry, and brand; truck-related accidents and injuries; 2017 truck and driver safety violations by frequency, state, type, vehicle age, industry, and brand; and 2017 truck crashes by state, GVW, and vehicle age.
The authors acknowledge that the data is not perfect. Each organizations has its own specific way of collecting and categorizing accident-related data, which can make it extremely difficult to aggregate the data and reach conclusions. Even so, the authors do offer valuable insights into why truck-accident related fatalities are on the rise. As they write, “there is no objective evidence why fatal truck accidents have risen of the last eight years. However, there are some plausible, if not provable, factors that might be considered contributors.” Why is it, they ask, that as passenger vehicle safety is improving, thanks in large part to new radar-based technology, truck safety is getting worse.
Some of the factors are sociological. The Great Recession shrank the trucking business, and as the economy has rebounded, experienced operators are working longer hours as companies scramble to find and train a new generation of operators. This combination of both overworked and inexperienced operators could clearly make the highways more dangerous. The authors also point to increased traffic congestion and a worsening infrastructure. As we have noted elsewhere, pressure also comes from cities and municipalities encouraging people to commute by foot, bicycle, and motorcycle—all of which pose a particular safety challenge for truck operators.
And then there is the very nature of trucks themselves. They are big and heavy with lots of inertia and have large blind spots that can cause collisions with other road users. Trucks also represent a large investment, with a useful lifespan of decades. Financially speaking, that is a very favorable attribute. In terms of safety, however, it means older trucks must be retrofitted with safety equipment.
On the other hand; newer trucks, which often have safety equipment as a standard offering, tend to be driven faster, and cover more miles per year than older trucks. Cumulatively, according to the data presented in the report they account for many more recent deaths than older . Fleet owners interested in improving their safety records will find a great deal of useful granular information in the report about precisely what on-board truck systems (braking, lighting, etc.), which make and year vehicles, and which states account for a disproportionate share of fatalities.
When it comes to improving truck safety, information is a valuable thing. This report will provide fleet owners and operators with a great deal of useful data, some thought-provoking theories, and a great deal of food for thought.