Truck-involved traffic fatalities on the decline
The number of truck-involved traffic fatalities declined 20 percent in 2009, dropping from 4,245 in 2008 to 3,380 in 2009, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The reduction is the lowest level recorded in Department of Transportation history and shows a 33 percent decrease in fatalities since the improved hours-of-service regulations first became effective in January 2004.
“These latest figures illustrate the trucking industry’s deep commitment to improving highway safety,” says American Trucking Associations (ATA) President and CEO Bill Graves. “ATA will continue to advance its progressive safety agenda in an effort to further this outstanding trend.”
With the assistance of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration through improved hours-of-service regulations first implemented in 2004, the trucking industry has seen dramatic drops in crash-related fatalities and injuries and remarkably improved crash rates. “Greater rest opportunities for drivers under the 2004 hours-of-service rules and a more circadian-friendly approach to a driver’s work-rest cycle have helped truck drivers achieve these exceptional results,” Graves adds.
In addition to the 20 percent reduction in crash fatalities involving large trucks, the number of truck occupant deaths decreased 26 percent in 2009, from 682 in 2008 to 503 in 2009. The number of truck occupants injured in truck-related crashes also declined 26 percent. Those are the largest declines among all vehicle categories.
The overall number of people killed in motor vehicle crashes in the United States decreased 9.7 percent from 37,423 in 2008 to 33,808 in 2009, the lowest level since 1950. That record-breaking decline in traffic fatalities is especially remarkable because preliminary estimates show vehicle miles traveled in 2009 increased by 0.2 percent from 2008.
Many factors contribute to big-rig highway safety statistics, starting with the professionalism of the drivers behind the wheels, the hours-of-service rules that govern a truck driver’s work day, the degree to which drivers abide by the HOS rules and rules of the road, and the willingness of carriers to make safety a top priority. For its part, the ATA says it will continue to support the current hours-of service rules and will remain committed to advancing its highway safety agenda. ATA’s 18-point safety agenda includes promoting greater safety belt use by commercial drivers, re-instituting a national maximum speed limit, improving truck crashworthiness standards, providing tax incentives for safety technologies and supporting a decade-long initiative to create a national clearinghouse for drug and alcohol test results.
Meanwhile, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) is looking to sideline high-risk commercial drivers and carriers through the CSA 2010 program while taking an aggressive stance on issues such as distracted driving (see the “Life on the Road” article elsewhere in this issue). As DOT Secretary Ray LaHood has repeatedly noted, talking or texting while driving is a recipe for disaster on our nation’s roads.