Federal crash stats paint an incomplete picture

By David Tanner, associate editor

New statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration show more people died in crashes involving large trucks in 2010 than in 2009. But with certain categories still missing in the report, it’s not possible to make true apples-to-apples comparisons according to OOIDA.

NHTSA released a research note in early December 2011 reporting that 3,675 people died in crashes involving large trucks in 2010 compared with 3,380 deaths in 2009.

While that’s an increase of 8.7 percent, the complete data used to determine highway safety has not been released and leaves out a key statistic – how many miles trucks traveled in 2010. The number of miles traveled enables researchers to determine the deaths per vehicle miles traveled, which is a more accurate representation of highway safety trends.

“Without a miles-traveled component, it’s just raw data at this point,” said OOIDA Director of Regulatory Affairs Joe Rajkovacz.

A true year-over-year comparison may not be available for another year, even though safety groups seem eager to cite the raw data from NHTSA’s research note.

“We won’t use those figures until the OOIDA Foundation has more data to analyze,” said Rajkovacz.

The data provided by NHTSA showed that the overall fatalities involving all vehicles is at the lowest level since 1949. According to the agency, 32,885 vehicle occupants and non-occupants died in 2010, down 2.9 percent from the 33,883 deaths reported in 2009.

Among those, 529 truck occupants died in 2010, which was up 6 percent from 499 occupant deaths reported in 2009. But conclusions remain limited without a breakdown of truck mileage being separated from other vehicles.

“That speaks to the crashworthiness of truck cabs, if nothing else,” said Rajkovacz. LL