Who are the most dangerous drivers on the road? It ain't truckdrivers

| 9/3/2002

The trucking industry has tried to state the case for years to a motoring public in denial. But a new study from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety says nationally, car drivers are more likely to cause car-truck fatalities than truckdrivers.

The AAA Foundation study says educating motorists about the risks of driving near trucks or training motorists how to drive near trucks likely would help promote safer driving practices.

"We have a lot of inexperienced drivers in cars across the board," said Peter Kissinger, president and CEO of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Study. "There is definitely more information that would be helpful to educate people on the differences between cars and trucks."

The study points out that car drivers account for nearly 98 percent of driver fatalities in car-truck crashes primarily because of the differences in the size of the vehicles.

About 80 percent of car drivers had at least one unsafe driving act recorded compared to 27 percent of truckdrivers, AAA says. Each driver could have up to four unsafe driving acts recorded and if you look at all of these unsafe actions, 75 percent were linked to car drivers and 25 percent were linked to truckdrivers. It notes the five most common driving behaviors that contribute to about 65 percent of crashes.
* Failing to stay in the lane or running off the road;
* Failing to yield the right of way;
* Driving too fast for conditions or above the speed limit;
* Failing to obey signs and signals; and
* Driver inattention.

AAA says the study supports previous studies of car-truck crashes, which also show unsafe actions by car drivers are more likely to be recorded than unsafe actions by truckdrivers - a finding first publicized by the Automobile Club of Michigan in its 1999 Sharing the Road series in Michigan Living magazine.

"Motorists don't recognize that trucks behave very differently from cars, so they think trucks can stop on a dime and change lanes quickly," says Richard J. Miller, manager of Community Safety Services for Michigan's Auto Club. "In reality, trucks take a long time to stop and cannot whip from lane to lane. As a result, a mistake near a truck can have catastrophic consequences for a motorist."

"These tragedies are preventable," Miller says. "When car drivers understand how trucks are different, they can make allowances for the big rigs' limitations. By adjusting their driving style, motorists can safely and confidently share the road with large vehicles."

An examination of California data by Steven Bloch, Ph.D., senior researcher for the Automobile Club of Southern California, suggests the same holds true for the state. Cars and trucks collided in 349 fatal crashes in California last year, according to the Auto Club, often because car drivers don't change their behavior when driving around trucks to adjust for the difference.

Bloch says "The good news is that despite increasing numbers of cars and trucks on California roads and highways, the number of fatal car-truck crashes declined 6 percent from 1995 through 2001. However injury crashes involving cars and trucks went up 4 percent during the same time period. Both car and truckdrivers need to be careful and take precautions when driving near each other to save lives and reduce injuries."

"Any fatal crash is one too many," says Bloch. "Car drivers need to realize that greater precautions must be taken when driving near trucks. Truckdrivers need to be aware of speed, abrupt lane changes and to check blind spots for smaller vehicles. If both truck and car drivers drive safely and responsibly, the chances of crashes diminish."

The California Highway Patrol currently operates an "Operation Road Share" program where officers focus on the driving behaviors of both car and commercial vehicle drivers in an effort to increase safe driving.

The Automobile Club of Southern California says it will be sharing the AAA Foundation study with various law enforcement organizations and will publish information for members about driving safely near trucks in its Westways magazine.

The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety Study can be found at www.aaa-foundation.org.
-- Keith Goble, staff writer