ANALYSIS: Fatal crash statistics for 2011 reveal truckers often victims

By Jami Jones, Land Line managing editor | 10/30/2013

Truckers are involved in more crashes during the daytime, midweek, on days when the weather is clear and roads are dry – with no moving violations recorded.

That’s the picture revealed by crash data for 2011 recently released by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.

While there was a 3 percent increase over 2010 stats in the number of trucks involved in fatal crashes to 3,608, the actual statistics do not reveal truckers being the root of the problem – and in many cases they are the victim of another driver’s mistake.

In 89.7 percent of the fatal crashes involving large trucks, no moving violations were recorded. Only 10.3 percent of the crashes have at least one moving violation recorded.

The vast majority, 83.3 percent, of crashes occur between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. More than half of the wrecks happened on Tuesdays, Wednesday or Thursdays. Clear weather conditions were present 73.6 percent of the time. And the roads were dry 77.6 percent.

In looking at the actual fatalities, there were 2,063 drivers of the other motor vehicle involved in the crash with a large truck. There were 547 truckers who were killed in crashes in 2011 – 345 of those in single-vehicle crashes.

Seat belt use is markedly higher in trucking than in personal vehicles. But more truckers wearing both a shoulder and lap belt were either partially ejected or ejected from their trucks than drivers from passenger cars.

In 2011, 28.6 percent of all truckers who were wearing their shoulder and lap belts were partially ejected and 10.7 percent were totally ejected. While not included in the report, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration stats show that 16.2 percent of occupants in vehicles weighing less than 26,001 pounds were partially ejected and only 3 percent were totally ejected.

Looking expressly at passenger car and large truck occupant deaths in 2011, truckers represent nearly one-third of all the fatalities. Yet, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration does not have any crashworthiness standards for heavy-duty trucks, just passenger cars. Steps are being made in the right direction, because the agency has been mandated to study crashworthiness by Congress.

Speeding tops the list of driver-related factors assigned to the drivers of large trucks in fatal crashes at 7.9 percent of all driver-related factors. However, that does not necessarily mean the truck driver was speeding. The catch-all term of “speeding related” actually tracks seven different violations of the safety regs.

“Speeding related” includes violations of speeding as defined in 392.2: speeding 6 to 10 mph over; 11 to 14 mph over; 15 or more over; and speeding in work/construction zone. It also includes violations of failure to use caution for hazardous conditions (commonly referred to as driving too fast for conditions) and using or equipping a CMV with a radar detector.

The inclusion of a violation that is based on speculation and opinion (driving too fast for conditions) and one that has nothing to do with the actual speed of the truck artificially inflates the number of trucks perceived – because of the description of the factor – as actually speeding.

The majority of fatal crashes, more than 97 percent, happened on two-way roads and 81.9 percent happened on roads with a posted speed limit of 65 mph or lower.

While the report does not expressly delve into fault, passenger car drivers committed errors that led to the crashes far more often than the truck drivers. For instance, in the 325 deaths involving passenger cars rear-ending the truck, 96 percent of the driver-related factors were assessed to the passenger car driver. In median crossing crashes that resulted in death, the driver-related factor was assessed to the passenger car driver in 89.4 percent of the 226 fatalities.

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