The growing economy and driver shortage has placed a difficult burden on America’s truck drivers. Incidents of fatal truck driving accidents and difficult challenges demonstrate that the hard-working men and women of America’s roads and highways take considerable risk.
Consider, for a moment, that more than 70 percent of all goods and materials in the United States are transported by trucks, according to the American Trucking Association. Despite a driver shortage, the number of trucks on the road has actually climbed.
Of the more than 33 million trucks on the road, 3.63 million are Class 8 and those in active use rose by 500,000 from 2015 to 2016. Industry experts are saying that the industry has reached critical mass in 2018 as there are only about 3.5 million truckers in the industry. With more trucks than drivers, nearly every available rig is booked and that puts a lot of pressure to deliver freight.
Truckers carry produce and dairy from the heartland, seafood from the coasts, and manufactured goods to and from port among many others. The total amount of gross freight was estimated at $738.9 billion during 2016 to the tune of 10.55 billion tons.
Truckers bind America together like no other industry. They are the driving force that make the country’s economy the envy of all nations. But trucking jobs come with considerable risk as shown by Department of Transportation statistics reporting nearly 450,000 crashes involving large trucks in 2016, a high for the prior10-year period. Of these, 388,000 caused property damage, an additional 110,000 resulted in injury, and roughly 4,000 tragically resulted in death.
Truck Accident Fatality Statistics and Trends
According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, the majority of fatalities involving a large truck are occupants of smaller passenger vehicles.
The reason passenger vehicle occupants suffer a high number of deaths is simple physics. When collisions occur, cars and other small vehicles are at a significant size and weight disadvantage. A rig often outweighs a passenger vehicle by 20-30 times. It also stands much higher and enjoys greater ground clearance. A car can basically be swallowed up under the trailer.
Braking capabilities also differ greatly. A Mini Cooper may be able to stop on a dime. A fully loaded 18-wheeler requires anywhere from 20-40 percent more distant to effect a complete stop. Bad weather conditions can also make braking and slowing riskier.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported that 3,986 people lost their lives in truck collisions during 2016. Of those fatalities, 66 percent were in passenger vehicles and another 16 percent were either pedestrians, riding bicycles or motorcycles. About 18 percent were truckers or occupants in 2016. Perhaps more disheartening than the loss of life is that the number of fatalities has risen in recent years.
If we look back at incidents that occurred during the late 1970s, death tolls shot up from 4,305 in 1975 to 6,539 in 1979. Safety standards and policies helped to bring that number almost steadily down to a low 3,147 in 2009 with truck occupant death declining to 14 percent.
Despite a government crackdown on driver hours, deaths resulting from truck collisions has climbed up to 3,986 in 2016 with truck occupant deaths trending upwards to 17 percent. About 660 truck drivers and occupants lost their lives in 2016, the most since 2007. The number of fatalities appears to be an upward trend making trucking jobs among the most dangerous.
Where Do Fatal Truck Accidents Occur?
As one might expect, long haul trucking routes typically lead truck drivers to the most expedition travel means possible. Accordingly, 2016 statistics show the location of fatal truck accidents reported as follows:
- 60 percent of large truck deaths occured on major roads other than interstate and freeways
- 32 percent occured on interstates and freeways
- 7 percent were reported on minor roads
States with Highest and Lowest Truck Accident Trends
There are numerous contributing factors underlying truck accidents. Some areas of the country experience weather that can be hazardous to negotiate. Other regions allow higher rates of speed on certain highways, and some states what what seems like endless road construction projects in process.
According to analysis reported by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, these are the states that recorded the highest number of multiple vehicle accidents involving large trucks from 2005 to 2015.
Highest Number of Accidents in 2015
- Texas: Reported 389 accidents in 2015, the state has suffered a steady increase since 2009.
- California: Reported 214 accidents in 2015, the number is up by 56 since 2010.
- Florida: Reported 158 in 2015, the figure has increased by 22 accidents since 2009.
- Ohio: Reported 134 accidents in 2015, its highest rate since 138 in 2005.
- Georgia: Reported 134 accidents in 2015, its highest number since recording the same figure in 2008.
Lowest Number of Accidents in 2015
- District of Columbia: Reported zero accidents in 2015, the area has not experienced more than 6 during the last decade.
- Alaska: Reported 1 accident in 2015, with a 10-year high of only 5 in 2010.
- Rhode Island: Reported 1 accident in 2015. Its highest number was 5 in 2006.
- Vermont: Reported a low 3 accidents in 2015. During the 10-year span it’s the second time it was this low. The other years was 2007.
- New Hampshire: Reported 4 accidents in 2015, its lowest during the 10-year analysis.
Other accident trends show that West Virginia incidents are in decline. The state reported 18 in 2014 and 2015, which represent lows. Maine reported only 9 in both 2014 and 2015. It has remained in single digits four times during the period. Illinois posted 77 accidents in 2015, only one higher than its low 76 in 2006 and appears to be positively trending.
What Drives Truckers in Accidents?
Government agencies have pushed policies to reduce truck accidents on multiple fronts. The most notable has been cracking down on drivable hours and the push to install tracking in large trucks.
In reality, driver fatigue from excessive hours behind that wheel is only one of several factors that can cause an accident. According to a three-year Truck Crash Causation Study, these are the underlying causes behind truck accidents. Keep these leading causes in mind when working America’s roads and highways and be safe out there.
- Drug Use: According to the report, illegal and prescription drug use was a contributing factor in 26 percent of all truck collisions. Take care to monitor medications that cloud judgment and cause drowsiness. They can impede reaction times. Over-the-counter medications also contributed at a rate of 18 percent.
- Excess Speed: Approximately 23 percent of all truck accidents where, in part, due to high rates of speed. A large truck requires considerable space to fully stop and close attention to space cushions is advised.
- Unfamiliar Roadways: Contributing to 22 percent of all accidents, decision-making can be slowed when attempting to navigate new highways and roads.
- Blind Spots: Although training to check blind spots is fundamental, small vehicles, motorcycles and weaving drivers pose a significant challenge for truckers. Blind spots contributed at a rate of 14 percent.
- Driver Fatigue: As noted, the government has placed great emphasis on driver fatigue. Hours have been curbed although previous statistics demonstrated fatigue contributed to 13 percent of trucking accidents. A 2010 report indicated that 1.4 percent of accidents with death resulting involved driver fatigue as a contributing factor.
Mechanical Failure Crash Statistics
There has been a great deal of focus on drivers in truck accidents. The scrutiny has been unfairly weighted at times. In reality, large trucks are mechanical devices that break down and many accidents are caused by unanticipated failures. According to a Crash Study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, mechanical failures are a contributing factor to accidents had at approximately the following rates, by each type:
- 1- Tires and Wheels: Blowouts and worn tires ranked as the number one cause of mechanical issues that led to accidents. The study attributed tires and wheels a 35 percent factor.
- 2- Brakes: The second leading mechanical cause of truck accidents, it was seen as an issue in 22 percent of mechanical-related crashes.
- 3- Steering and Suspension: There is a significant drop off in mechanical issues after the first two. Steering and suspension was rated at only a 3-percent factor.
Truck drivers remain a vital part of our thriving economy and quality of life. The demand for transported goods and materials continues to rise and that places additional stress on the men and women who work the country’s roads and highways. We support truckers of all walks of life and hope these statistics prove informative and can be of help to educate people on steps to avoid becoming a statistic. Safe travels.