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February 9, 2015 4:00 AM, EST
Crash Death Rate Declines
By Eric Miller, Staff Reporter

This story appears in the Feb. 9 print edition of Transport Topics.

Large trucks traveled nearly 6 billion more miles on U.S. roads in 2013 than in 2012, and did so with greater safety results, according to American Trucking Associations’ calculations of federal data.

The truck-involved crash fatality rate declined 1.6%, to 1.441 per 100 million miles traveled in 2013 from 1.465 in 2012, ATA announced in statement on Feb. 2.

The number of truck-miles traveled rose to 275 billion in 2013 from 269.2 billion in 2012, according to government data, while the total number of fatalities in truck-involved crashes grew by 20 people to 3,964 in 2013.

ATA also said the truck-involved injury rate decreased to 34.5 per 100 million miles traveled from 38.6. The large-truck fatality crash rate has fallen 39.2% since 2003 and the injury rate is down 34.2%, ATA said.

“The trucking industry’s efforts to improve safety on our highways are showing results,” ATA President Bill Graves said. “While there is still much work to do, we should feel good that because of the efforts of ATA and others in the industry, our highways are safer even as our trucks deliver more goods all across our nation.”

The Federal Highway Administration and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration have not yet published their own 2013 large-truck crash rate numbers. However, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration confirmed in a statement on Feb. 4 that the 2013 large-truck crash rate has declined.

“Our preliminary review of the data . . . reflects a decline in the fatalities-per-mileage ratio for crashes involving large trucks,” the FMCSA statement read.

The agency plans to publish data later this year that will include the 2013 large-truck crash rate.

The more miles a truck logs, the greater the statistical odds that it might be involved in a crash, said Darrin Roth, ATA’s director of highway operations.

“All else being equal, someone who drives 10,000 miles a year has a higher likelihood of getting into a crash than someone who drives 5,000 miles a year,” Roth said.

ATA said it calculated the rate using 2013 vehicle miles traveled data from FHWA, and the number of 2013 truck-involved crash fatalities and injuries published by NHTSA.

The increase in truck-involved deaths in 2013 marked the fourth straight yearly uptick since hitting a low point during the recession of 3,380 in 2009. However, in comparison, there were 5,282 fatalities in truck-involved crashes and 140,000 injuries in 2000.

“Safety isn’t just job one for trucking, its jobs one, two, and three,” said ATA Chairman Duane Long, also chairman of Raleigh, North Carolina-based Longistics. “The commitment that carriers like mine have made to ensure that not just our drivers, but everyone on the road, arrives safely is producing results.”

Steve Owings, president of Road Safe America, said the fatal crash rate decline was a positive development.

“But obviously, any fatality is one too many,” Owings said. “I think that the U.S. should step up and realize that this is a very serious problem in this country — and we should take a leadership role in doing something about it. The trucking industry should be a leader in that effort.”

Henry Jasny, general counsel for the Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, said that the crash-rate statistic “sort of hides” the fact that more people are dying.

“The rate dropping is a good thing, and it’s interesting,” Jasny said. “But if the number of people dying on the roads is going up, it’s really no solace.”