This story appears in the April 25 print edition of Transport Topics.
Even though large trucks traveled upward of 4 billion more miles in 2014 than in 2013, fewer of them were involved in fatal crashes and fewer people died in those accidents.
The number of large trucks involved in fatal crashes decreased by 5% from 2013 to 2014, falling from 3,921 to 3,744, according to a report released April 15 by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.
The total number of fatalities involving large trucks slipped 2%, to 3,903 in 2014 from 3,981 in 2013.
The declines in the number of truck-involved fatal crashes and fatalities occurred even though trucks traveled more than 279 billion miles in 2014, up from about 275 billion a year earlier. As a result, the rate of large trucks involved in fatal crashes per 100 million miles traveled by large trucks declined by 6% to 1.34.
“It is a tragedy whenever there is a fatality on our highways, but the trucking industry is pleased to see that it is a tragedy that fewer and fewer Americans are experiencing,” American Trucking Associations President Bill Graves said.
Looking specifically at combination trucks, which FMCSA defines as a straight truck or a truck tractor pulling any number of trailers, the number of those vehicles involved in fatal crashes declined from 2,813 in 2013 to 2,717 in 2014. Fatalities in those crashes decreased from 2,896 to 2,839.
The fatality rate per 100 million miles traveled for combination trucks remained steady at 1.7.
“Our No. 1 priority is always the safety of every individual traveling on our roadways, so any crash fatality is a tragedy,” FMCSA Acting Administrator Scott Darling said. “While the numbers show that progress is being made, FMCSA and our state partners must remain vigilant in reducing crashes as we seek to achieve zero deaths.”
In 2005, 4,951 large trucks were involved in fatal crashes with 5,235 fatalities. Five of the past 10 years have seen drops in both categories. Over that period, the number of large trucks involved in fatal crashes was down 23%, with fatalities down 25%. This occurred even though the number of miles traveled by trucks increased 20%.
“While the one-year decline being reported by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is positive, the long-term trend is of paramount importance, and that trend is impressive,” Graves said. “The number of crashes involving large trucks has fallen 39% since 2004, and while there is much more to do, that is a figure our professional drivers, our safety directors, our technicians and our safety partners in federal and state law enforcement can be proud of.”
The number of vehicle occupants who died in crashes involving a single large truck declined from 431 in 2013 to 406 in 2014. The number of vehicle occupants who died in crashes involving a truck and at least one other vehicle, also decreased, from 264 in 2013 to 251 in 2014. A decade ago, 478 people died in the former type of crashes, and 326 died in the latter.
The rate of large trucks involved in fatal crashes per 100 million miles traveled by large trucks declined in 2014 by 6%, to 1.34 from 1.43 in 2013. However, the number of large trucks involved in injury crashes increased by 21%, to 88,000 in 2014 from 73,000 in 2013. The large-truck-involvement rate in injury crashes also increased by 21%.
“We’re pleased to see progress on reducing the number of fatalities, but I’m very disappointed to see the number of injury crashes increase pretty dramatically,” said Steve Owings, president of Road Safe America, who noted that the total number of truck crashes involving death or injuries increased from 2013 to 2014.
The number of combination trucks involved in injury crashes rose from 38,000 to 45,000. That figure was 46,000 in 2005. The number of people injured in those crashes jumped from 48,000 to 57,000. That figure was 63,000 in 2005.
The number of large trucks involved in property damage only crashes increased by 31% to 346,000 in 2014 from 265,000 in 2013, while the large-truck-involvement rate in property damage only crashes increased by 29%.
The number of combination trucks involved in property damage crashes soared from 133,000 to 175,000. That number was 177,000 in 2005.
“While we always welcome the number of fatalities declining, there are a number of troubling increases which greatly concern us,” said John Lannen, executive director of the Truck Safety Council. “Sadly, we are not seeing the improvement in overall truck crashes, injuries and fatalities that we would like to see.”