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Speeding, distracted driving, work zone accidents and a lack of seat belt use in fatal truck-occupant crashes remain “areas of concern” among federal trucking regulators, according to a top official at the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.
Those challenges are joined by the persistent uptick in recent years in the number of heavy truck-involved fatal crashes, said Bill Bannister, chief of FMCSA’s analysis division. A more recent area of concern is an increase in the number of truck-involved pedestrian fatalities, Bannister said.
Bannister and a number of other FMCSA top officials made their comments at the agency’s 20th annual Analysis, Research and Technology Forum on March 10. The virtual event’s sessions ranged from statistical and enforcement updates to the latest in research, as well as comments from FMCSA’s new acting Administrator Meera Joshi.
“We’re looking at the latest crash trends. They concern us,” said Tom Keane, FMCSA’s associate administrator for the Office of Research and Registration. “So we’re taking a wholesale look at our programs, reassessing where we might be able to do some things differently. We’re talking with our state partners to figure out what the best practices are, and where we might be able to go from here moving forward.”
Bannister said that the most troublesome truck driver behaviors cited as contributing to crashes include not wearing occupant restraints, cellphone use and texting, distractions, unsafe driving speeds and drug- and alcohol-impaired driving.
“However, we should note that a little more than two-thirds of truck fatal crashes have no driver-related factors cited in the crash,” he added.
Bannister said although the trend line for truck and bus fatal crashes is up in recent years, it’s still below the number of fatal truck crashes reported in 2000.
A further consideration in looking at the most recent numbers is the fact that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Fatality and Analysis Reporting System data methodology was changed in 2016, when pickup trucks weighing more than 10,000 pounds began to be counted as large trucks.
“Starting in 2016 NHTSA improved its methodology in assessing the number of trucks, adding pickup trucks to the mix that would have been previously counted as small trucks,” Bannister said.
Joe DeLorenzo, acting associate administrator for FMCSA’s Office of Enforcement, said in a presentation that during fiscal 2020, the agency conducted 5,052 off-site carrier investigations, with only 3,926 on-site focused and 2,903 on-site comprehensive investigations.
“I think that’s kind of a good story,” DeLorenzo said. “I also think it starts to make us think about lessons learned and what our posture may be in terms of enforcement going into the future, and using maybe more of a blended approach, which we were heading in anyway.”
“What this shows is that it does seem that we were able to do as many, or more, investigations remotely during the COVID-19 national health emergency, or any other situation, but also continue to identify noncompliance in those carriers that are presenting us with high risk,” DeLorenzo said. “It really felt good about how that worked and how quickly the agency was able to transition.”
DeLorenzo said that since a new hours-of-service flexibility rule went into effect Sept. 29, there appears to be little change in the number of violations cited during roadside inspections.
“It doesn’t seem that 2020, even with the pandemic, albeit at lower levels, violation rates really changed in any way or types of violations from years past,” he said.
DeLorenzo said he was surprised that 14-hour or 11-hour HOS violations — with the exception of 30-minute break violations — did not go down in number from October to January since a tweak was made to HOS rules to add flexibility for drivers. “Generally, I had hoped to see 14-hour violations, and maybe 11-hour violations, starting to go down. We haven’t quite seen that yet.”
Overall, 92.4% of electronic logging device data transfers by drivers during inspections in December were successful, compared to an average rate of 88.6% since December 2017, according to FMCSA data.
“This is a little bit of an overlooked part of the ELD rule, but it’s particularly important to me,” DeLorenzo said, “because what I am hoping to see here as time goes on we are able to increase the data transfers, we should be able to see efficiency in the inspection process.”
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