Editorial: Reducing Highway Fatalities

This Editorial appears in the Sept. 8 print edition of Transport Topics. Click here to subscribe today.

Trucking-related highway fatalities fell again last year, to their lowest level in 15 years, according to data from the Department of Transportation.

This is good news for everyone and proof positive that trucking’s efforts to make the nation’s highways safer are bearing fruit.

The 2007 fatality total of 4,808 was the lowest since 1992. While we don’t have the total miles driven from DOT yet, it’s a safe bet that 2007’s total far exceeded 1992’s, meaning that the fatality rate is sure to have been notably lower last year. We’ll know for sure later this year, when statistics showing total miles are released.

Even with the good news, much work remains to be done.

“While we are pleased that overall fatalities have decreased,” American Trucking Associations President Bill Graves said, “we still have room to improve safe driving habits of truck drivers and passenger vehicle drivers.”

Graves cited enforcement efforts and technological improvements as primary reasons for the safety gains. And truck makers are working on a number of new safety systems designed to reduce accidents even more.

One concern raised by the DOT data is that the number of truck occupants who were killed in highway accidents last year was nearly identical to 2006, despite the overall decline in fatalities.

This is not the first year that truck occupants have not fared as well as motorists overall, and it raises questions about why truck design improvements aren’t reducing truck occupant deaths.

One thing that would help, of course, is for all truck drivers and occupants to buckle their seat belts — the most effective tool in reducing highway deaths and serious injuries.

And it seems clear that slower highway speeds — encouraged in large part by efforts to conserve fuel — have helped to reduce highway deaths. We believe this lends additional urgency to our call that engines on all heavy-duty trucks be equipped at the factory with speed limiters set at 68 mph.

And we repeat our support for a 65 mph maximum highway speed throughout the nation, to save fuel and to save lives, and for increased speed-limit enforcement.

We can all be proud of the improvements that have been made in highway safety overall, and we need to redouble efforts to reduce highway deaths and injuries still further.