January 18, 2016 4:00 AM, EST

Truck-Crash Deaths Down

Fatality Rate Also Drops in 2014, Data Show
City of Industry
This story appears in the Jan. 18 print edition of Transport Topics.

The rate and total number of fatalities involving trucks weighing at least 10,000 pounds declined in 2014 from the prior year, according to newly released federal data.

The vehicles included generally range from Classes 3-8. They drove 4 billion more miles in 2014 than during the previous year, but 61 fewer people died in crashes involving trucks, according to an analysis of government data by American Trucking Associations.

With trucks driving more than 279 billion miles overall and 3,903 truck-involved fatalities occurring, the fatality rate fell for a second straight year to 1.4 per 100 million miles. The fatality rate has sunk 40.6% over the past decade, according to statistics compiled by the Federal Highway Administration and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and reviewed by ATA.

“The short-term decline is welcome news, but the important figure is the long-term trend,” ATA President Bill Graves said. “Short-term changes, whether they’re increases or declines, can be blips — and just like you shouldn’t track your 401(k) on a daily basis, they shouldn’t be the primary lens truck safety is viewed through. The long-term trend — in this case, a more than 40% improvement — is of paramount importance.”

The fatality rate for all vehicles also declined, to 1.08 in 2014 from 1.09 fatalities per million miles traveled in 2013. The total number of fatalities for all vehicles also dropped to 32,675 in 2014 from 32,719 in 2013, according to government data.

“Our industry has worked hard and invested in technology and training to improve highway safety, not just for our drivers but for all motorists,” said Dave Osiecki, ATA chief of national advocacy. “And while there is more work to do, it is gratifying to see those efforts paying off in safer roads for all of us.”

But Henry Jasny, general counsel for the Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, welcomed the rate’s decline while sounding a cautionary note.

“It’s a marginal improvement, but we don’t know that it will last for the long term,” Jasny said. “We don’t put a lot of stock in the fatality rate because the rate can go down even as the number of crashes and the number of fatalities go up. We’re happy that the rate was down and that there were fewer deaths in 2014, but we’d like to see that continue.”

So does Steve Owings, Road Safe America’s co-founder.

“We at Road Safe America are happy to see this trend line changing directions,” Owings said. “We hope that, with additional improvements, this will begin a dramatic reduction in these tragic crashes that cause death, destruction and injuries to too many citizens each year. All American motorists look forward to the time when big-rig crashes are as rare as they are on our airlines.

Russ Rader, a spokesman for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, said he couldn’t comment on ATA’s report because his group hasn’t been able to independently review the 2014 fatality data. IIHS’ numbers exclude camper and motor home crash deaths, which typically are grouped in the federal statistics on large trucks and buses.

Speaking at the Transportation Research Board’s annual meeting Jan. 11, John “Jack” Van Steenburg, chief safety officer of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, said that, while fatal crashes involving large trucks and buses are down since 2004, they generally have been rising since 2009, the bottom of the recession. Illinois and New York had the largest decreases in 2014, while Oklahoma and California had the largest increases.