Truck Fatality Rate Falls in ’06

Hits Historic Low, Data Show

By Sean McNally, Senior Reporter
This story appears in the Dec. 17 print edition of Transport Topics.

The number of people killed in large-truck crashes for every mile driven and the rate of fatal crashes involving large trucks fell to all-time lows in 2006, according to a Transport Topics analysis of data from the Department of Transportation.
The overall truck-related fatality rate was 2.24 deaths per 100 million miles driven in 2006 — down from 2005’s rate of 2.35 and the lowest rate of fatalities per mile since DOT began tracking the statistics in 1975.
Similarly, the number of large-truck crashes in which someone was killed fell to 1.94 per 100 million miles in 2006, down from 2.04 the previous year and also the lowest rate since 1975.
The previous low for the fatal crash rate was in 2002 — 1.97 per 100 million miles. The previous low fatality rate, also in 2002, was 2.28 per 100 million miles.
The declines in 2006’s fatality and fatal-crash rates were the fourth in a row for each. The crash rate shows how often large trucks are involved in a fatal crash, while the fatality rate measures the number of people killed in large-truck crashes per miles driven.
TT calculated the crash and fatality rates by dividing the number of reported crashes and deaths by the estimated number of miles driven by large trucks, as defined by DOT.
The fatalities data came from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, while information on the number of crashes and miles traveled in 2006 was included in the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s hours-of-service rule.
The Federal Highway Administration, which tracks vehicle miles traveled, has yet to publish its report for 2006 and an FHWA spokesman said FMCSA’s mileage number was its own projection. He said FHWA would publish its official number soon, and that FMCSA’s projection was consistent with the figure FHWA was preparing.
FMCSA projected that heavy trucks traveled 223.3 billion miles in 2006, a slight increase from the 222.8 billion miles FHWA reported in 2005. In July, NHTSA reported there were 4,995 truck-involved fatalities, down from 5,240 in 2005 (7-30, p. 1).
The data did show a slight upward revision to 2005’s fatal crash and fatality rates.
Last year, the 2005 fatal crash rate was reported as 2.03 per 100 million miles, but because the revised data showed 4,551 fatal crashes — up from the previously reported 4,533 — the revised 2005 rate was 2.04 (12-4-06, p. 1).
Similarly, the number of fatalities reported by NHTSA for 2005 rose to 5,240 from 5,212 in 2005, pushing the fatality rate up to 2.35 from 2.34.
The steady decline in the fatality rate caused many to speculate about a potential cause.
John Hill, head of FMCSA, said increased enforcement efforts by state and federal authorities may be a factor.
“If you look at our enforcement activities, we’re expanding the number of compliance reviews we’re doing; you’ll notice we’re keeping up with our new-entrant obligations and doing far more new-entrant audits,” Hill told TT. In the new-entrant program, “there are great safety gains to be had because we’re catching those people on the front end — instead of after something has happened,” he said.
Hill also said increases in FMCSA grant money to states have increased participation at the state enforcement level.
“You’re seeing many more carriers contacted by us,” Hill said of the enforcement community.
Steve Keppler, director of policy and programs for the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance, said he believed the “continuing focus on high-risk behaviors, high-crash corridors and stronger focus on drivers” by FMCSA and state agencies has been a factor.
In addition, Keppler said in-creased overall enforcement efforts have helped as well.
“I think that’s a big part of it,” Keppler said. “We know this for a fact: A strong enforcement component makes a difference.”
Clayton Boyce, spokesman for American Trucking Associations, said the decline was “partially attributable to the new hours-of-service rules.”
“During the period that they’ve been in effect, we’ve seen a decline that has been part of our evidence that we’ve presented to FMCSA,” he said, but added there were “a number of other industry safety programs” that could be having an effect.
Boyce said that “increasing safety belt use, increased use of technology . . . better training [and] speed limiting” all are playing a role.
Todd Spencer, executive vice president of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, said, “Lots of improvements in safety are attributable to the fact that we’re building safer roads [and] I think, many of the states are doing a better job of clearing the roads when weather is inclement.”
Spencer also suggested the slowing freight market might be a factor: “As trucking slows down, companies are bringing in fewer new people, putting fewer new, totally inexperienced people behind the wheel.”


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