According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the number of highway deaths attributable to large trucks rose for the second year in a row in 2004, increasing by 3.7 percent and topping 5,000 for the first time since 2002.
The increase to 5,169 deaths follows a 1 percent gain in 2003, when truck-related fatalities totaled 4,986.
“The figures pretty much represent what’s going on out on the highways,” said Mike Russell, an American Trucking Associations spokesman. “They match the increase in vehicle miles traveled and the amount of truck tonnage being moved.”
Russell also said the way the numbers are presented without context may lead some to assume that all truck-related fatalities are the fault of the trucker, which is not true. He cited the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, which found that as much as 75 percent of fatal crashes begin with an error on the part of the car driver.
Steve Keppler, director of policy and programs for the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance, said the number is cause for alarm since this is the second year it has increased.
“It indicates to me that we need to be doing more,” Keppler said. “More education, more enforcement.”
Careless drivers need to be pursued more aggressively, and there need to be incentives for drivers who follow the rules and have good safety records, Keppler said.
“The safety situation in this country is an epidemic,” Keppler said. “We have become complacent and accepting of the fact that 43,000 people die on our highways each year, 5,000 of which are truck-related. All of the attention is focused on congestion and building our way out of the problem, but frankly that just isn’t going to get the job done.”