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Updated Apr 23, 2012

Trucking industry achieves historically low fatal rate in 2009

FMCSA’s own study backs industry contention that current HOS rules are working

During a time of unprecedented regulatory activity, the trucking industry received some welcome news last month when the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration published the results of its Large Truck and Bus Crash Facts 2009 study.

According to the report, 3,215 large trucks were involved in fatal crashes in 2009 – a 21 percent decrease from 2008 and the largest annual decline since the agency began keeping statistics in 1975. The 2009 figure also represents a 31 percent decrease from 2007.

Results from FMCSA’s report largely mirror analysis of truck-involved fatalities released earlier this year by the Federal Highway Administration and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which also indicated the industry’s safety improvement.

Rather than boast about the improved safety numbers, the agency chose to remain silent.

Since 1999, large truck-related fatal crashes per 100 million vehicle miles traveled have dropped from 2.25 to 1.04, according to FMCSA’s study. When compared against passenger vehicle fatality crash rates, the trucking industry’s numbers are even more impressive: Since 2000, the fatal crash rate for large trucks fell 54.5 percent compared to 25 percent for passenger vehicles.

While a sharp drop in tonnage from 2007 to 2009 might have partly contributed to the decline in truck-related fatalities, vehicle miles traveled and the number of large trucks registered remained relatively constant over the three-year period.

When it came time to post the study results, FMCSA released the information with barely a peep. Why wouldn’t the agency responsible for improving commercial motor vehicle safety performance be shouting this news from the rooftops?

The agency’s silence didn’t go unnoticed by the American Trucking Associations. “These results deserve to be heralded as tremendous progress and very good news for American motorists, our industry and our industry’s regulators,” said ATA President and CEO Bill Graves. “However, FMCSA has chosen not to highlight these important results. By not celebrating this success, the agency is doing itself a disservice. These results are as much an achievement for FMCSA as they are for the nation’s trucking industry. We are at a loss on why FMCSA chose not to communicate this final data indicating great safety progress.”

As of this writing, FMCSA’s hours-of-service final rule sits in the White House’s Office of Management and Budget awaiting final approval. Industry groups have used such positive industry safety statistics to argue the current HOS rules are indeed working and should be left in place rather than be subject to unnecessary and unwarranted revisions.

“This data, in terms of both numbers and rates, is overwhelmingly positive and is a clear indication how well trucking is performing while operating under the current HOS rules, and further demonstrates FMCSA has no evidence of a safety problem with the current rules,” said ATA in a letter to OMB last month.

Industry groups already are lining up for litigation if and when the HOS final rule is finally approved and if it contains Jeff Untitled 1significant changes. Whatever the reason for FMCSA’s reticence on trucking’s safety statistics, perhaps trumpeting the results would only be adding fuel to the fire.

JEFF CRISSEY is Editor of Commercial Carrier Journal. E-mail jcrissey@ccjmagazine.com.


Findings of FMCSA’s Large Truck and Bus Crash Facts 2009

*59 percent of recorded fatal multivehicle crashes were a result of a passenger car rear-ending a truck, crossing the median to hit a truck head-on or hitting a truck in some other way.

*In fatal crashes with a “driver-related” factor, more than 80 percent of the time the factor was assigned to the driver of a passenger vehicle.

*From 1999 to 2009, the number of trucks involved in:

fatal crashes decreased 35 percent, from 4,920 to 3,215;

injury crashes decreased 48 percent, from 101,000 to 53,000;

property-damage-only crashes decreased 35 percent, from 369,000 to 239,000.