NHTSA: Despite overall increase, truck-involved crash fatalities fell in 2020

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Trucking news and briefs for Wednesday, June 9, 2021:

Truck-involved fatalities fell in 2020 despite increase in overall highway deaths
Early estimates from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration show that, despite a decrease in traffic and miles traveled in 2020, highway fatalities increased during the year. Fatalities involving at least one large truck, which NHTSA defines as those with a weight rating higher than 10,000 pounds, were down in 2020 despite the overall increase in traffic deaths.

According to NHTSA, an estimated 38,680 people died in crashes in 2020, an increase of about 7.2% over 2019’s 36,096 fatalities reported. Data from the Federal Highway Administration shows vehicle miles traveled (VMT) decreased by about 430.2 billion miles, or 13.2% from 2019.

NHTSA’s numbers show truck-involved crashes resulted in an estimated 4,895 fatalities, down from 5,005 fatalities in 2019.

The second quarter of 2020 is the only quarter projected to have seen a decrease in fatalities when compared to 2019, falling by 0.6%. The first quarter is estimated to have had a 1.1% increase, while the third quarter saw an estimated 13.6% increase and the fourth quarter saw an estimated 13.1% increase.

The projected fatality rate of 1.37 fatalities per 100 million VMT would be the highest since 2007, NHTSA notes. The projected 38,680 fatalities are also the highest since 2007.

Other notable trends in NHTSA’s 2020 preliminary vehicle crash fatality data include:

  • Fatalities on rural local/collector roads (up 11% from 2019), urban interstates (up 15%), and urban local/collector roads (up 12%)
  • Fatalities during nighttime (up 11%)
  • Fatalities during the weekend (up 9%)
  • Fatalities in older vehicles 10 years or older (up 6%)
  • Fatalities in rollover crashes (up 9%)
  • Fatalities with occupant ejection (up 20%)
  • Fatalities in single-vehicle crashes (up 9%)
  • Fatalities in speeding-related crashes (up 11%)
  • Fatalities in the 16-to-24 age group (up 15%), the 25-to-34 age group (up 18%), and the 35-to-44 age group (up 14%)
  • Fatalities of males (up 9%)
  • Fatalities of unrestrained occupants of passenger vehicles (up 15%)
  • Fatalities in police-reported alcohol involvement crashes (up 9%)

"NHTSA’s research suggests that throughout the national public health emergency and associated lockdowns, driving patterns and behaviors changed significantly, and that drivers who remained on the roads engaged in more risky behavior, including speeding, failing to wear seat belts, and driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol," the agency said. "Traffic data indicates that average speeds increased throughout the year, and examples of extreme speeds became more common, while the evidence also shows that fewer people involved in crashes used their seat belts."

Fuel haulers get more HOS relief in states affected by Colonial shutdown
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has extended the hours of service waiver that was issued on May 9 in the wake of the Colonial Pipeline cyberattack that limited fuel supply through much of the South and East Coast.

The extended waiver applies to haulers providing direct relief for the shortage of gasoline, diesel, jet fuel and other refined petroleum products caused by the Colonial Pipeline shutdown in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas.

The extension is effective through June 18.

I-40 bridge closure expected to continue through July
Truckers forced to detour around the closed Interstate 40 bridge between Arkansas and Tennessee should plan for about 60 more days of longer trips and added traffic congestion as the span over the Mississippi River is not expected to reopen until at least late July.

That was part of the message delivered Thursday, June 3, by state, local and industry officials who briefed Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg on the progress of repairs being made to the bridge that has been closed since May 11. A routine inspection found a major crack in a steel support beam on the 48-year-old, 19,535-foot-long bridge, which is a major connection for east/west freight travel.

The first phase of repairs was completed last week, making it safe for further construction. Tennessee Transportation Commissioner Clay Bright said Thursday the contractor hired to fix the bridge has ordered the materials to make repairs. They're expected to arrive late this month, according to Bright.

He said repair work could take into late July or early August.

Some 41,000 vehicles crossed the bridge in Memphis every day before it closed, about a third of which were trucks. Since the I-40 bridge was closed, traffic has been detoured to the I-55 bridge. Delays are said to cost the trucking industry about $2.4 million a day and have disrupted the working lives of truckers.