Drivers' prior traffic violations, convictions can help predict future crash involvement

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Updated Nov 12, 2022

Since 2005, the American Transportation Research Institute has been conducting periodic research to analyze a truck driver’s future crash likelihood based on prior traffic violations and convictions and crash involvement.

ATRI released the 2022 version of its Predicting Truck Crash Involvement research in October – the fourth iteration of the study. It pulls driver data from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s Motor Carrier Management Information System (MCMIS) and the Commercial Driver’s License Information System (CDLIS) to determine crash likelihood.

Joining Jason and Matt this week on CCJ's 10-44 is Dan Murray, ATRI senior vice president, who talks about the results of the research and how fleets can use it to their advantage.

Contents of this video

00:00 Determining future crash involvement

03:11 Driver behaviors

04:42 Behaviors with 100% chance of predicting accident

07:31 Statistics for younger drivers

09:40 Gender and crash probability

12:34 Relationship between crashes and traffic enforcement inspections

14:46 Fleets can leverage data to improve driver safety


Matt Cole
How fleets can look at prior driver violations to determine possible future crash involvement.

Jason Cannon
Hey everybody, welcome back to The 10-44, a weekly webisode from the editors here at CCJ. I'm Jason Cannon and my co-host on the other side is Matt Cole. Since 2005, the American Transportation Research Institute has been conducting periodic research to analyze a truck driver's future crash likelihood based on prior violations, convictions, and crash involvements.

Matt Cole
ATRI released the 2022 version of its predicting truck crash involvement research in October, the fourth iteration of the study, it pulls driver data from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration's Motor Carrier Management information System, MCMIS, and the Commercial Driver's License Information System, CDLIS, to determine crash likelihood. We are joined once again by ATRI Senior Vice President, Dan Murray, who talks about how ATRI analyzes the data and how fleets can use it to their advantage.

Dan Murray
Everything ATRI does is sort of governed by our Research Advisory Committee and what they ultimately identify as critical issues and research problem statements that would address those issues. And back in 2004, approximately, the Research Advisory Committee said, "Well, there's a lot of research now that looks at the role of motor carrier safety culture, training, et cetera, and the impact on crashes and safety." But at the end of the day, the last out, the last decision is usually made by the truck driver, and we didn't have any research that would link with solid statistics, the relationship of truck driver behavior to future crash probability.

So we did conduct that study back in 2005. As you noted, we've redone it about every four, five years. Another one in 2011, 2018, and now 2022. And we have access to a very unique database of truck driver records, motor vehicle records that include convictions, citations, which are violations in our world of course, and crashes themselves. And using, again, several statistical tools, painful stuff like chi-squares and linear regressions, we can link these different behaviors, truck driver behaviors, to the future crash probability. And the power of this is that we can now start to focus on what really does matter in terms of safety.

There's hundreds and hundreds of Federal Motor Carrier Safety regs on the books, and the vast majority of them do not have any statistical relationship to reducing crashes. We don't care about oil on the floor of the truck terminal, but we care about our behaviors in the cab that might make or break the safety data. And so that's why we continue to revisit this every four to five years, and it's a massive database. This year, we analyzed over 583,000 truck driver records, and again, the statistics that we apply are very, very rigorous.

Jason Cannon
Several driver behaviors, which for this study are FMCSA regs or traffic violations and convictions, consistently ranked near the top of the list for predicting a driver's future crash involvement.

Dan Murray
And what we have discovered is there's four or five behaviors that are consistently right at the top of the list across three or four reports in a row, so you can really take those to the bank when it comes to the relationship of those behaviors in future crashes. And those are reckless driving violations, failure to use signals, or improper signal, conviction, and then just having a pass crash, and then failure to yield right-of-way violations, and lastly, improper or erratic lane change convictions.

I'm jumping around a lot there between violations and convictions, and that is because we're seeing pretty substantial differences between violations and convictions, at least certain violations and convictions. And a lot of times we've discovered that, for instance, speeding violations, when they get to court, might become faulty equipment convictions. Even though by law we're not supposed to negotiate away charges anymore, it appears that it still sort of happens, probably because the judges don't fully understand what the FMCSRs are and how they're applied. So, we do see some very strong behaviors over and over, that again, that is what the motor carrier, even a truck driver, should focus on, because those are the behaviors that really will make a difference on the road.

Matt Cole
With about 25 violations or convictions being statistically likely to indicate future crash involvement, four of those have a greater than 100% chance to predict a future crash.

Dan Murray
When you look at these four to five that are 100% increase in a future crash likelihood or more, in fact, I mentioned a failure to yield right-of-way violation, 141% future crash probability increase. That's the biggest number we've seen in four versions of this report. When we look at these behaviors, it's very clear to us that they're indicative of a general disregard, probably, for safe driving. When there's a failure to use or a failure to yield, very common activities like signals and turns, or worse, failing to yield to somebody who's got the right-of-way, it generates very high consequence crashes oftentimes. So, when we see these behaviors and then discover that in the historical crash database, they're closely tied, that's how we then sort of extrapolate to the future and say, "Well, based on the historical data, expect 141% increased likelihood of a crash if you're not willing to yield the right-of-way to an oncoming vehicle," for instance.

Jason Cannon
New to the study in 2022 with FMCSA and the trucking industry exploring allowing younger drivers to drive interstate, ATRI looked at the crash statistics for 18 to 20-year-old interstate drivers and compared those numbers to crash data for drivers over the age of 24. We're going to hear more about that after a word from 10-44 sponsor, Chevron Lubricants.

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Dan Murray
Well, there's so much attention right now on younger truck drivers. We have the FMCSA program allowing up to 3,000 18 to 20 year olds to drive in a sort of a test environment, interstate operations. Driver shortage has been the number one issue for motor carriers in our top industry issues report for five years running now. So, all of this attention on 18 to 20 year olds has created a lot of debate, some political debate in particular, over are they better, worse, or the same as a typical truck driver? And many people, particularly the insurance industry, they're very nervous about 18 to 20 year olds.

When we ran the data, we discovered that 18 to 20 year olds, on sort of a per capita basis, have fewer crashes than those drivers that are 25 or older. We sort of view 25 or older, this bin we created, as more mature, likely more experienced. And when you look at the two groups, you discover that the 18 to 20 year olds just have fewer crashes. So it's a very provocative finding. Now, we do caveat in the report to say, "There are not nearly as many 18 to 20 year old intrastate drivers as those over 25," but the finding nevertheless is statistically significant. But it is a small population. As more and more 18 to 20 year olds show up on the road, potentially in the FMCSA test, we'll have more and more data to corroborate this finding that these younger truck drivers are as safe, or possibly safer.

I think it provides additional fodder, we'll say additional fodder, in the marketplace, and we'll continue these discussions. At the end of the day, the data is what the data is, or if you're going to be technical, the data are. But as we get more data, we'll either be able to go to Washington, D.C., and say, "Hey, 18 to 20 year olds are fair game for an interstate CDL, or we need to do some more research." One of the two.

Matt Cole
For the second time in the report's history, ATRI also looked at how gender plays a role in crash probability.

Dan Murray
We did the first deep dive into gender differences in the 2018 report and found out that in every statistically significant behavior, women were better and safer than their male counterparts, and so that was interesting. In fact, they just had 20% fewer crashes, again, sort of on a per capita basis than men. So here we're in the midst of a driver shortage. We only have maybe 6%, 7%, 8% of the truck driver population are women today, but they're 50% of the population. It looks like a huge opportunity from a recruitment standpoint.

But we did notice in 2022, the new report, that while women continue to be, quote, unquote, "safer than men," the gap is narrowing. They now have 14% fewer crashes than men rather than 20%, so I don't know if that's an anomaly. All crashes are up for all vehicle types in the United States these days. Whether or not that's just sort of a fluke with the data or not, we'll know in another three, four years when we run it again. But nevertheless, women are still safer. They're underrepresented in the truck driver population, and we really need to put our crosshairs and our resources on getting more women into the trucking industry.

There was a second gender finding that really left us scratching our heads, and it's in the report, documented in great detail. But if women really are 6%, 7%, 8% of the truck driver population, and even the Bureau of Labor Statistics says that's true, we looked at the inspection data and found out that in the inspection data, only 2.5% of the truck drivers who were inspected were women. And we're like, "This doesn't make any sense." So we went through a whole bunch of hypotheses. Are women getting waived through more often than men? Are they driving nicer, cleaner vehicles? Are they working for safer carriers? All these different theories, we tested them and had to throw them out, because it wasn't true in any regard.

What we ultimately found out in the data is that women have nearly twice as many Class B and Class C CDLs as men. What that means is they're driving straight trucks. They're driving local pickup and delivery, local, regional, and they're not out with their Class A CDLs driving on the interstates where all the inspection stations are. So they're out there in the industry, they're just not driving the 18-wheelers as often as they're driving commercial vehicles that are much, much smaller. So, I think that was an interesting finding. Tells us that out on over-the-road trucking, women are even smaller a percentage than we realized.

Jason Cannon
ATRI's study also looks at the relationship between crashes and traffic enforcement inspections for all 50 states and Washington, D.C., then ranks the states based on the percentage of traffic enforcement inspections and total fatal and non-fatal crashes that take place there.

Dan Murray
It's an analysis we first added back in the first 2005 report, and it was a big hit, particularly among state police officers and among state trucking associations. We came up with a weighted formula that looked at traffic enforcement-related inspections and crashes. And there's a lot of research, surprising to many people, excuse me, that traffic enforcement is four or five times more effective in improving safety in trucking than just these random roadside inspections. So, we've calculated this formula that credits more traffic enforcement-related inspections and credits lower crash data points in any state, excuse me.

We ran that formula across all 50 states and we've come up with this top tier list. We'd, again, been doing it for all four reports, and it is really interesting that a number of states just keep showing up over and over, and I'm going to pull out two in particular, Washington and Indiana. If you ask the truck drivers, they may not love operating in Washington and Indiana, because they have different, well, frankly, safety focuses. And people say, "Indiana's famous for speeding tickets," et cetera. But at the end of the day, Washington and Indiana have been at the top of the list for all four reports. In fact, in the very last report, the Indiana Governor awarded the Indiana State Patrol a national safety award for how well they're doing.

It doesn't mean, by the way, states at the very, very bottom are unsafe, or automatically less safe. But we have found out that those states still can leverage our research to say, "Hey, we need more funding, or we need more policy support in trucking so that we can basically work our way up the ATRI top tier list."

Matt Cole
Dan says fleets can leverage the data in this study in several ways that can help improve the overall safety of their drivers.

Dan Murray
Frankly, it's the single most important question, "How do I utilize this? How do I implement it? How do I leverage it?" And the very first thing I say, particularly to truck drivers is, "This is not meant to be a tool to terminate drivers." Quite the opposite, it's a huge opportunity for us to train drivers on things that matter.

We know of dozens of motor carriers that have revisited and even revised safety training programs, even driver simulator scenarios, to minimize the likelihood that these behaviors occur. So, it's not about getting rid of truck drivers who have this. It's about basically training these behaviors out of a truck driver, making sure number one, that they never have them. Or number two, if they have had them on their historical motor vehicle record, their MVR, that you can train away the likelihood that those behaviors will happen again. So you really can eliminate the future crash probability by eliminating these underlying behaviors.

First and foremost, it's a training tool, the report itself. Second of all, we're also discovering it can be used in a courtroom. Because these behaviors have shown up in the trial attorneys' challenges to a motor carrier truck driver's safety record in saying, "Hey, you had a driver that had a reckless conviction and you kept him employed." The carrier can immediately respond, and knowledgeably respond, by saying, "That effect of 141% future crash probability is negated by the fact that we went through very specialized training focused on that behavior." So even the defense attorneys have been able to say, "Hey, quickly, reactively, or proactively train this activity, these behaviors out of a truck driver, and their records, and you'll avoid courtroom situations, not to mention fewer crashes."

Jason Cannon
That's it for this week's 10-44. You can read more on, and as always, you can find the 10-44 each week on CCJ's YouTube channel. And if you've got questions, comments, criticisms, or feedback, please hit us up at [email protected], or give us a call at 404-491-1380. Until next week, everybody stay safe.