According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) traffic fatalities estimates report, fatalities in crashes involving at least one large truck were up 13% in 2021 compared to 2020. Crash rates are some of the highest we’ve seen in 20 years. With this in mind, it’s crucial for companies to be aware of the growing dangers that affect the safety of their commercial fleets. Below, we explore three trends causing commercial vehicle crashes to rise, as well as four trucking safety tips to help companies and their drivers combat them.
3 Trends Causing Commercial Vehicle Crashes to Rise
According to NHTSA, one out of every three fatal trucking incidents involved speed as a contributing factor.
Starting in the mid-1990s, maximum speed limits began rising. Today, 41 states have a maximum speed limit of 70 MPH or higher. Six states have 80 MPH speed limits. On some roads in Texas, you’re even legally permitted to drive 85 MPH.
There’s a clear correlation between speed and fatalities. An April 2019 report from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) showed that every incremental five MPH speed limit increase came with an 8% increase in freeway fatalities. From 1993 through 2017, the IIHS concluded that there were more than preventable 36,000 traffic fatalities caused by increased speed limits.
Speeding is an immense problem that impacts the trucking community. The NHTSA reported that in 16% of fatal large truck crashes, the truck driver at hand had at least one prior speeding violation conviction. Speeding 15 MPH over the limit increases the chances of a crash by 67%, and a history of reckless, careless, inattentive or negligent driving increases the likelihood of a crash by 64% (SambaSafety Insights).
NHTSA estimates that 100,000 incidents are caused by drivers who fall asleep at the wheel and that drowsy drivers cause as many as 40,000 incident-related injuries.
According to The Sleep Foundation, 60% of U.S. adults admit to drowsy driving, and one in three drivers admits to having fallen asleep behind the wheel in the past month. More alarming, driving after you’ve been awake for 24 hours impairs your ability to drive more than having a blood alcohol level above the legal limit.
While we often think of truck drivers as superhumans, they’re not immune to the effects of drowsy driving. The Harvard School of Medicine conducted a survey where nearly half of truck drivers confessed to dozing off on a long-haul drive. FMCSA also reported that 13% of truck drivers were fatigued at the time of their crash.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nine people are killed and 1,000 are injured every day in crashes involving distracted driving. A study from the FMCSA found that 71% of large-truck crashes occurred when the truck driver was doing something besides driving the truck.
The biggest culprit is unsurprisingly the cell phone. With the ability to talk, text, change music, adjust the GPS route or check social media, it’s easier than ever for your drivers to take their eyes and focus off the road.
For those driving large vehicles, the margin for error decreases exponentially. A loaded semi-truck traveling at 65 MPH takes more than 500 feet to come to a complete stop after the driver reacts, making it hard to avoid a seemingly preventable crash.
Pair that with the knowledge that nearly 80% of large-truck crashes involve some form of driver inattentiveness in the three seconds before the crash. You can begin to see how distracted driving can negatively impact your fleet, driver retention and even your bottom line.
4 Trucking Safety Tips to Compbat the Growing Dangers of the Road
We’ve pulled together a list of four trucking safety tips that you can implement today to combat these ongoing trends.
Update Your Company’s Safety Policy
While regulations set by the FMCSA provide a baseline for driver behavior, your company has the power to establish internal standards that go above and beyond these requirements. By updating and regularly enforcing your company’s safety policy, you can create a culture of safety that prioritizes responsible driving practices. Include provisions such as comprehensive driver training requirements, effective driver communication protocols and mandatory rest times that exceed FMCSA guidelines. These efforts not only ensure compliance but also alleviate the pressure on drivers to rush from one point to another. By setting higher standards within your organization, you promote safer driving habits and contribute to reducing stress and potential risks for your drivers.
Enact Driver Training
Driver training is a fundamental step in combating the growing dangers of the road. Enrolling your drivers in comprehensive and targeted training courses that address high-risk behaviors can make a significant difference in road safety. By focusing on issues like distracted driving, speeding and fatigued driving, you equip your drivers with the knowledge and skills they need to navigate potential hazards effectively. Regular and ongoing driver training can lead to a decrease in CSA violations and an improvement in safety scores. By proactively addressing risky behaviors, you empower your drivers to make better decisions on the road, ultimately reducing the likelihood of crashes and incidents.
Send Out Safety Messages for Truck Drivers
Regularly sending your drivers brief safety messages via text or email can serve as a valuable tool for reinforcing essential skills and upholding company driving protocols. These messages can encompass a spectrum of truck safety subjects, ranging from fundamental reminders to advanced defensive driving techniques. For safety managers aiming to enhance safety communication, we have compiled a week’s worth of customizable messaging samples that address various truck safety topics. These resources can be readily shared with your fleet to promote a culture of safety and responsible driving. Check them out here.
Prioritize Driver Well-Being
Burnout is a real issue at any job, no matter what industry you’re in. Pair that with a physically demanding job such as trucking, and your drivers are more likely to experience it. Studies show that the turnover rate for truckload fleets with more than $30 million in annual revenue was 92%. The rate for smaller carriers fell to 72%. Below are tips your company can implement to diminish the likelihood of driver burnout:
- Implement regular and flexible rest schedules that exceed minimum regulatory requirements.
- Prioritize open communication between drivers and management to address concerns.
- Provide access to wellness resources, such as physical fitness programs and mental health support.
- Encourage the use of advanced truck features that reduce driver fatigue.
- Foster a sense of belonging and camaraderie within the company through driver appreciation events.
- Offer ongoing training opportunities to enhance skills and knowledge.
Protect Your Commercial Fleet
While truckers have one of the hardest jobs on the roadways, you can take steps to make your company drivers’ lives easier while protecting and even retaining your workforce. That’s why we recommend prioritizing driver training.
Driver training will empower you to keep your fleet safer, and it provides the ability to target specific issues drivers are experiencing – including speed management, fatigue management and distractions. These are three of the seven fundamentals of defensive driving training.
Looking to implement training for your fleet, but unsure where to start? Download our checklist and discover the seven critical topics your company must cover to effectively combat the dangers of the road.