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.
Beyond that, crashes are the highest the nation has seen during Q1 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 trucking safety tips to 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.
3 Trucking Safety Tips for Truck Accident Prevention
We’ve pulled together a list of three steps to protect your drivers that you can enact today to combat these growing trends.
Enact Driver Training
Enroll drivers in training courses addressing high-risk behavior before a crash or disqualifying incident occurs. Specifically target issues like distracted driving, speeding and fatigued driving – you’ll see an immense difference. According to our data, regular driver training decreases CSA violations while improving safety scores.
Driver training is needed in such an aggressive driver talent pool. After all, as you well know, the current landscape of available drivers is competitive and new talent is scarce, making intervention key in retaining your current drivers. Effectively avoid the high costs associated with recruiting and onboarding new drivers through critical proactive intervention with high-risk drivers before they’re disqualified.
Update Your Company’s Safety Policy
You know that the FMCSA makes the rules that govern how drivers behave and the stipulations that need to be followed. Consider though the power that your company has in setting the internal standards for the rules your drivers must follow.
Inclusion of items in your safety policy like required rest time (hint: make it longer than the hours outlined by the FMCSA for maximum driver rest), driver training requirements and even driver communication requirements are encouraged. These efforts combined will take the pressure off your drivers to get from point A to point B faster, reduce stress and in turn keep your company safer.
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%.
Focus on the health and wellness of your drivers. Invest in their well-being with things like smarter truck features, ergonomic cabs or automatic transitions. Encourage your drivers to sleep so they can get more than the average six hours of sleep per night drivers experience on the job. In time, you may see rates of fatigued driving, speeding and distracted driving decrease.
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 drivers. That’s why we recommend starting with 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 7 critical topics your company must cover to effectively combat the dangers of the road.