A total of 4,119 people died in large truck crashes in 2019, making 2019 fatalities 31 percent higher than in 2009, when it was the lowest since the beginning of fatal crash data tracking in 1975. When it came to over-the-road tractor-trailers, fatalities rose 5.8 percent.
What’s most surprising about this data is the fact that the total number of passenger vehicle traffic fatalities seemed to drop. So, what’s going on? Why are larger vehicles becoming more dangerous while passenger vehicle incidents decrease and what can you as a safety professional do to stop such incidents?
Three trends causing commercial vehicle crashes to rise
Speed limits continue increasing
Driving faster creates more danger. This is one of those undeniably true facts. That’s why it makes sense that, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (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 eight percent 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 percent of fatal large truck crashes, the truck driver at-hand had at least one prior speeding violation conviction. We at SambaSafety know that speeding 15 MPH over the limit increases chances of a crash by 67 percent, and a history of reckless, careless, inattentive or negligent driving increases the likelihood of a crash by 64 percent.
Drivers aren’t getting enough rest
Sleep deprivation is one of the leading causes of truck incidents on the roadways. The NHTSA believes that around 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 percent 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 being superhuman, they’re not immune to the effects of drowsy driving despite standards put in place by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Association (FMCSA). The Harvard School of Medicine conducted a survey where nearly half of truck drivers confessed to dozing off on a long-haul drive and the FMCSA reported that 13 percent of truck drivers were fatigued at the time of their crash.
Sleep matters. Being on the road for a long stretch of time (like the average 70-hour 7-day work period truckers log) can put your drivers to sleep even if they’re not particularly tired.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nine people are killed and 1,000 are injured every day in crashes involving distracted driving. A 2009 study from the FMCSA found that 71 percent 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 mind 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 percent 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.
Three trucking safety tips for truck accident prevention
While increased speeding, a lack of rest and distracted driving are all cause for concern, we’re here to tell you that you can also act to best protect your drivers. That’s why we’ve pulled together a list of three steps to protect your drivers that you can enact today.
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 needing 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 percent. The rate for smaller carriers fell to 72 percent.
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 receive 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 fleet
While truckers have one of the hardest jobs on the roadways, you can take steps to make your company driver lives easier while protecting and even retaining your drivers. That’s why we recommend starting with driver training.
Not only will driver training allow empower you to keep your fleet safer, but also provide targeted training that directly addresses issues drivers are experiencing. To learn which questions you should be asking when implementing driver training, download our guide.