Driving a Truck is Among Deadliest Jobs in the U.S.

December 19, 2016 by Michelle Rafter, @MichelleRafter

Truck driver remains one of the deadliest occupations in the country, with 745 drivers killed on the job last year.

Work-related fatalities for trucking jobs dropped slightly in 2015 from 2014, when 761 drivers were killed on the nation’s streets and highways. Despite the drop, trucking transportation occupations accounted for slightly more than a quarter of all work-related fatalities last year, more than any other U.S. job, according to an annual workplace fatality report released Friday from the U.S. Labor Department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Over the past five years, truck driver fatalities have risen 11.2 percent. Increased reliance on trucking to transport goods, including demand for rapid delivery created by the rise of online shopping, is putting more truck drivers on the road. This has contributed to higher incident rates for accidents and driver deaths, according to trucking industry experts.

Unlike many occupations, drivers don’t have total control of their work environment – public roads and highways – so there’s always danger, said Steve Viscelli, an economics sociologist at the University of Pennsylvania and author of The Big Rig: Trucking and the Decline of the American Dream.”

“Nobody wants to be safer than truck drivers,” Viscelli said.

But because of the way drivers’ compensation is structured, they’re often asked to choose between productivity and safety, a tug of war that leads some to keep driving when they should be taking a rest break, Viscelli said.

Long hours, low pay and tough working conditions contribute to annual turnover that hovers around 100 percent and puts inexperienced drivers on the road.

“People come into the industry and drop out, causing a perpetual experience problem” that’s reflected in fatality rates, said Michael Belzer, a transportation economist and associate professor at Wayne State University.

Belzer said he blames carriers, which operate on thin margins, for helping promulgate pay issues that lead to chronic turnover and labor shortages.

The lack of National Highway Transportation Safety Administration standards for crashworthiness of heavy-duty trucks plays a role in fatality rates, said Norita Taylor, director of marketing and public relations for the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, which represents 157,000 drivers.

They aren’t even required to have air bags,” Taylor said.

But that doesn’t mean the trucking industry isn’t addressing safety issues.

Manufacturers and suppliers are developing better, smarter safety systems to help truck drivers survive accidents or avoid them all together, said John Blodgett of MacKay & Co., a transportation industry researcher and management consultant.

“Similar technology is being added to automobiles to help four-wheelers cause less accidents,” Blodgett said.

While traffic-related fatalities have risen over the past five years, the American Trucking Association estimates the number of fatal truck-involved crashes has fallen 32 percent since 1980 and the accident rate per 100 million miles driven has dropped 74 percent, due in part to trucking industry investments in safety technology and training.

“As our roads become busier, it is incumbent on all drivers to do their part to improve safety,” said Sean McNally, ATA’s vice president of public affairs. “One of the primary risks to truck driver safety, unfortunately, is the behavior of other drivers. ”

He said studies by the Department of Transportation and AAA found  that roughly two-thirds of all fatal truck crashes are caused by a vehicle other than the truck.

“The best way we can make our workplace – the open road – safer is to make driving safer for everyone, and the best way we can do that is through education like ATA’s Share the Road Program and enforcement of traffic laws aimed at reducing dangerous behaviors,” McNally said.

Trailer and truck driver deaths

(Graph: Trucks.com)

White Men Comprise Most Trucking Driver Deaths

The sheer number of truck drivers in the industry means that even though more were killed in work-related injuries in 2015 than any other profession, a handful of less populous occupations had higher injury rates based on total number of workers. In 2015, the trucking industry had a fatal injury rate of 25.2 per 100,000 full-time equivalent workers, lower than loggers (132.7), fishery workers (54.8), airplane pilots (40.4), roofers (39.7), garbage collectors (38.8) and steel workers (29.8).

In 2015, most work-related truck driver deaths were caused by traffic collisions. In most instances, the cause of death was multiple traumatic injuries or disorders.

The vast majority of drivers killed on the job were men: 699 of 745, according to the BLS. Female drivers accounted for 1 percent of trucking industry deaths, a disproportionately small percentage given women make up 5 percent to 6 percent of all U.S. drivers, according to industry estimates.

Middle-aged drivers were slightly most likely to be killed in work-related accidents. This statistic mirrors the “trucking generation,” drivers who are 45 to 54-year-olds and represent the largest age group in the industry. That age group accounted for 196 deaths, or 26.3 percent of all truck driver fatalities, according to the BLS. Drivers ages 55 to 64, the second largest group, accounted for 25 percent of all fatalities (184), followed by drivers 35 to 44 (18.5 percent), 25 to 34 (12 percent), 65 and older (11 percent) and 20 to 24 (2 percent).

In 2015, the majority of drivers killed on the job were white: 500, or about 67 percent, followed by African Americans (12.6 percent), Hispanic or Latino (11.1 percent), Asian (2 percent) and Native Americans or other races (1 percent).

Truck driver deaths in 2015 included 17 suicides and five homicides.

In addition to being the deadliest profession, truck drivers take off 22 days of work a year for job-related injuries and illness, also more than any other U.S. occupation, according to a separate BLS report released earlier this month.

Related: Has the Time Come for Dedicated Truck Lanes?

21 Responses

  1. Stig

    Solid analysis of our industry. Huge improvements in safety could be made almost instantly with proper & legal pay requirements. Meaning, most drivers get paid only by the mi. Driven. Many hrs. everyday are logged in OnDuty. Required by DOT. But the driver is not paid for virtually all of this time Working, in spite of Laws requiring minimum wage. Many of the most experienced drivers have simply Quit. An example. Yesterday I had a scheduled delivery at a Walmart DC. 05:45. I waited at the gate in line 30min. To get in. Then parked, went to the office with paperwork and get a dock assigned. The lady said I was late. I responded, I sat at the gate over 30min. to get in. She said: That is why we ask you to be 2hrs. early,. I had to ask,, do you come in 2hrs. Early everyday, sit and wait and not be paid for that time. A CDL driver is also restricted to a maximum 14hrs. OnDuty by DOT regulations. If you are 1 minute late,. You will not be paid Detention pay. Which begins after 2 hrs. So following this logic, a driver can easily have worked more than 4hrs just beginning the day in the most dangerous business, without receiving a penny.. And so many wonder why there is a driver shortage.. I could go on,. Best, Stig

  2. Deep Think

    Yes but the fact still remains that it is male drivers who are having the most accidents. Since female drivers are having far fewer accidents than males even when their much smaller number is accounted for means we could cut the accident rate by at least a third if we either had more female drivers or perhaps had the female drivers retrain the male drivers,or deduct a certain amount from a drivers pay for each accident they have or give a substantial monetary bonus at the end of the year for those that didn’t have an accident or require men’s testosterone levels have to be reduced in order to drive.

    One thing for sure female drivers are out performing many of the men who thought women couldn’t handle the big rigs.This suggest trucking companies aught to pay their female drivers more than their male drivers because female drivers represent a higher value to the trucking companies.Male drivers can’t argue with that.Facts are facts and the facts justify female truckers based upon their superior driving performance deserve bigger pay checks.they earned it.

    If that led to men getting made and quitting as long as they are replaced by female truckers the companies would have higher profits and the high ways would be a whole lot safer.

    • Randall

      This does not control for hours worked. Men push much harder and are often burdened by unfair child support.

    • Tom

      Women deaths in trucking = 46/170,500 total female drivers.
      Male deaths in trucking = 699/2,929,500 total male drivers.
      That’s 1 in 3706 women. 1 in 4191 men.
      The article was geared towards making women look like better drivers when they are not.
      Do the division and you’ll find that women are 13% MORE LIKELY to be killed as a truck driver.
      As the article also noted, if drivers are over the age of 35 they are MUCH MORE LIKELY (almost twice as likely) to die as a trucker. Hence another reason why people quit the industry. With maturity comes a realization that the promises made by the recruiters at the Fleet jobs is just an industry-wide joke.
      I think the main reason is that you can make better money driver for Uber, Lyft, Pizza Hut, and Dominos than you can as a professional driver of an 80,000 lb vehicle. I’m a 26 year old owner operator and the freight rates suck. It’s hardly worth doing business, and I just got into it. I quit my company job because I couldn’t pay off my debts with my 70 hour a week job as a truck driver working for somebody else. And minimum wage pulling a dangerous 80,000 lb vehicle wasn’t really my cup of tea.

      Please, everyone who is considering becoming a truck driver, stay at your current job until the pay triples in this industry. 1.00 a mile would be fair, and you might actually be able to support a family with it. You only get 300 miles/day as a company driver, the other 8 hours a day is spent at the docks.

      Oh, and the reason everyone takes sick time off is that is the ONLY home time you get in this industry. We aren’t sick, we are sick of working for b.s. wages so we need a vacation to get our head straight before we go put other people’s lives at risk again.

      • psheridan

        Ann Althouse’s 2005 quip holds up well:

        “I’ve said it before, and I must repeat, the rule is: If you do scientific research into the differences between men and women, you must portray whatever you find to be true of women as superior. And when you read reports about scientific research into the differences between men and women, use the hypothesis that the scientists are following that rule. It makes reading the reports quite humorous.”

      • Rick

        Yes. Walmart n others. Drivers can spend hours. Waiting n. No facility’s use for bathrooms etc. N paid nothing. Plus your driving time expires waiting. Too. For the day. Stuck there at a facility loading or unloading. Or trying get n the place n. Line. Waiting. It’s a crazy occupation. N lots of no pay what you do

      • Ed

        I’ve driven for 11 years. On avg. get over 400mi per day. It’s something you work up to. Sometimes have 4000mi a week of 8 days if I’ve gotten a restart.

    • Dealtoth

      If more women were doing this job they would get the same burdens as the men exhaustion from long hours in the day and the week. Low pay for the hours completed and the time put in. Majority of women this is too hard and not for them. Same as doing other jobs it is not for everyone. But, Truck driving has always been a Man’s job due to its rigorous needs of a person. Not saying a women can not do it. I work with a woman for the last 10 years. I have seen men come and go and woman come and go and she still puts them to shame. She is tough Lady. Our job requires the ability to move product from a truck outside into a store at night by hand and a small hand truck up to 4,000 lbs a night by hand.

    • bubbu

      amen brother, also DOT should give all male truck drivers a complimentary estrogen shot at all weigh stations while waiting for inspection. that should last for 14 service hours or till the first pee stop, whichever comes first

  3. charles r. smith

    I have 60+yeaes owning and driving trucks. In my opinion log book rules cause more accidents than they prevent because they tell you when you can drive. My body tells me when I should sleep not the government.

  4. Ricky

    For those of you who do not know, a truck driver has a clock that starts when he begins his work. After he begins, if he is held up for any reason, such as loading, unloading, traffic or anything beyond his control, it will cause him to act beyond his physical ability to drive to his destination. Operating without this clock, a driver would make the necessary rest stops needed to make his delivery on time.

  5. Rick

    Yes. Walmart n others. Drivers can spend hours. Waiting n. No facility’s use for bathrooms etc. N paid nothing. Plus your driving time expires waiting. Too. For the day. Stuck there at a facility loading or unloading. Or trying get n the place n. Line. Waiting. It’s a crazy occupation. N lots of no pay what you do

  6. Ron

    Dedicated truck lanes would be a great idea on the hiways And the reg. streets! This would probably help the trucking industry immensely!

  7. Kevin

    100%Turn over rate per year?
    Without question, something is gravely wrong with the industry (no pun intended).
    So who is the profeteer from cheap shipping and obviously unjustly low driver income?
    Increase in web/mail order shipping? Con you say AMAZON? The owner of which, a Cuban American, the richest BILLIONAIRE IN THE COUNTRY?
    What’s wrong with this picture?

  8. Scott Belmont

    Pay truck drivers by the hour not the miles and I guarantee this rate will drop! Pay the driver my the amount of time they put into their work not the amount of miles they move their fragile Freight!

  9. Alex Sotos

    i think the key words in your entire comment are ” i just started “. If you think Uber or Lyft etc makes even close to what a Class A driver makes then one of two things are happening, your either venting are exaggerating or you haul for a very bad carrier or broker. So basically your lying or you don’t know what your doing yet.

    • Joe Shmoe

      Exactly!!! I left UBER when I started commercial driving. After two years driving, I finally earn 1500 to 2000 a week. I also drive the truck like UBER in that I work when I want to. Only complaint are the co-drivers I’ve worked with. I rather drive alone.


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