Trucking Remains One of the Nation’s Deadliest Jobs

December 26, 2017 by Michelle Rafter, @MichelleRafter

Truckers occupy one of the nation’s deadliest jobs. Last year, 786 drivers were killed while working.

That’s an increase of 5.5 percent from 2015, after falling the previous year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ annual census of fatal occupational injuries, published Tuesday.

Since 2011, the annual number of driver fatalities has jumped 17.3 percent.

Opinions differ on what makes trucking so deadly.

“The underlying theme is two-fold for commercial vehicle drivers, fatigue and inattentiveness such as distracted driving,” said Collin Mooney, executive director of the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance, a nonprofit coalition of North American government agencies.

“It’s hard to pinpoint it to one thing,” said Norita Taylor, a spokeswoman for the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, which represents more than 160,000 independent truckers.

Regulators focus on rules that aren’t safety related, Taylor said.

“We still don’t have enough training or crashworthiness testing,” she said.

As could be expected for an occupation that puts people on the road for days or weeks at a time, the vast majority — 80 percent — of heavy-duty truckers’ work-related deaths involved transportation incidents, according to the BLS.

The job is one of the 10 deadliest for the year.

In 2016, truck drivers had a fatal injury rate of 24.7 per 100,000 full-time employees. Other dangerous occupations include logging, with a fatality rate of 135.9 per 100,000; fishermen, at 86 deaths; and aircraft pilots and flight engineers, at 55.5, according to the bureau.

tractor deaths graph The agency’s data underscores other recent federal transportation safety agency findings of increased trucking-related crashes and deaths.

The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration reported 722 truckers killed in traffic crashes in 2016. That’s up 8.6 percent from the prior year, according to the agency’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System annual census published in October.

The number of truckers who died in 2016 was 47 percent higher than in 2009, which registered the lowest number of fatalities since federal agencies began collecting fatal crash data in 1975, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s Highway Loss Data Institute.

All are possible outcomes of a booming economy that’s resulted in increased highway miles for vehicles of all types and surging demand for e-commerce that’s seen a steady rise in freight volumes.

In addition to work-related deaths, truckers are more likely than the average U.S. worker to get injured or sick on the job.

Workers across all U.S. private- and public-sector industries in 2016 sustained work-related injuries or illnesses at the rate of 3.2 per 100 full-time employees, according to separate BLS data on nonfatal occupational injuries and illnesses published last month.

By contrast, long-haul truckers sustained work-related injuries or illnesses at the rate of 4.4 per 100 full-time employees. In 2016, regional drivers were injured or got sick at the rate of 3.7 per 100, and moving van drivers at the highest rate: 7.6.

Work-related injuries and illnesses led long-haul truckers to take off a cumulative 47,560 days from work in 2016, according to the BLS.

Drivers Feel Slightly Less Safe Than in the Past

The uptick in work-related deaths, injuries and illnesses could be one reason drivers feel slightly less safe on the job than they did six years ago, according to StayMetrics, a South Bend, Ind., driver-retention technology company that polls truckers on issues such as job safety.

On a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being “strongly disagree” and 5 being “strongly agree,” drivers’ average response to the statement “I feel safe on the job” was 3.88 in 2017, compared with 4.12 in 2012, StayMetrics found. The company’s 2017 data are based on responses from 9,575 drivers.

trucker Safety feelings“There is erosion on how safe drivers feel about the profession,” said StayMetrics Chief Executive Tim Hindes. “I can only surmise that increased traffic congestion and lack of access to safe, predictable parking would be leading causes.”

Within the industry, there’s widespread disagreement over how effective electronic logging devices will be in combating driver fatigue. Some believe fatigue contributes to unsafe conditions and leads to crash-related injuries and deaths.

A federal mandate requiring carriers and independent drivers to install ELDs in trucks to track driving time went into effect Monday. Regulators believe the devices will help enforce a federal hours-of-service rule limiting truckers to 11 hours of driving within a 14-hour workday.

Differing Opinions on ELDs’ Potential to Curb Crash-Related Deaths, Injuries

ELDs are “one approach to address the fatigue issue,” said Mooney.

Fatality rates should drop as a result of the new mandate, he said.

In addition to keeping truckers out of harm’s way, Mooney said ELDs will reduce non-trucker fatalities caused by truck-involved crashes.

In 2016, two-thirds of people who died in truck-related collisions were occupants of passenger vehicles hit by trucks, according to the IIHS’ Highway Loss Data Institute.

Truckers accounted for 17 percent of truck-related fatalities, and 16 percent were pedestrians, bicyclists or motorcyclists, according to IIHS.

A smartphone-obsessed society that’s led to more distracted driving-based crashes could be a contributing factor, Mooney said.

“Distracted driving is an issue for all drivers,” he said. “You see it every day; people are on their phones, they’re not watching the road.”

Better driver training and crashworthiness testing will do more to curb driver deaths and injuries than ELDs, said Taylor.

“I don’t think they’ll make a difference in terms of safety,” said Taylor, whose organization actively battled ELD implementation in the months leading up to the mandate’s start date.

ELDs track a truck’s movement and location and do nothing to address fatigue or ensure compliance with hours-of-work regulations, she said.

Read Next: Truckers Scramble to Comply with New ELD Mandate

21 Responses

  1. Bob r

    The eld is making drivers run tired, how can they not realize that. It’s totally asinine to not know otherwise. It’s not distracted driving or any thing else as much as it’s forcing drivers to run by computer.

    • Tom Mahan

      I totally agree. I’m a retired OTR semi driver. If I could not take a coffee break and get out from behind the wheel, when I needed to, it would have been more likely that I would have crashed.

  2. Douglas

    I blame the shippers /receivers they take too long loading and unloading..Then the Broker pushes either you or your boss.. 18yrs nothing’s changed..Eld. what a joke..fmcsa has no idea ..cant help you if the idiot that programmed the app has no idea about a truck….your on your own.. my eld app say to check my rear view mirror!!!

  3. Michelle Rafter

    Thanks for weighing in on this. It will take some time for effects of the ELD mandate to show up in data on workplace-related injuries and deaths. As you know, many large carriers already use the devices but smaller carriers and independent drivers have only recently started installing them, and some might not until April when agencies have said they’ll start enforcing it. The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ annual census of workplace fatalities published every December reports on data from the previous year, i.e., the 2017 report covers 2016 data. If not all drivers use ELD until April 2018, it means 2019 will be the first full year the devices are in use, which means the first BLS report on work-related fatalities covering a full year with the devices won’t be published until December 2020. I could anticipate that other agencies, including some mentioned in the article, will be monitoring and reporting on the effects of using ELDs too, but it could be some time before that data is available as well.

  4. Chase

    I still find it laughably pathetic that the general public thinks if the government tells truck drivers when to sleep and when to drive, that it will make the roads safer. An absolute joke!

  5. Steve Garrett

    I recently retired from driving, I have watched over many years the decline in driver capabilities and lack of knowledge, more and more drivers are hitting the road without the abilities to safely operate a truck in an emergency situation. Many of today’s drivers do not even know how to adjust brakes or even know if their brakes are properly working, they don’t bump their tires to even know if they are inflated, they have no clue how fast is safe to descend down a hill, how and when to chain up or even when to engage a differential lock if they even know what one is. Too many of today’s drivers are simply not safe to drive an 80,000 lb. truck down the road let alone how to handle an emergency. Lack of proper training is in my opinion the biggest cause of fatalities in the business.

  6. peter parker

    There was a huge increase in ELD trucks over that time period and it did not cause a reduction in fatalities. The FMCSA’s own study concluded no significant difference between a group of carriers with ELDS compared with a group using paper logs. It should also be pointed out that fatalities involving trucks only represents about 10 percent, sometimes less, of the total deaths on the road. Prescription drugs taken as prescribed kill more that twice as many people as vehicle crashes every year. This attack on truckers is nothing more than government corruption at work and I think we all know it. Question is, what do we do about it? Strike is long over due.

  7. David Miller


  8. Troy

    Need a trucker strike it would only take 48 hours and I bet that all the dispatchers would wake up

  9. Dave Mazz

    I’m *not* a professional truck driver and know little about the actual operation of ELDs (Electronic Logging Devices.) I have seen claims that since ELDs don’t actually control trucks, they can’t be the main cause for truck accidents. Also, the below
    “Fact” citing a Federal Motor Carrier Association (FMCSA) report seems to indicate that ELD-equipped trucks are *safer* than non-ELD-equipped trucks.

    My questions:

    (1) What is the relationship between ELD-equipped trucks and increased accident rates?

    (2) Is this documented, or just the opinion of some drivers?

    (3) Is the below-cited FMCSA report an example of a “Fake Investigation” and totally inaccurate?

    ” Fact: The FMCSA recently released “Evaluating the Potential Safety Benefits of Electronic Hours of Service Recorders Final Report,” a report from the Center for Truck and Bus Safety of Virginia Tech Transportation Institute. The report found that commercial drivers using E-Logs had a significantly lower total crash rate (11.7% reduction) and a significantly lower preventable crash rate (5.1% reduction) than trucks not equipped with electronic logs.”

  10. Patrick

    Stop blaming truckers.we aren’t always to blame.maybe government officials and people who write columns like this..and your safety analysis groups should spend 30 days in our will see the four wheelers that cut us off and slam on brakes going down mountainsides..yes that happens..they ride our tails in our blind spots as if to save gas..they get out of our view on the side of our trailers..they drive without lights in the rain sleet and before you start pointing your college educated fingers at people who deliver your goods..maybe you should ride along with us..see what your so called statistics and analytics go against actual facts on the road.we want to get home and see our families just as much as the next me..I’m sure you would thoroughly enjoy our beat up roadways and the inconsiderate patrons who share OUR roadways..trucks and military should have access back to these lifelines..not the texting individual or the distracted four wheeler..yes… I am waiting for you to reply

  11. John Evenson

    If the government passes a law thinking it would make things better and things get worse change the law!!!! If you have never driven a semi then you should not be making the laws for truckers!!! New report says 75% of Truck accidents were due to those 4 wheelers!!! EDUCATE THE 4 WHEELERS ON SEMI DRIVERS THEY HAVE NO IDEA OF THEDANGERS OF THAT 80,000 lbs SEMI THEY JUST CUT UN FRONT OFF!!

  12. Steven

    Thanks to the ELD I can no longer take decent breaks during the day I’m tired all the time I’ve been driving 26 years I guess not doing this job right . I’m already down $4100 from where I was last year at this time . I’ve also seen more accidents this winter than I ever have . Someone please tell me what good the ELD is .

  13. Khadija Woods

    What are the statistics on trucking and weather? What are the laws? My husband died in an accident after being sent out in the storm on January 4th. It was a state of emergency, they sent him into the storm. There was absolutely no way he was going to be able to get back in time within the mandated hours. He had 4 stops in Maryland during a coastal storm and never made it out of New Jersey.

  14. James J Schiebrel

    I read the whole article and not a word about who is at fault in these increased driver fatalities . Sounds like blame being assigned around the bullseye instead of hitting dead center. If you are gonna quote numbers let’s include the number of drivers who died due to no fault of their own.

  15. Cory

    I had driven big trucks for about 18 yrs. I don’t drive fur a living any more. No I’m not retired like alot of the articles state is the reason fur the driver shortage !! That’s bs. I stopped driving when the eld,s came mandatory an occupation I took pride in ,loved doing. It was trucking. Now it’s an exhausting,boring, dangerous job. If only more driver’s would have had a backbone and parked the trucks truck,n wouldn’t have been taken from us! !! A big thanks to all who played a part in the dumbest thing ever is the eld !! Everyone has them to thank fur the DRIVER SHORTAGE AND FATALITIES !! KEEP UP THE GREAT WORK. . and just hopefully you don’t lose a loved one to a tragedy that you helped create.and to all you steering wheel holders that did nothing about it and hate their miserable JOB probably laying in the sleeper and can’t fall asleep or maybe their driving down the road tired trying to keep their eyes open !wishing they could stop to rest but can’t cause THE CLOCK KEEPS TICK,N or maybe their in the sleeper snooze,n getting unloaded fur 6 hrs well good fur you but them 6hrs unloading is on duty TIME. So good luck sleeping when the CLOCK says you have to. .. yeah I no I’m LMAO too. ..enjoy the ride..

  16. John Hadley

    I am a 31-year veteran of the industry. I have concluded that ELD stands for EVERYBODY LET’S DOZE!!! A FIFTH GRADER IS SMART ENOUGH TO KNOW THAT A MACHINE CANNOT TELL YOU HOW YOU FEEL MINUTE BY MINUTE WHAT A BUNCH OF DUMMIES!!!! Like everything else leave it to the college educated idiots and they’ll mess it up!!!

  17. Tony

    Retired after 25 years of driving over the road I have a different opinion of why all this happens. It starts with not enough training with qualified trainers and I mean “qualified”.
    I started with a company, after a 6 week school, and trained for 4 weeks then had to driver as a single driver with another trainee for another 4 weeks. After that I was sent to a school for Advance Collision Avoidance. Only after that was I assigned my own truck and told to go to work. I still had to attend safety meetings were there were real exams after and not those fake ones we do today that gives you the question and the answers before the exam. My trainer constantly nagged me to look at all the signs so I would get use to reading them. If I was not looking at my mirrors every 8 seconds or so he would bang on the window. He would do things like ask what the bridge clearance was from a bridge 5 to 10 miles back and I better know the answer. He made me a better driver where safety was the priority. Looking ahead of the traffic and studying what is far ahead and what is further behind me made a big difference in how I drove. Also making sure I did not tailgate and had plenty of room for an out is important. Today’s drivers, unless your old like me, don’t pay any attention to these kind of things. They dress like they just came from the gym and don’t give a damn about professionalism. After 25 years I never had a ticket or accident and never had a bad report from DOT. It can be done but you, the driver, have to want it bad enough to work for it.


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