Truckers Died in Record Numbers on the Job in 2017

December 19, 2018 by Alan Adler, @AlanAdler

Driving a heavy-duty truck remains among the nation’s deadliest occupations, with on-the-job deaths of truckers setting a record in 2017.

Last year, 840 truckers lost their lives on the job, 6.6 percent more than the 786 reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics for 2016. The number of heavy-duty trucking deaths has risen by 25 percent since 2011.

The labor bureau data are in line with other data that show an increase in the number of deaths involving trucking. An October report from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that traffic fatalities involving large trucks rose 9 percent year over year to the highest level in 29 years. Heavy-duty truck fatalities rose 3 percent in 2017 compared with 2016.

Trucking as a profession had 26.8 deaths per 10,000 workers, compared with 3.5 deaths per 10,000 for all professions.

The fishing industry had 99.8 deaths per 10,000 workers, the highest rate of any occupation. Logging workers, pilots and aircraft engineers, and roofers all had death rates higher than trucking but recorded far fewer deaths because those industries are smaller.

“All employers need to take a systematic approach to safety,” the nonprofit National Safety Council said in a statement Tuesday. “This includes having policies and training in place to address the major causes of fatalities and injuries.”


The labor bureau data also showed that for the fifth consecutive year, overdose deaths at work from nonmedical drugs and alcohol increased at least 25 percent.

“Commercial drivers must be well-trained, well-rested and drug- and alcohol-free,” said Lane Kidd, managing director of the Alliance for Driver Safety and Security, adding that more effective drug tests are needed.

About 1 in 7 applicants for trucking jobs cannot pass a drug test, according to the National Transportation Institute.

A record number of truck drivers, 840, died on the job in 2017, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.


Distracted driving, excessive speed and lack of seat belt use contribute to trucking deaths, just as they do to deaths of passenger car occupants. At least 38 percent of truck drivers killed in 2017 were not wearing seat belts, said Jack Van Steenburg, chief safety officer of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.

Drowsy driving is another factor, he said, especially in work zones, where heavy-duty trucks are responsible for 3 in 10 crashes.

“You’re driving at highway speeds, and all of the sudden it comes upon you that there’s a traffic stop ahead,” Van Steenburg said. “For a large truck, it’s not easy to stop.”

Truckers also spend long periods of time in interstate traffic bottlenecks near major cities, where distracted driving from smartphone use can lead to crashes.

“Distracted driving absolutely is rising, and it’s problematic,” Jim Mullen, FMCSA general counsel, told Trucks.com.

Some drivers admit to racing the clock to get miles in under hours-of-service rules that are digitally monitored by electronic logging devices. Enforcement of the December 2017 federal mandate began earlier this year.

The FMCSA is planning a crash-correlation study to learn why heavy-duty truck fatalities are rising, FMCSA Administrator Ray Martinez told Trucks.com in an October interview.

The agency is studying the labor bureau data, a spokesman said Tuesday, declining further comment.


Many motor carriers are adding advanced driver-assistance technology like lane-departure warning, adaptive cruise control and automatic emergency braking when they order new trucks.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety requires many of these technologies for passenger vehicles to get the institute’s top safety rating.

“We are intensely focused on eliminating any kind of accident, injury or fatality,” said Jon Morrison, president of truck safety system technology supplier Wabco.

The 160,000-member Owner-Operator Independent Trucking Association said it has long advocated for crash-worthiness standards for trucks.

“Common sense and inexpensive safety enhancements, such as air bags, have been overlooked for decades, while supposed safety technologies for the vehicle have been prioritized,” spokeswoman Norita Taylor told Trucks.com on Tuesday.

Alan Adler October 31, 2018
Driving faster to beat eight-hour rest-break rule joins distracted driving and fatigue as causes of rising fatal truck crashes, some trucking experts say.

43 Responses

  1. Josh

    I’m very disappointed that this article leaves out 1 of the biggest problems in the industry. Improper training is the one thing causing more deaths. Until we fix the training problem deaths will continue to rise.

    • Mike

      1 of the bidggest problems….Shippers …Old friend long gone now had a brand new freightliner back in ’98 think it was who ran paper goods south and frozen chicken back up. Did a run with him one time. He went to get his load of chicken somewhere around Valdosta GA and thew shipper said” This is a hot load and has to be in Boston in 18 hours or less. If your late you done get paid for the delivery.. Friend said no way in hell can I leave GA and be in Boston in that time frame which shipper replied your wasting time…Friend got smart and told him to shove his load of chicken where the sun doesnt shine.

    • Ryan

      Training has nothing to do with it. Your ASSuming all these deaths are from rookies. When in fact speed and distraction are major contributors. You cant train a driver resposibility. Training is a tool to give you an idea but driving responsible is up to the person behind the wheel. So do t tell me a driver with 30 uears exp never looked at his cell phone.

      • dan k

        Totally agree! It is indeed an assumption this is a training issue. Responsibility can not be learned in the class room. We have all seen salty drivers at top speed tailgating and swapping lanes like a little bmw! All that eventually will catch up!

      • J.B.

        I looked at my cell phone once and never did it again. I was already out of my lane just to get a look at a message for directions. I stuck it back into the holder and forgot about it till I was stopped.

        When you’re always grossed out of overloaded on an overload permit, time looking away is not something you can regularly do and continue to live.

        6 weeks of training will get you a CDL and a job with Swift or some other rookie hiring company. Rarely do you even find one of those drivers who can tell you what brand engine their rig has and definitely not the transmission. So, how do you check oil on an engine and not know what brand it is? You don’t check oil. You don’t check tires till one disintegrates. You don’t check heat on the tires that indicate bad bearings or a hot rear diff cause you haven’t been taught to do so and have no mechanical ability or background.

        Then there’s the drivers who are pushed by the ELD bs, a new killer on the road.

    • Ryan

      Truck driving is a b.s. job not a career. If you wanna make it a career youll die alone in that truck. Or if you want to make some dog miserable mayne not. No company cares about you. You run hard and need an extra day hometime theyll fire you tow the truck and charge you for it. Other drivers will steal from you. Youll eat horrible. Youll quit go home and when your ready to give it another shot youll have to take a bus to sit in orientation for a week with nasty ppl. The list goes on and on but ill stop there cause youll think im crazy if i tell you what really happens.

    • L'beth Amanni

      3 letters: ELD
      It was a daily challenge to meet schedules and make a living under the convoluted HOS using paper, but it was doable; and most of us did not die in the attempt. Now, here is the new ‘normal’:
      We drivers are now forced to wear cyber chains, reducing our time to make a living, while allowing the rest of the system to remain as wasteful of our time as they ever were. In case you forgot, we only get paid for driving; that’s like only paying a Senator for signing their name, because if that were THEIR payscale, they would go to all the Reps, to sign their bills; they would stand in the lobbies of banks to sign folks’ mortgage papers; they would register to vote a dozen times; sign petitions for the other political parties too…………oh it would be heartbreaking to see them struggle to make a living for their families……………………….yet no one cries for us, eh?
      Weighted down with these ‘safety’ chains, we now travel the speed limit every minute we are driving, to make the miles. Our fuel bill will go up about $10,000 this year because we’ll run at lower mpg’s. The higher speeds create more tension and the crappy roads more jarring, so we are exhausted every day.
      And ALL that would disappear with a single change in the DOL regs: pay us for all hours. Ah, but then the eld engineers wouldn’t be able to rake in their obscene profits now, would they?

      • John

        Well , sort of agreeing with all that. But remember, you were supposed to be complying with paper logs right ? They know we were cheating! Gotta Face the facts here! Fmsca says , what’s the difference if you were complying on paper and now you have to comply with ELD there’s no difference right?

      • john faix

        Amen the on duty not driving line should be renamed. Volunteer line.
        Crazy has no one told dept of labor about this?
        I’m in my second month of solo and I can’t believe everyone works that line for free

  2. Bonnie MacPherson

    The so-called driver assist technology is a safety hazard in a big rig! Lane control indicators beep constantly, causing distracted driving to become highly irritated driving; the automatic braking is seriously hazardous, almost causing crashes instead of stopping crashes. I know nothing about the adaptive cruise control, but if it is anything like the other two safety devices, it will probably assist in killing more truckers. The first two items, I am speaking from experience. I bought a truck that had the lane control crap, within 3 days I ripped it out of the truck. I drove a company truck with auto-braking, that crap almost put me through the windshield! Nothing safe or safety about it.

  3. James Cowger

    I think part of the reason there is a rise in the death of drivers is that there are some companies out there that are training drivers and putting them in there own truck way to soon just so they can get another truck rolling down the road. They need to keep an eye on some of there trainers to because there are some of them that are not taking the time to teach there students how to back up they just have them with them to cover the miles going down the road

  4. Kathy

    Unnecessarily wait time at loading/unloading (idle for hrs, but still on the clock) create a it’s own set of issues for issues getting back on the road. DOT should come up with rules for wait times!!!

    • Dan. Strout

      Who would ever think of trucking when its a police state out on the roads. Cops should pay you for the time they hold you up on the side of the road . Money hungry pigs !!! Its not about safety,,,,, Its all about the $$$$$ they can extort from us legally trying to earn a honest living……..

  5. James Downie

    I think the greatest cause of accidents is from the ELG (Electronic Log Book)
    It’s a computer telling you when your allowed to sleep and when your allowed to drive. It doesn’t consider to driving conditions or the long hours you’ve spent in traffic. All it says is how many more hours your allowed to drive, even though that load has an appointment at 5:00am and your not gonna make it due to time, then it shuts down the truck for min of 8 hours. Last thing I need is a computer telling me when to eat and sleep, and that’s what’s causing the fatigue of drivers.

  6. Carter

    CDL holders ! they will put anybody in a truck today that don’t even really know Nothing about a truck. Now got this electronic logs now you got sleepy drivers speeding to beat the clock. You not seen nothing yet.

  7. puckit

    Great article. Well written. Appreciate the thoughts, comments, and theories.
    What I didn’t hear is what percentage of the accidents are not the truck drivers fault. For example, the article mentions drugs and driving behaviors. Are the majority of the accidents because of driver drug use or drug use by the other party involved in the accident? What percentage of collisions are caused by cars whose drivers are distracted?

    • J Godat

      OTR for 42 years 25 as O/O very seldom saw stat on who was at fault when I did see them trucks were bout 33 percent but news always blames the trucker iv seen articles where it says”thuck caused deadly crash”” read it an half way through it’s a pick up truck lots of contributeing factors to rise in deaths distracted driveing is a large part ie cellphone safety alarms auto brakeing lane departure ect poor or not enough training is a big one had the hood of my truck takenoff at J in in NM by a 46 year old driver he was a trainer with 7 months experience just cause you see an older driver don’t mean he an old hand. Driver attitude is a big problem “me first” and the screw you 80 mph 4ft from a 4 wheeler iv seen newbies and experienced drivers do this HOS rules I known good drivers that can’t drive 300 miles and need a nap but can’t do that anymore
      Oh PS I screwed up more than once and done some stupid crap it can happen to anyone at any time ya got to stay alert and watch the other guy all the time 4 wheeler and 18s

  8. Mike Ridley

    That is partly the results of the eld that was supposed to make the the world a safer place by giving us a clock to race
    Tired to bad drive
    Weather a problem to bad drive
    Rush hour to bad drive
    I am surprised they mentioned it at all

  9. James Williams

    In the trucking industry there is too many people making rules and regulations. Is a 67 mph truck really safe? Not only 4 wheelers cut truckers off, you have truckers cutting each other off. I’ve been a trucker for 35 years and trucking companies talk about safety but they don’t really believe what they’re saying. Safety is just a word. Listen to what we’re saying, RACING TO BEAT THE ELECTRONIC CLOCK. Truckers is that load worth your life?

  10. J G

    It’s not so much the ELD’S that are causing the accidents I talk to drivers all the time on the CB at truck stops shoppers and receivers it’s the training that these new drivers receive..how can a new driver learn the trade if the instructor doesnt know what he or she is doing to start with …I am a 26 yr veteran otr driver …I’ve even had new drivers ask me for help because the training they received is sub standard …..make it tougher on these companies to make someone a trainer or mentor you would see a big difference in driving habits I was trained by a 20+ yr veteran and happy to say I did not attend a driving school

  11. Philip

    You put eld in trucks.its a stop watch. Counting down ur time. Know you have all the new ones racing a clock.

  12. Fred Bacon

    Meat in the seat they ordered 2 many trucks train them two weeks and they are comvinced they are professional pee in a bottle throw in parking lot or put in a shopping cart.

  13. Bill Proctor

    Proper training has been a problem for years. I was a driver for sixteen years and I have trained some drivers as well. The hos rule changes have made matters worse. Before you could take break without it counting against your 14 hours. They forced you to drive 11 hours straight when they changed the rules. Now the electronic logs make things even worse. Automatic breaking isn’t safe in big truck either.

  14. James

    Fmcsa is a joke! Eld makes trucks more dangerous!. You dont need a study because they dont work!. Your on a clock, you have 14 hours total with 11 hours drive time and you have to be at your delivery destination by a certain time!. How do you make up time ,I will tell you! You set your foot on the throttle and dont let up in construction zones cause you can lose time and miles if you do that!. Weather is another place you can make time or lose it!. Ice ,got no time for that!. I lose time and miles if I slow down for weather conditions (just look up Wyoming i-80 pile up) on YouTube. As for the drug issues, you cant legalize marijuana and expect a certain group of people to refrain from using what you just made legal!. I run paper logs and slow down in adverse conditions because I can fudge 30 min on paper if need be!. I dont do drugs because I like driving my own truck!. I feel for all these drivers that are forced to put their lives and everyone else’s including mine out there because a little box says you are about to run out of hours and your still 50 miles from your destination!. Fmcsa your people doing these studies are a joke, but what do you expect from someone behind a desk that’s never been in or around a truck!. Same goes for big company pushing these elds.

  15. Frank Wallace Trejo

    It went up on truck accidents and deaths due to electronic logs everybody’s in a hurry trying to race the clock and driving drowsy you show up to a shipper go to bed for 10 hours sit there all day long for another 10 hours off duty then the company wants you to run your 14 clock really all because electronic logging another part is the big companies hire anybody and thrown behind the driver wheel without no training I’ve been out here for 18 years it’s gotten worse in the past 5 years especially with the e-logs

  16. Thomas Bailey

    and I training hard to last longer how you going to train your body to be two-time loosen truck after 4 weeks whole they’re running a Coke on their legal if they have an accident then we’re covered

  17. Michael

    I agree with Bonnie about the break assist technology. I agree with all the statement made. Company’s rush you through training put you in a truck and then push you to make the delivery times. Giving you two days off after running for 3 weeks then you down time is not at home. I’ve been driving for a few many years. I’ve seen a few to many recks and deaths.
    And now some guy is trying to get the age moved to 18 for new drivers. Just to fill seats. Let’s step back and look at how many more recks and deaths could happen.
    Let’s look at solving the problem not add to them let’s revamp the training.
    Let’s hold company’s accountable. If you think about it the shippers do as much pushing as the companies do. They set the times for pick up and delivery. Not much we can do about the federal laws, but we can about the companies. They need us. Without drivers nothing moves.

  18. John winters

    How about cracking down on these mega carriers,one Werner, Swift, Hunt, Schneider etc, who treat their drivers like shit and think their a robot and are a nobody. Fmcsa really needs to crack down on the lack of training and these scab company’s.

  19. Arline Bennett

    I think the reason for a bunch of this is the training of new Drivers. You are quick to point out about Drugs. I think its the Training and the damn shippers and receivers holding driver up for hours on end and anyone know when you just sit around you get tired. a lot run out of hours when at a receivers and have to find a safe place to park. That clock can not tell your body when to sleep. Everyone’s body is different. New drivers I think are rushing to beat the clock .

  20. Richard Wagner

    Many drivers get very lonely driving. They have to be talking on the cell phone to friends relative talk shows company management just to mention a few. All distractions. Another issue is the signs in construction zones. Many tomes you come up to a work with signs stating 1 right lane closed late evening. All of a sudden you see 2 rightlanes closed. Talk about split second decisions. Also the construction signs canbe read. I could go on and on but it would be useless to waist. My breath. I drive atruck dont work behind a desk. I work in the trenches.

  21. David Miller

    ELD’s having a lot to do with the huge increase in accidents and deaths. Im sur the state of our third world highways are also partially to blame.

    ELD’s make drivers hurry.

    Being in a rush is more dangerous than anything else I do in a truck including snow and ice.

    ELD’s KILL

  22. Robert K Rupp

    How long have they been killing drivers and others involved in the crash because of the truck catching fire? This pollution hot box on the truck burns every other truck to the ground now. Truck used to never catch fire and anybody who ever lost a loved one in a truck fire should get a lawyer and sue the ass of all involved .

  23. Roger mcdowel

    Big brother he will take care of you just ask the natavie Americans .


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