Trucker deaths continue to rise and are at their highest level in more than 30 years, according to data released Tuesday by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
The federal agency said 885 large truck occupants died in 2018. That’s an increase of almost 1 percent compared to the prior year. It is the highest since 1988 when 911 occupants of large trucks died.
Looking beyond truckers, overall deaths involving crashes with large trucks also continue to rise. The agency said 4,678 people died in collisions with large trucks last year. That’s up by almost 1 percent from the 4,369 that died in 2017.
Fatalities involving large trucks increased for the fourth consecutive year, the NHTSA said. And pedestrians killed in crashes involving large trucks increased by 13 percent last year.
“The numbers are even more reason that we shouldn’t head in the direction of loosening safety rules proven to work to make trucking safer, and that help reduce the risks for people who share the road with trucks,” said Russ Rader, spokesman for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
The American Trucking Associations, the trucking industry’s largest trade group, said the NHTSA figures “alone provide an incomplete picture of the safety of our highways.” The trade group said the data does not do account for how many vehicles drove on U.S. roads in 2018 and how many miles they traveled.
The trade group wants to see the federal government launch a new “Large Truck Crash Causation Study” to update 2006’s examination of truck crashes. That study, the ATA said, found that road users other than truckers cause the majority of crashes with big vehicles.
“ATA believes safety is of paramount importance and that’s why we’re proud to represent an industry that is committed to reducing highway fatalities by investing nearly $10 billion annually in technology and training, as well as promoting safe and responsible behavior on the roads by all motorists,” the trade group said.
Increasing deaths involving crashes in large trucks runs counter to a national trend of improved highway safety in recent years.
OVERALL DEATHS DECLINE
Motor vehicle crashes killed 36,560 on U.S. roadways during 2018, a 2.4 percent decline from 37,473 in 2017. Deaths also fell from 2016 to 2017.
Nearly every other category with the exceptions of truckers, pedestrians and cyclists had fewer deaths last year, according to the NHTSA.
• Passenger car occupants (702 fewer fatalities, 5.2 percent decrease)
• Van occupants (98 fewer deaths, 8.3 percent decrease)
• SUV occupants (76 fewer fatalities, 1.6 percent decrease)
• Pickup truck occupants (82 fewer fatalities, 1.9 percent decrease)
• Motorcyclists (244 fewer deaths, 4.7 percent decrease)
• Alcohol-impaired-driving fatalities (397 fewer fatalities, 3.6 percent decrease)
• Speeding-related fatalities (569 fewer fatalities, 5.7 percent decrease)
• Fatalities in single-vehicle crashes (654 fewer fatalities, 3.2 percent decrease)
• Fatalities in multiple-vehicle crashes (259 fewer fatalities, 1.5 percent decrease)
• Passenger vehicle occupants killed in rollover crashes (681 fewer deaths, 9.5 percent decrease)
All of those categories fell even though people are driving more. The nation’s vehicle miles traveled rose by 0.3 percent from 2017 to 2018. The fatality rate per 100 million VMT decreased by 3.4 percent from 1.17 in 2017 to 1.13 in 2018.
“This is encouraging news, but still far too many perished or were injured, and nearly all crashes are preventable, so much more work remains to be done to make America’s roads safer for everyone,” said Elaine L. Chao, U.S. transportation secretary.
The Department of Transportation said more than 90 percent of traffic crashes are a result of human error.
MORE SAFETY FEATURES
Safety officials attribute the dip in traffic deaths partially to improvements in light passenger vehicles.
“New vehicles are safer than older ones and when crashes occur, more new vehicles are equipped with advanced technologies that prevent or reduce the severity of crashes,” said James Owens, NHTSA’s acting administrator.
Automakers are equipping new vehicles with features such as forward collision alert and automatic emergency braking. Those features reduce some types of crashes by up to 50 percent, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Other features such as rear-view cameras and blind-spot alerts also reduce traffic deaths.
Large trucks are only beginning to get those safety systems.
“We’re pleased to see the overall traffic crash figures on public roads decrease, but we remain concerned but the increases in truck deaths, pedestrian deaths and cyclists fatalities,” said Jason Levine, executive director for the Center for Auto Safety.
Levine wants safety officials to conduct more study into why deaths are rising in three areas even as the fall overall.
One contributor to the reported rise in deaths involving large trucks is the way the NHTSA now sorts its data.
The agency said it reexamined supporting material and reclassified several light pickup trucks to an appropriate large truck category. As a result, the NHTSA revised the 9 percent increase in large-truck-related fatalities reported for 2017 to 4.9 percent.