Trucking remains one of the deadliest occupations, according to the latest federal data on workplace deaths.
More than one of every seven on-the-job deaths occur in heavy-duty trucking, according to the recently released National Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics report said the tally included 843 trucker deaths in 2019, the latest period the data cover. That was a 1.4 percent increase, topping the 831 of the prior year.
Trucker deaths have grown steadily since falling off a high of 880 in 2014 to 745 in 2015, according to the federal data.
Including professional drivers of light-duty trucks, the industry suffered 1,005 fatal occupational injuries last year, the highest since the agency started tracking the category in 2003.
But trucking is not the nation’s most dangerous occupation.
Fishing and hunting workers have an on the job fatality rate of 145 per 100,000. Loggers, roofers and construction workers also have higher death rates. Drivers and truckers have a death rate of 26.8, which ranks seventh on the risk list. According to the federal data, the rate for all workers is 3.5 per 100,000, unchanged from the prior year.
A variety of factors contribute to the high rate of trucker deaths, said Steve Williams, chief executive of Maverick USA, a Little Rock, Ark., motor carrier and the president of The Alliance for Driver Safety & Security.
“Without a doubt, we recognize that there are too many avoidable injuries and fatalities in the industry. We support the idea to have zero fatalities, and it is a realistic goal,” Williams told Trucks.com.
Improving road infrastructure to reduce traffic hazards would be one step to improve safety. William also would like to see greater used of advanced driver assistance systems such as forward collision alert with automatic emergency braking, blind-spot alert and similar technology.
Another would be to make sure that drivers impaired by alcohol and drug use are kept off the road, he said.
The Alliance supports expanding the federal driver Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse database to include drug test failures of all commercial truck drivers, including those who operate delivery trucks and box trucks.
Regulators also should make hair follicle drug testing a safety requirement. William said is signicantly more accurate than urine tests. A University of Central Arkansas study found that compared with urine analysis more rigid hair drug testing would remove as many as 300,000 truckers from the profession.
“We need to get those people off the road. Driving a truck is not an entitlement. It is a privilege, and the No. 1 responsibility is that you have to be safe for yourself and those with who you share the road,” Williams said.
Another important safety factor would be stricter law enforcement and better educational efforts to reduce distracted driving by those operating passenger vehicles. Williams said Maverick drivers looking down from their truck cabs at the traffic surrounding them frequently see light vehicle drivers texting and conducting other tasks besides driving.
“All the safety technology in the world can’t fix stupid,” he said.