According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the number of deadly truck crashes declined 20 percent last year, dropping from 4,245 in 2008 to 3,380 in 2009. The drop in commercial trucking fatalities puts them at their lowest level in the Transportation Department’s history, but what is responsible for the sudden spike in safety?
According to some industry analysts, the economic slowdown and drops in consumer demand translate to fewer commercial motor vehicles on the road and fewer miles driven. In turn, fewer trucks amounted to a statistical drop in the number of accidents involving trucks. But just how much of the industry’s improved safety record can be attributed to the recession isn’t easy to quantify.
That’s because in the last decade there have been actual, significant strides in improving safety throughout the commercial trucking industry. For instance, a 33 percent decrease in fatalities has been recorded since improved hours-of-service regulations first became effective in January 2004.
Road checks have also indicated the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s revamped and retooled Comprehensive Safety Analysis 2010 is already paying off, with record numbers of commercial drivers abiding by federal and state safety regulations.
Other initiatives to improve commercial vehicle safety include the Transportation Department’s efforts to drive down the number of accidents involving texting behind the wheel and other forms of distracted driving.
In addition to the 20 percent reduction in crash fatalities involving large trucks, the Transportation Department also says the number of truck occupant deaths decreased 26 percent last year, from 682 in 2008 to 503 in 2009. The number of truck occupants injured in truck-related crashes also declined 26 percent.
Interestingly, the trucking industry is beginning to experience an upswing in the number of commercial trucking jobs and the number of drivers training and applying for those jobs. Only time will tell how the record safety figures will be affected by the trucking industry’s current growth.
According to a Bureau of Labor Statistics report, about 290,000 new truck drivers will need to be hired by 2018 to meet expected demand. Approximately 3.4 million people (1 in every 19 Americans) are employed as professional truck drivers.