Commercial truck crash death rates continue to grow in the United States. According to recent National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) data, deaths are at their highest level in more than 30 years. In 2019, large truck crash deaths increased for the fourth consecutive year. These are very alarming highway statistics.
The trend is deeply troubling. Consider this — Overall highway safety has improved in recent years. Yet, we are seeing more deadly commercial truck accidents. In other words, big truck crash death rates are increasing while most other accident and injury rates are decreasing. This raises the question of why. Why are commercial truck death rates increasing? Why are commercial truck death rates moving in the opposite direction of overall highway safety?
Why Are Big Truck Crash Death Rates Increasing?
Some trucking industry groups simply ignore serious safety issues. When asked about deadly highway crashes, these groups always try to blame regular drivers for injuries and deaths. Their efforts are misguided and wrong. I’m reminded of a case I handled years ago where the commercial truck driver left his lane and ran several vehicles off the Interstate just north of Cullman, Alabama. When questioned later during the case, the trucker acted as if these cars should have moved to the shoulder so he could use both lanes. Rather than shift blame, we should look closely at the factors which might be causing the increasing death rates.
The NHTSA should study these issues in detail. Our families deserve safe highways. Here are 7 reasons possibly contributing to the increase in deadly commercial truck crashes:
1. Trucker Shortages
The trucking industry has faced a decades-long shortage of qualified drivers. This shortage continues to worsen. I’ve seen numbers from trucking industry groups estimating shortages as great as 50,000 drivers.
What are the impacts of a severe driver shortage? Driver shortages put pressure on current drivers to take more routes and drive more miles. Driver shortages put pressure on current drivers who may be aging and facing health issues. Driver shortages put pressure on companies to overlook driver safety concerns. Rather than risk losing a driver, some companies may excuse unsafe conduct. Companies may be less likely to discipline or remove bad drivers. Driver shortages create many safety issues.
2. Aging Drivers
We face a shortage of qualified truck drivers. Plus, many qualified drivers are nearing retirement age. Some labor statistics indicate the average age of commercial truck drivers is 55. The truck driver profession is heavily weighted toward older drivers nearing retirement.
Yes, aging drivers bring experience. However, aging drivers may experience more health concerns. And, aging drivers may experience greater fatigue. As older drivers continue to retire, the current driver shortage will worsen.
3. Driver Health
I’ve written several article about truck driver health issues. This is a major concern. You can read a few of my articles here:
- Are Truck Driver Health Issues Causing Accidents?
- Sleep Apnea: Government Chooses Trucking Industry Over Safety.
- Are Medical Examiners Certifying Unsafe Truck Drivers?
- Truckers With Serious Medical Conditions Are A Real Danger On Alabama Highways.
- Government Investigating Fraudulent Commercial Driving Medical Examiners.
Driver health is a safety issue. It’s a huge safety issue. Health concerns such as obesity, diabetes, and sleep apnea, impact driver concentration, driver fatigue and driver reaction times. These conditions put everyone at risk.
The trucking industry has really failed to address trucker health issues. Companies have failed to act in ways that promote the overall health of their driver workforce. In numerous places, fraudulent medical certifiers have been allowed to put dangerous drivers on our roadways. In Alabama and Georgia, recent criminal prosecutions have revealed fraudulent medical certifiers responsible for thousands of drivers on our highways.
4. Driver Distraction
Yes, distracted driving is a problems for all drivers. I’ve written numerous articles on the topic. At our office, we regularly see the destruction of distracted driving crashes.
Cell phones are not the only distractive electronic device in many large trucks. Navigation systems. Driver-assist technology. Devices to communicate with dispatch. Many distracting electronic devices may be present. While any distraction from the task of driving is dangerous, large trucks take longer to stop or move. This magnifies the impact of distraction.
5. More Trucks
Face it, we have more commercial trucks on our roadways. Over the last two decades, the number of big trucks has continued to increase. We have a huge safety problem when the increasing number of trucks is coupled with other factors such as poor driver health, greater driver distractions and increasing driver shortages.
6. Driver Miles
In recent years, the number of trucks on our highways has increased. So has the number of miles driven by many truckers. Longer routes increase stress and fatigue on drivers. Longer routes lead to greater isolation and poorer health choices for drivers.
7. Failed Oversight
What do I mean by failed oversight? Our regulatory agencies are corrupted by industry influence. Industry lobbyists work to prevent or delay important safety improvements from becoming requirements.
Consider side safety guards. I’ve written about side safety guards in the past. Side safety guards have proven extremely effective for safety. In Europe (where they have been standard safety equipment for years), the statistics show tremendous safety improvements. Large truck deaths involving pedestrians and cyclists sharply decreased with the use of side safety guards. And, many deadly car under-ride crashes have also been prevented. Why aren’t these devices required in the United States? The answer is obvious.
We Can Reverse The Trend In Large Truck Deaths
With an emphasis on just a few factors, we could reverse the trend in large truck deaths. We should focus on growing a safe and healthy trucker workforce. We should focus on requiring basic safety equipment that has proven effective. Our loved ones deserve roadways where safety is the most important goal.
At the Blackwell Law Firm, we focus all our work on personal injury and damage claims. Many of our cases involve car and commercial truck crashes. We have represented injured clients across Alabama. If you have questions, let us know. We are happy to provide information. Consultations with our firm are always free and confidential.