5 steps drivers can take to lower their risk of being involved in a crash

  (Photo: Shutterstock)

(Photo: Shutterstock)

The number of fatalities reported in connection to crashes involving large trucks climbed 16 percent in 2017. The death toll rose to 841, up from 725 in 2016, according to a recent report from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

The report defined a large truck as “any medium or heavy truck, excluding buses and motorhomes, with a gross vehicle weight rating greater than 10,000 pounds.” It included both commercial and non-commercial vehicles.

FreightWaves Executive Editor John Kingston broke down the overall results of the report in greater detail earlier this week.

“The sharp increase was in contrast to virtually every other trend recorded by the NHTSA,” Kingston reported. “In fact, for every other category of fatal accidents, the number of people killed dropped: passenger car, light trucks, motorcycles, pedestrians, pedal cyclists and ‘other/unknown.’”

FreightWaves reached out to Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance COHMED Program Director Bill Reese to learn how truck drivers can be more proactive about safety on the roadways in light of the recent increase in fatal crashes.  

“When a commercial vehicle is involved in a multiple vehicle crash, the other vehicle is the primary cause of the crash about 70 percent of the time,” Reese said. “This data has been pretty consistent for many years.”

Keeping that in mind, Reese suggested the following tips to help drivers avoid crashes:

Avoid distractions

In the age of smartphones, avoiding distractions comes up again and again as an invaluable way to improve the safety of everyone on the road.

“Distracted driving is one of the leading causes of all crashes and some studies suggest it is the cause of far more crashes than the data shows,” Reese said. “All drivers must avoid being distracted by phones and other electronic devices in their vehicles, plus any other thing in the vehicle that can cause distractions.” 

Being free from distraction also aids drivers in completing the other safety tips on the list. 

Back off

Following too closely is an unsafe practice that can be observed across U.S. highways by vehicles of all sizes.

“There is never a good excuse to follow to close. If your vehicle is equipped with the new technology to keep you from following too close, use the technology, don’t disable it,” Reese said. “It is surprising to most people how far a safe traveling distance is at highway speeds.”

The safe following distance between two trucks is estimated to be over 500 feet, allowing room for the driver to perceive what is happening in front of them and then react, the truck’s brake lag and braking differences between vehicles. This distance also includes a driver attention buffer, according to Peloton Founder and CEO Josh Switkes during a presentation earlier this year. 

Be aware of other drivers

Being aware of other drivers’ behavior goes hand-in-hand with avoiding distractions, and it could help a driver notice when someone else is distracted and could pose a crash risk.

“Drivers need to be aware of other drivers around them. If you observe a vehicle that is weaving all over the road or see a driver who is texting and driving or anything else causing the driver to be distracted, give that vehicle a wide berth,” Reese said. “There is a crash waiting to happen and you don’t want to be around the vehicle. 

Look ahead

Another good way to stop a crash in its tracks to look farther than just the vehicles directly in front of you, according to Reese.

“Look up the road one-fourth to one-half mile ahead of you or even farther. Look for brake lights coming on or emergency vehicle lights,” he said. “Anticipate the slowdowns before they occur. Most people don’t look ahead, and it’s one of the biggest causes of multiple vehicle crashes when traffic slows down. People are following too close and not looking ahead so there’s no time to stop when traffic rapidly slows.”

Be weather wise

Different safety precautions should be taken during different seasons, especially when it comes to ice and snow.

“In winter driving conditions, slow down and increase your following distance,” Reese said. “If you can pullover and wait out a storm that’s always the best option.”