WASHINGTON — New preliminary data from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration shows a noticeable drop in large-truck crash injuries and fatalities, a positive development as the agency considers new rules designed to prevent such crashes and mitigate their effects.
Fatalities resulting from crashes involving large trucks (weighing over 10,000 pounds) fell 14.4% — from 1,175 to 1,006 — in the first quarter of 2023 compared to the same period in 2022, according to the latest statistics published by FMCSA’s Motor Carrier Management Information System (MCMIS), dropping below the 10-year trend (see chart).
Injuries resulting from those crashes fell 1.4%, when comparing the same periods, with large-truck crashes overall dropping 5.2%.
A similar snapshot comparing the first quarters of 2021 to 2022 shows an opposite trend: Fatalities increased 23.8%, injuries were up 1.7% and crashes were up 4.9%.
Taken by themselves, the data suggests improvements in road safety for the trucking sector, which has seen safety diminish as it relates to crashes.
The positive development is less impressive, however, when taking truck population into account. New operating authorities approved by the U.S. Department of Transportation, which can be used as a proxy for freight activity, trended upward during the first quarter of 2022 as carriers looked to take advantage of high freight rates.
But new authorities began trending down during the latter half of the year as the economy, and freight rates, began to slack off, as illustrated by data compiled by FreightWaves SONAR (see below).
Asked to comment, Zach Cahalan, executive director of the Truck Safety Coalition (TSC), which advocates on behalf of truck crash victims, pointed out that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is the “agency of record” for documenting large truck fatalities.
“When they next release their estimates, TSC hopes far fewer families suffer from these horrific crashes,” he said, and that “5,700-plus large truck fatalities a year cannot be tolerated.”
While recent NHTSA data has shown declining highway fatalities among all road users, the agency has not broken out data for large trucks since May 2022, when it revealed that crashes involving at least one large truck in 2021 had climbed to a “crisis level” 13%, reversing a declining trend seen in 2020.
Eliminating injuries and deaths resulting from large truck crashes is a goal of DOT’s National Roadway Safety Strategy, unveiled in January 2022. Part of that strategy includes rulemakings by FMCSA to require speed limiters and automatic braking devices on heavy trucks, as well as changes in how carrier safety fitness is determined.
“Upcoming rulemakings such as speed limiters have great potential to drive this figure down substantially and we urge FMCSA to not delay,” Cahalan said.
In April, NHTSA published an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to consider mandating side underride guards for trucks as a way to prevent deaths and injuries in crashes involving cars and trucks, but the agency was criticized harshly by safety advocates for underestimating the benefits if such a requirement were to be finalized.
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