The fatal trucking accident involving comedian Tracy Morgan this summer was one of the few times a fatal trucking accident actually received press coverage in this country. However, simply because trucking accidents don’t often get news coverage does not mean they do not present a problem. In fact, according to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), a fatal truck accident occurs an average of 11 times per day in the US. Additionally, more than 100,000 people are injured every year in truck crashes. If you think these numbers seem high, you’re right: the number of crashes has increased since 2009, as the improving economy has resulted in more goods being carried via trucks, with increased pressure for on-time delivery.
What is responsible for this increase in crashes? A study conduct by CNBC indicates a multitude of reasons: fatigued drivers, lax screening by trucking companies of drivers they hire, a government that is hesitant to craft regulations requiring new safety technologies to be used on American highways, and equally-dangerous driving by passenger vehicles, which are more agile than the cumbersome, slower-moving trucks. Some argue that the government is reluctant to add regulations to the trucking industry due to concerns it could thwart the industry’s—and therefore, the country’s—economic growth.
So how bad is this problem? According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), there were 3,921 fatalities from truck crashes in 2012 and 104,000 injuries from truck crashes that same year. Fatal crashes increased 18% between 2009 and 2012 per the FMCSA. However, passenger crashes during that same period decreased, according to NHTSA. In fact, passenger car fatal accidents were down 1.74 percent. Accidents involving large trucks are twice as deadly as accidents involving passenger vehicles.
How big a role do the truck drivers and the trucks themselves play in these accidents? FMCSA reports that 4.89%, or 171,150 drivers out of a total of 3 million inter-state drivers, were removed from their positions as a result of violations. And 20.13%, or 2,145,733 of trucks out of a total of 10,549,380 trucks traveling on inter-state American roads, were taken out of service after inspection for having too many violations. Keep in mind, these are just the drivers and trucks whose violations were detected.
Therefore, truck drivers, as well as the vehicles themselves, are obviously at least partially responsible for this problem. One may ask why the trucking industry simply doesn’t hire more competent drivers. The answer is that the trucking industry is a tough one, with low pay, extended time away from home, and long hours—a perfect storm for a high-turnover industry. Also, the truckers that do stay are forced to meet the increased demand for goods, many of which are expected to be shipped overnight when drivers are usually most tired. And the amount of goods shipped is expected to increase exponentially within the next 11 or so years. As a result, the industry will need to add many more drivers each year. All the demands these truckers face can yield fatigue among their workforce.
Additionally, with regard to issues with the trucks themselves, trucking technology does not seem to be keeping up with the times. The American Trucking Association estimates that of all trucks on the road, only around 10% have active safety technology. However, vehicle manufacturers like Volvo are working on new technology that would allow trucks to detect cars ahead, and Mercedes-Benz is working on technology that would fully drive and control the truck, requiring almost no input from the driver.
Additionally, responding to the increased demands truck drivers face and the concern of increased fatal trucking accidents, the FMCSA has spearheaded an effort to reduce the number of hours truckers drive. As of July 2013, the new rules limit the average work week for truck drivers to 70 hours to ensure all truck operators have sufficient rest. The trucking industry was given 18 months (as of the July 2013 date) to adopt the new rules.
While fatal trucking accidents are on the uprise and are therefore cause for concern, it is comforting to know that the problem isn’t being ignored by the truck manufacturers or the FMCSA. Just as passenger vehicle fatalities have decreased in recent years, it is hopeful that the attention being brought to this issue will result in decreased trucking accidents in the coming years.
In the meantime, if you or a loved one has been injured, or your loved one killed, in a trucking accident, please call the skilled lawyers at Brooks Law to address your claim. We will evaluate your case to determine whether you are entitled to any compensation.
Sources: CNBC, NHTSA, FMCSA