Last Decade’s Data Shows Large Truck Accidents Returning to Pre-Recession Levels

Consider for a moment the incredible leaps in technology over the last decade. In 2007 the iPhone debuted [1]; today, more than 76 percent of people in the United States have Internet access in some form [2]. While these devices create ample risks of distracted driving (they are music players, text messagers, gaming devices…oh yes, and phones!), they also have built-in GPS units that equip every Average Joe with a turn-by-turn navigation system. This latter innovation has the potential to reduce inattentive driving by allowing everyday drivers to focus on the road as a robotized voice calmly reads out driving directions.

And that is just what’s sitting in our pockets! Many of these technologies are now available – or even standard – in automobiles. They guide us where we’re going and keep us entertained, but they also increasingly keep us safe. From tire-pressure monitors to lane-change sensors, our increasingly computerized vehicles think faster than we can, assess risk better than we can, and never lose their focus. Many luxury cars already feature self-parking technology that liberates their drivers from that persistent source of frustration and embarrassment: parallel parking. [3] And while there is angst from many sides and in many flavors about what self-driving cars will bring, few dispute that autonomous vehicles will become part of our everyday lives within the next decade. [4]

On the whole, more technology has meant safer cars. Consumer advocates first assailed automobile safety in the late 1960s, and by the early 1980s an extended decrease in the incidence of deaths from vehicle crashes had begun. [5] Seat belts became standard and later required by law; the same is true for infant and child car seats. Crumple zones in cars, no-shard auto glass, and protection of the gas tank are among thousands of innovations that have made cars safer. And with the exception of the last two years, the downward trend in accidents is proof-positive that these changes have worked. [6] (Time will tell whether we’re in the midst of an upswing in roadway danger, and if so why.)

But even as driving on the whole has become safer, a persistent peril is that posed by the large truck. In 2015, large trucks were involved in an estimated 87,000 injury accidents, resulting in more than 4,200 fatalities. [7] The rate of fatalities in 2007 – about 1.5 per 100,000 million miles traveled by large trucks – is roughly the same as it was in 2016. [8]

There was a dip in this rate down to 1.11 in 2009, but that was also in the depths of the Great Recession. [9] One explanation for this late-2000s slump in the fatality rate is that companies facing hard times laid off all but their most experienced and proficient drivers, thus making the roads safer for a short time. But once the economy rebounded, so did the fatality rate.

Unlike crashes involving two passenger vehicles – an “equal opportunity” peril, so to speak – crashes involving large trucks overwhelmingly harm people other than the truck driver. In the most recent data, 72 percent of the fatalities in these crashes were drivers in other vehicles plus another eleven percent that were pedestrians or other non-occupants. [10]

Technology will continue to march on, and overall it appears likely to make the roads safer for all. But as long as flawed humans continue to drive eighteen-wheeled commercial trucks along the nation’s roadways – day and night, rain or shine – it seems that they will continue to pose a significant risk to safety.











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