Rise in Commercial Trucking Fatalities Sparks Safety Debate

FleetOwner.com, an online news source that provides vehicle information tailored to commercial trucking fleets, says that while U.S. auto fatalities continued a downward trend, commercial truck accidents jumped 8.7 percent from 2009 to 2010.

After peaking in 2005, auto fatalities dropped year by year and declined 2.9 percent in 2010 to 32,885, the lowest number since 1949. However, the National Highway Transportation Administration indicates that accidents involving commercial trucks increased 8.7 percent during the same period.

Commercial Motor Vehicle Safety Bill up for Debate

Based on this preliminary data, highway safety groups and some Chicago truck accident attorneys say increased federal regulation of commercial truck operators is needed to combat car-truck fatalities. The Commercial Motor Vehicle Safety Enhancement Act of 2011, also known as the CMV bill, is now being debated in Congress and drawing both political and public support.

If passed, the CMV bill would, for instance, mandate the use of electronic onboard recorders (EOBRs) to monitor and reduce driver fatigue, create a central clearinghouse for alcohol and controlled-substance testing records and fund a study on the implications of truck size and weight increases.

Industry Rejects Proposed CMV Requirements as Misguided and Unnecessary

Industry officials, however, insist that the regulations proposed by CMV are misguided and are drawing attention away from more important safety issues.

American Trucking Associations president Bill Graves states that, “Report after report, from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s own Large Truck Crash Causation Study to the most recent annual report on truck and bus safety facts shows that fatigue is not a leading cause of crashes.”

“By putting an incredibly resource-intensive focus on this rule, FMCSA and these advocacy groups have foregone progress on areas ranging from speed to safety technologies to driver training that would have a much larger impact on highway safety,” he says.

Other experts agree. Rob Abbot, the American Trucking Association’s vice president of safety policy, told Fleet Owner that, “The most compelling data on this subject showed that 78 percent of critical incidents-crashes, near-crashes and crash-relevant conflicts-between large trucks and passenger vehicles were initiated by passenger vehicle operators.”

“Accordingly, any attempts to meaningfully reduce the number of truck crashes must focus attention on the role of the passenger vehicle operator,” he says.

It remains to be seen whether the CMV will pass Congressional approval. The bill has since been reviewed by the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation and passed on for Senate consideration.