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NHTSA: Fatals in large truck-related crashes rose in 2012; numbers 'misleading' ATA says

Since 2009 the number of truck-related fatalities has increased by 16 percent. (The Trucker file photo)

The Trucker Staff

11/14/2013

WASHINGTON — The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said Thursday that the number of people killed in large truck-related crashes in 2012 rose to 3,921 from 3,781, an increase of 3.7 percent.

In addition, NHTSA said the number of large truck occupants who died in crashes increased 8.9 percent to 697 in 2012 from 640 in 2011.

The 2012 increase marks the third consecutive year that the number of large truck fatalities has increase. Since the all-time low of 3,380 fatalities in 2009, there has been a 16 percent increase in large-truck related fatalities.

The best barometer of how the fatality data plays out is the number of fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles traveled (VMT) and the VMT for 2012 for large trucks, which is a number provided by the Federal Highway Administration. Those have not been released yet.

Overall, NHTSA said the 2012 Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) data indicated that that total highway deaths increased to 33,561 in 2012, which is 1,082 more fatalities than in 2011.

The majority of the increase in deaths, 72 percent, occurred in the first quarter of the year. Most of those involved were motorcyclists and pedestrians.

While the newly released data announced Thursday marks the first increase since 2005, highway deaths over the past five years continue to remain at historic lows. Fatalities in 2011 were at the lowest level since 1949 and even with this slight increase in 2012, we are still at our lowest since 1950. Early estimates on crash fatalities for the first half of 2013 indicate a decrease in deaths compared to the same timeframe in 2012.

"Highway deaths claim more than 30,000 lives each year and while we've made substantial progress over the past 50 years, it's clear that we have much more work to do," Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said. "As we look to the future, we must focus our efforts to tackle persistent and emerging issues that threaten the safety of motorists, cyclists and pedestrians across the nation."

While Americans drove approximately the same amount of miles in 2012 as in the previous year, the new FARS data released today showed a 3.3 percent increase in fatalities from the previous year. The final 2012 numbers confirm preliminary quarterly reports issued by the agency.

American Trucking Associations leaders said today’s release of updated highway fatality data from NHTSA paints an incomplete and misleading picture of the nation’s trucking industry.

“Every fatality on our nation’s highways is a tragedy, and we all have an obligation to improve highway safety.  Unfortunately, the data released today is a misrepresentation of our industry’s improving safety record,” said ATA President and CEO Bill Graves. “When the public hears the term ‘large truck,’ they naturally think of the millions of large tractor-trailers that deliver their most essential goods. However, data released today lumps those tractor-trailers in with millions of smaller, non-freight-hauling vehicles whose crash rates are higher than in the trucking industry. The federal government should not be so casual with its terminology and should provide further information and clarity to the public.”

The American Transportation Research Institute found earlier this year “noticeable differences in safety trends between different truck sizes, with medium-duty generally performing worse than heavy-duty trucks. In addition, the results indicated disparities between interstate and intrastate motor carriers.”

“ATA, along with the trucking industry, has a deep commitment to improving safety on our highways,” said ATA Chairman Phil Byrd, president of Bulldog Hiway Express. “That’s why ATA has pushed the federal government to limit truck speeds and require electronic logging devices for large trucks, as well as lobbying for improved enforcement of traffic rules around our large trucks so we can all arrive at our destination safely.”

“The highways are our workplace,” said Dale Williams, a Share the Road professional driver for Trimac Transportation, “so we all need to do our part to share the road safely. That means allowing for proper following distances and safe passing, as well as abiding by all posted speed limits and other rules of the road.”

Other key 2012 statistics include:

• Fatalities among pedestrians increased for the third consecutive year (6.4 percent increase over 2011). The data showed the large majority of pedestrian deaths occurred in urban areas, at non-intersections, at night and many involved alcohol.

• Motorcycle rider fatalities increased for the third consecutive year (7.1 percent increase over 2011). Ten times as many riders died not wearing a helmet in states without a helmet law.

• Deaths in crashes involving drunk drivers increased 4.6 percent in 2012, taking 10,322 lives compared to 9,865 in 2011. The majority of those crashes involved drivers with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .15 or higher — nearly double the legal limit.

• The number of people killed in distraction-affected crashes decreased slightly from 3,360 in 2011 to 3,328, while an estimated 421,000 people were injured, a 9 percent increase from the estimated 387,000 people injured in 2011. NHTSA is just beginning to identify distraction-related accidents, and is continuing work to improve the way it captures data to better quantify and identify potential trends in this area.

• Nighttime seat belt use continues to be a challenge. In nighttime crashes in 2012, almost two-thirds of the people that died were unrestrained.

"As a public health and safety agency, any increase in the number of deaths is cause for concern. While we're seeing some unfortunate trends, we're also seeing progress in some parts of the country," said NHTSA Administrator David L. Strickland. "We will continue to work closely with our federal, state and local partners to change the way motorists behave on our roadways and build public awareness of key issues that have the potential to save many lives."

Thirteen states and the District of Columbia experienced reductions in overall traffic fatalities, led by Mississippi (48 fewer), New Jersey (38), Georgia (34), Alabama (30) and Utah (26). In addition, 18 states and Washington D.C. showed decreases in drunk driving deaths. New Jersey had the greatest decrease (30 fewer) followed by Colorado (27), Utah (20), Oklahoma (17) and Virginia (17).

The Trucker staff can be reached to comment on this article at editor@thetrucker.com.

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