At the 2019 Transportation Research Board Annual Meeting, in Washington, DC, early this year, Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) Chief Safety Officer Jack Van Steenburg delivered some sobering news:
- The number of large-truck-occupant fatalities increased each of the latest three years, 2015-2017.
- The percentage of fatal work zone crashes that involved at least one large truck increased each of the latest three years.
- The percentage of all fatal crashes involving at least one large truck also rose each year.
- The number of fatalities in large truck and/or bus crashes increased in 2017 over 2016, as did the number of fatal crashes themselves.
Crashes almost always involve multiple factors. FMCSA did not single out large trucks and their drivers as being at fault for the rise in truck fatalities. But data presented by FMCSA did show that the means to stem this tide is often – literally – in trucking’s hands. Here are three ways to put those hands to work for safety:
Use your hands to wear your seat belt. Roughly 38% of truck occupant fatalities were people not wearing their seatbelts. Of the 841 truck occupant fatalities in 2017, that equates to about 319 truck drivers or their teammates who might otherwise be alive today. The good news is that truck driver seat belt usage reached a record 86% in a 2016 FMCSA survey, up from 65% in 2007. Truck drivers have learned that while they may not be crushed in an accident, as can impact a motorist, without a seat belt truck drivers do get ejected, often fatally. A simple measure to save lives? Use your hands and click your seat belt.
Use your hands to signal others. National Work Zone Awareness Week is April 8-12 this year. FMCSA data show that 30.4% of fatal work zone crashes in 2017 involved a large truck, up from 26.8% in 2015. As the national event title suggests, the key to preventing work zone crashes is awareness. And a key to awareness is, again, using your hands:
- Use your hands to click your turn signal early when you are merging into the open lane.
- Use your hands to turn on your flashers when traffic ahead is slowed or stopped.
Truck drivers have the benefit of a high visual horizon – you can see what’s ahead – couple that with using your hands to help others be similarly aware and you can save lives. For more information on safely trucking through work zones, read this.
Use your hands to avoid distracted driving. FMCSA said distractions such as cell phones ranked in the top five driver-related factors for large trucks in fatal crashes. Using your hands can help eliminate distractions while you drive:
- Use your hands and adjust your seat, seat belt, mirrors, radio volume, and anything else you may be tempted to reach for before you start driving so your eyes, attention – and hands – can focus on safely doing your job.
- Use your hands and place that cell phone or that tablet where it cannot shift or fall before you start driving – if your company allows their hands-free use. If forbidden by your fleet, use your hands and put the devices away entirely. Remember that federal law prohibits holding a mobile device in your hand to make a call while driving a commercial vehicle, while dialing a hands-free phone when operating a commercial vehicle cannot require more than pushing a single button. State and local laws may be more restrictive.
Highway safety requires using your head — and your hands. Together, we can stop the rise in truck fatalities. All in favor – raise your hands.
Steve Vaughn is vice president of field operations for HELP Inc., the provider of the truck weigh station bypass system PrePass as well as toll payment and trucking data visualization technology. He previously served with the California Highway Patrol and is a past president of the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance.