Though the global economic downturn is being tagged as “the biggest factor” in a record drop in annual car-truck crash fatalities, federal officials believe the steep decline shows that trucking is making serious strides when it comes to safety improvements.
Crash data compiled by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) indicated that the truck-involved fatality rate on the nation's roadways declined 12% last year compared with 2007, dropping from 4,822 in 2007 to 4,229 in 2008.
“This is great news; it's very encouraging,” Rose McMurray, acting deputy administrator for the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), told Fleet Owner. “Though the U.S. economic downturn is the biggest factor behind this drop in fatalities…we still think it's compelling evidence that safety is becoming a more important priority in trucking.”
For example, McMurray pointed to NHTSA's findings that the number of truck occupant deaths decreased 16% last year — from 805 in 2007 to 677 in 2008 — which she believes directly correlates to increased safety belt usage among commercial drivers. FMCSA's data noted that safety belt use by drivers of medium- and heavy-duty commercial vehicles increased to 72% in 2008, up seven percentage points from 65% in 2007.
“That increase in safety belt usage is reducing the ejection of truck occupants during a crash, and we think that is but one example of how the safety initiatives on the part of government, law enforcement and the industry are paying off,” McMurray stressed.
More critically, she noted, a close review of 600 fewer truck-involved fatalities from 2007 to 2008 shows that most of the gains came from reductions in fatalities involving the occupants of other vehicles.