The number of large-truck occupant fatalities increased 4.9%, to 723, in 2003, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Overall fatalities in accidents involving large trucks increased 1%, to 4,986. This marks the first increase in overall fatalities since 1997.
A more detailed analysis shows that the number of truck-occupant fatalities in multiple-vehicle incidents jumped 11%, while truck-occupant fatalities involving only the truck increased 1.6% compared to the previous year.
However, Bob Inderbitzen, director of safety and compliance for the National Private Truck Council (NPTC), points out that there is one key element missing from the government report: number of miles driven. “I was disappointed that NHTSA didn't give the truck-mile increase,” Inderbitzen said. “You really ought to have the total truck mile change from year-to-year because there seems to be a decrease in accidents per mile. To use a pure number is misleading.” Inderbitzen is referring to the increase in the number of miles trucks are driven in a given year.
In 2003, the U.S. economy — and freight — began its recovery, resulting in a year-over-year increase in miles driven by large trucks.
Although accident ratings are pending, upcoming figures on miles driven are likely to offset the 1% increase in fatalities, which may spell good news for trucking. “I saw it [the NHTSA report] as a positive,” Inderbitzen said. “The truck-related fatalities are under 5,000 for two years in the row. This speaks volumes in terms of the safety of the equipment, the training of the drivers and more safety belt usage.”
Among occupants of other vehicles involved in a crash with a large truck injuries decreased 8% and fatalities decreased 0.2%. “The reduction in injuries in cars is related to increased seatbelt usage and enforcement may be stronger,” said Inderbitzen.
According to ATA, passenger-car drivers are responsible for up to 75% of all car-truck crashes. This underscores the importance of working with the highway community and educating the public on sharing the road with commercial vehicles.
“ATA remains hopeful that final truck-mileage data for 2003, when released later this year, will show that truck-related crash rates remain at a historic low,” ATA said in a written statement.