The number of large-truck occupant fatalities in the United States increased 4.9% to 723 in 2003, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) said. Overall fatalities in accidents involving large trucks rose 1% to 4,986.
This marks the first increase in overall fatalities since 1997, NHTSA said.
The number of truck-occupant fatalities in multiple-vehicle incidents jumped 11% to 267, while truck-occupant fatalities involving only the truck were up 1.6% to 456 compared with the previous year.
Among persons not occupying a truck, fatalities climbed 0.3% to 4,263. Of the truck-occupant fatalities, 35% had used a restraint, while the remaining 65% had not. Truck-occupant injuries are up 3.8% to 27,000.
Despite the rise in fatalities, the report is missing one key consideration: number of miles driven, said Bob Inderbitzen, National Private Truck Council's director of safety and compliance. NHTSA was only able to report the accident rate until 2002.
“I was disappointed that NHTSA didn't give the truck mile increase,” said Inderbitzen. “You really ought to have the total truck mile change from year-to-year because there really seems to be a decrease in accidents per mile. To use a pure number is misleading the public.”
In 2003, the US economy — and freight — began its recovery, resulting inevitably in a year-over-year increase in miles driven by large trucks, Inderbitzen said.
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,” said Inderbitzen. “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, there were marked reductions in injuries and fatalities. Injuries decreased 8% to 92,000 while fatalities fell 0.2% to 3,879.
“The reduction in injuries in cars is related to an increased seat belt usage, and (seat belt) enforcement may be stronger,” said Inderbitzen. “That number should improve because as young people grow up, they tend to be more apt to use seat belts.”
According to a written statement released by the American Trucking Associations, the latest figures underscore that the trucking industry must continue to work with the highway community, pointing out that the majority of truck crashes involve at least one passenger vehicle. Of these accidents, passenger car drivers cause up to 75% of all car-truck crashes, ATA said.
“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,” the group said.