ATA report: Trucker fatigue numbers ‘wildly exaggerated’

Oct. 12, 2012

Anti-truck special interest groups are responsible for wildly exaggerating the role of fatigue in large truck crashes, according to a new white paper released by the American Trucking Assns.

“We have often been told by self-appointed ‘experts’ that fatigue is the leading cause of truck-involved crashes, and this report clearly demonstrates that is not true,” said Bill Graves, ATA president & CEO. “While every crash on our nation’s highways is a tragedy — particularly those that involve serious injuries or fatalities — the first step toward reducing crashes is being honest about what causes them.”

The figure often cited by advocacy groups — that 30% to 40% of truck crashes are caused by trucker fatigue — originated in a 1990 National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) report titled: “Fatigue, Alcohol, Other Drugs, and Medical Factors in Fatal-to-the-Driver Heavy Truck Crashes,” according to the ATA white paper.

That NTSB report focused on 182 crashes, which were generally single-vehicle crashes, where the driver of the truck was killed. As a result, NTSB itself said it specifically selected truck accidents that were likely to include fatigue-related accidents; that is, single vehicle accidents that tend to occur at night,” and added that the report’s purpose was not to determine “the statistical incidence of fatigue.”

Also, the crashes selected for the NTSB study were limited to those that were fatal to the driver, which represent only 16.8% of all fatal truck crashes, and .002% of all police-reported truck crashes (fatal and non-fatal).

A further constraint on the usefulness of these findings, ATA said, is that, of the 56 accidents where fatigue was judged to be the probable cause, 40 had other probable causes as well. There were 57 drivers identified as fatigued at the time of the accident, but 19 of them were also impaired by drugs or alcohol.

“Of course, multiple probable causes make it difficult to isolate the role of fatigue in these accidents,” the white paper said.

“Due to these NTSB explanations and appropriate ‘cautions,’ no organization has ever suggested that any of the findings in this study are attributable to all truck crashes. For instance, 33% of the crashes studied involved alcohol or other drugs, but no one claims this is true of all truck crashes since doing so would be grossly inaccurate and misleading,” the white paper stated. “Likewise, it is grossly inaccurate and misleading for any organization to suggest that 30-40% of all truck crashes are caused by driver fatigue, based on the sample selected for the 1990 NTSB study. Unfortunately, some continue to do so.”

“ATA has been a champion for determining and addressing the true causes of crashes like increased speeds and aggressive driving,” said Mike Card, ATA chairman and president of Combined Transport, Inc., Central Point, OR. “Reducing and managing fatigue is an important safety issue, but it shouldn’t be the only safety issue as some groups want to make it.”

About the Author

Deborah Whistler

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