Truck Safety Coalition attacks ATA truck-car crash data

Feb. 27, 2013

The Truck Safety Coalition, a partnership between the Citizens for Reliable and Safe Highways (CRASH) Foundation, and Parents Against Tired Truckers (P.A.T.T) has taken fire at a recently released report by the American Trucking Assns. that cites various studies to prove that car drivers are far more often to blame than truckers in truck-auto crashes.

In a letter to Bill Graves, ATA president and CEO, and Dan England, ATA chairman, the truck safety advocacy group claims ATA’s report released earlier this month, the Relative Contribution/Fault in Car-Truck Crashes, is “a fallacious attack on victims of truck crashes” and that there is “no scientific basis for the allegation that passenger vehicle drivers are the major reason for truck-car fatal crashes – there are no data and no studies which have shown this to be true.”

ATA released the report to help drive home its point that it’s important for the federal Compliance, Safety, Accountability (CSA) program to fairly address crash accountability. The report cites several studies that found car drivers to be far more at fault in causing crashes than truckers.

Cited in the report is a University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute study that ATA said shows car drivers were assigned factors in 81% of crashes compared with 27% of truckers. Those totals were greater than 100%, the study noted, because 10% of crashes assigned blame to both car and truck drivers. This report assigned driver factors to 8,309 car-truck crashes as a proxy for fault.

Also cited from the UMTRI study: Cars were the encroaching vehicle in 89% of head-on crashes; in 88% of opposite-direction sideswipes; in 80% of rear-end crashes and in 72% of same-direction side-swipes, which it said were “obvious indicators of fault.”

ATA also pointed out that a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) study shows cars were assigned driver factors in 91% of head-on crashes; 91% of opposite-direction sideswipes, 71% of rear-end crashes and 77% of same-direction sideswipes. Trucks, however, were the encroaching vehicle in 98% of backing accidents, although this represented less than 1% of the sample set. This 2003 study assigned causal driver factors in 10,092 fatalities, ATA noted.

Thirty-six percent of car drivers were cited for two or more unsafe acts in a AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety study while only 11% of truck drivers were cited for two or more unsafe acts, the ATA report stated. This study examined 10,732 fatal accidents.

Two studies from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) were also cited by ATA. In the first, 85% of cars and 26% of trucks were assigned driver factors in 2007; 85% of cars versus 25% of trucks were assigned driver factors in 2008 and in 2009, 81% of cars versus 22% of trucks were assigned driver factors in crashes. The figures are from annual large truck and bus crash data assigning driver factors in 6,131 car-truck fatalities.

The second FMCSA study cited was taken from a smaller data set of 221 fatal accidents (large truck crash causation study) which found 77% of cars were assigned driver factors while 23% of trucks were assigned driver factors.

The Truck Safety Coalition (TSC) claims the ATA report rehashes and misuses old studies in order to blame the drivers of passenger vehicles for causing most two vehicle crashes between light passenger vehicles and large trucks.

The ATA “continues to engage in the ‘blame game,’ asserting that about seven out of 10 deaths resulting from truck-related crashes are the fault of passenger vehicle drivers. This claim has repeatedly been shown to be false, is based on misuse of past studies and data, and has been openly rejected by DOT and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA),” the TSC letter stated. “Even so, the ATA repeats this canard in its recent unscientific rehash and misuse of old studies including the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute study.”

TSC said that ATA misuses these studies by claiming they identify who is at fault in two-vehicle truck-car crashes “which the studies did not do, and specifically claimed they could not do. These studies used data and information from the Fatal Analysis Reporting System (FARS), the Large Truck Crash Causation Study (LTCCS) or the Trucks in Fatal Accidents (TIFA) crash databases which do not assign fault, and specifically state that the data cannot be used for that purpose. The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), the predecessor parent agency to FMCSA, stated in its publication, McSafe (May, 1996) that, ‘None of the available data addresses crash contributing factors, causation, or fault.’ In an earlier issue of McSafe (November 1995), the FHWA also asserted that, ‘The FARS factors are those reported by police at the scene that may have played a role in the crash. They are not based on in-depth crash investigations...aimed at determining crash contributing factors or fault.’ ”

“At the heart of the issue about the misuse of the findings and conclusions of the studies cited in the report is the ATA’s push to remove crash data from the FMCSA’s Compliance, Safety, Accountability (CSA) database. ATA would have the FMCSA delete crash records based solely on the information contained in Police Accident Reports (PARs). But PARs do not supply sufficient information for determining crash causation.” TSC stated. “One reason for this is that since passenger vehicle occupants comprise 97% of all fatalities in truck-car crashes, the truck driver is often the lone survivor of such crashes. Even when the passenger vehicle occupant does survive, they are often unconscious, severely injured, in shock, or unable to communicate their account of the crash at the scene. The police officers at the crash scene do a tremendous job, but they are necessarily limited in their ability to investigate beyond basic information due to their extensive crash-scene duties. It is not the responsibility of the police officer at the scene of the crash to determine fault, and in fact there is no place on the PAR in many states for this information. As a result of these factors and others, the investigating officer often codes the crash, and any critical factors, based entirely on the representations of the surviving truck driver. In addition to missing and incorrect information on PARs, the PAR often fails to indicate whether other truck problems contributed to the crash causation. For example, improperly adjusted brakes or undetected truck driver.”

To read the complete ATA report visit

To read the complete Truck Safety Coalition letter visit

About the Author

Deborah Whistler

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