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The truck crash fatality rate has dropped 406 over the past decade ATA says Photo by Sean KilcarrFleet Owner
<p>The truck crash fatality rate has dropped 40.6% over the past decade, ATA says. (<em>Photo by Sean Kilcarr/Fleet Owner</em>)</p>

Trying to clear up the truck safety picture

Crash data good, but no context for new SMS numbers.

While truck crash data continues to show a positive safety trend, the recently revamped Safety Measurement System (SMS) put in place by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration may only muddle the waters, leading many to believe the industry is not as safe as the data indicates.

“The problem with the new SMS is that there’s a lack of context, compared to the way it used to be,” Laura McMillan, vice president of training development for Instructional Technologies, Inc., explained to Fleet Owner.

FMCSA had removed SMS data from public view last month in response to Congress’ directive to clean up the data process for the Compliance, Safety, Accountability (CSA) trucking safety scoring system. While CSA BASICs information is no longer visible, the SMS data that generated those CSA scores is still available under the revamped system, and without additional context for that data, many may misunderstand its meaning.

“For example, let’s say a motor carrier gets 400 inspections in a month. Is that a good or bad number? You don’t really know because there is no peer comparison,” she said. “The data is a bit of a throwback to the way SafeStat numbers used to be displayed. It’s good that the data is visible again, but without a frame of reference, how useful will it ultimately be?”

McMillan noted, however, that carriers taking a “proactive” safety stance shouldn’t worry too much. “If you’re being proactive about safety internally, you won’t have a problem. This [SMS] data is a lagging indicator anyways,” she stressed. “It’s those carriers that aren’t paying attention to their CSA scores that this will be a problem.”

This conundrum with the re-revealed SMS data reporting setup is also “a bit of a ‘be careful what you wish for' situation,” McMillan added. “But it is what is – this is what we’ll be dealing with for the next two years.”

Yet in terms of truck crash data, a recent analysis conducted by the American Trucking Associations (ATA) concludes that the industry’s safety profile is improving both from a short- and long-term perspective.

According to 2014 highway fatality data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) there were 3,903 truck-involved fatalities in 2014, a decline of 61 from 2013.

At the same time, based on analysis of miles traveled data from the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), the number of miles traveled by large trucks rose to more than 279 billion – meaning the truck-involved fatality rate fell for the second straight year to 1.40 per 100 million miles traveled.

“My take is that is gratifying that the actual [truck] crash numbers, [truck] crash fatalities, and [truck] crash rate are all coming down,” Dave Osiecki, ATA’s executive VP for national advocacy, told Fleet Owner.

“When you look at the numbers over time, you see that despite a higher exposure due to higher miles traveled, all the numbers are coming down,” he added. “That clearly tells us we’re heading in the right direction.”

The fatality rate dipped 2.78% from 2013 and has fallen 4.76% over the past two years, ATA note, while declining 40.6% over the past decade.

ATA stressed, though, that those figures only represent fatalities where a large truck was involved in the crash and do not reflect causation.

Osiecki noted, too, that those numbers are a reflection of the industry as a whole “doing the right things” in terms of safety improvements, such as adopting collision-mitigation systems as well as “predictive analysis” technologies such as those offered by Lytx and SmartDrive.

“Let’s face it – the [truck] driver is really where the rubber meets the road in terms of safety, and they are the ones doing the right things such as driving defensively, to bring those numbers down,” he emphasized. “They need to get most of the credit.”

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