Last year we reviewed some of the key data from the 2014 “Large Truck and Bus Crash Facts.”Last month (April 2017), the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) released the latest version – the “2015 Large Truck and Bus Crash Facts.” Since FMCSA updated the numbers, we want to keep this blog up to date as well, so, without further ado, let’s take a look at the new numbers and compare them with past stats.

Each year, FMCSA releases its “Large Truck and Bus Crash Facts,” which summarizes data from a range of sources to provide statistics on a number of levels surrounding commercial vehicle accidents. The stats are sliced and diced in a variety of ways to offer information from the crash, vehicle, and people perspective, along with overall trends. Although always a two-year lag, if you want to know about trucks, combination vehicles and buses, plus what’s behind the basic numbers, it’s the perfect compendium. From my perspective, that’s okay, as the past is often a prologue – especially around crash trends.

FMCSA often hosts a webinar to review the top level information; so in this blog post I’ll dive a little deeper into some of the details you may not be aware of, but which I often use in discussions with fleets regarding what’s happening on the roadways. Before we get into the details, let’s start with a few definitions:

  • First, a large truck has a gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) greater than 10,000 lbs – what we typically think of as Class 3-Class 8 vehicles. (While I could go into the definition of a bus, let’s keep this post focused only on the large truck segment.) Now, before you get concerned that this is a pretty big spread, keep in mind that 78.5 percent of the trucks involved in crashes had a GVWR of 26,001 lbs. or more. That means a majority of the large trucks involved in heavy truck crashes were Class 7 and 8 vehicles. Roughly, the large trucks involved in crashes split 60/40 tractors to single unit trucks. (This estimation based on the numbers still holds for 2015 data.)
  • Second, the data sources used for this information include:
    • Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) – the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) maintains this database as a “census of fatal crashes involving motor vehicles traveling on public trafficways.”
    • General Estimates System (GES) – Another NHTSA database, GESis “a probability-based nationally representative sample of police-reported fatal, injury, and property damage (PDO) crashes.”
    • The Motor Carrier Management Information System (MCMIS) Crash file – This comes from FMCSA and focuses on state-reported data involving fatality, injury, or tow-away crashes.
    • Highway Statistics – Add another DOT administration into the mix – the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). “State agencies report the data, ranging from driver licensing to highway financing, and FHWA aggregates them to get national totals.” This is the source for vehicle miles traveled and vehicle registration information..

Now that we know how we get the numbers, let’s delve into a few of the key numbers that might be impactful to your fleet. We’ll start with a few top-level facts, just to get the basics down:

  • In 2015, fatality crashes involving heavy trucks went up compared to 2014 (3,598 fatality crashes in 2015 compared with 3,429 in 2014 – an increase of about 5%). You’ll recall from our last blog that 2014 fatality crashes actually declined over 2013, so this is a change in the wrong direction! Of course, the total number of fatality crashes needs to be compared with the vehicle miles traveled – after all, we may see a bulk change in the numbers, but the crash rate may actually decrease based on a major increase in the miles traveled. (More miles traveled could mean a lower “rate” vs. actual number of crashes – which could be an improvement since the more trucks are travelling the more chance for a crash to occur.) 

With this in mind, the news is still not good. The fatality crash rate (crash rate per 100 million vehicle miles traveled) for heavy trucks increased from 1.23 to 1.29 between 2014 and 2015 – also an increase of about 5%. 

  • In 2014, total crashes involving heavy trucks rosesignificantly – from 326,541 in 2013 to 411,429 in 2014 – an increase of 26%. I’m afraid the bad news continued in 2015, as crashes involving heavy trucks rose about 1%, to 414,598. (All right, not a huge increase, but, regrettably, an increase just the same.)
  • The average large truck crashes per 100 million miles traveled also increased slightly.In 2014, 147.4 fatality, injury, and property damage crashes involving large trucks occurred per 100 million miles traveled. In 2015, this rate was 148.2, an increase of about 0.5%. It is significant to note, however, that both the 2014 and 2015 rates were above the 2013 rate of 118.7 – by 24% and 25%, respectively.
  • Since we touched on crash rates in the previous paragraphs, let’s talk a little about how far trucks traveled. In 2014, large trucks covered 279,132 million miles, vs. 275,018 million miles in 2013. The majority of these miles, about 61%, were covered by combination trucks, with the remaining 39% covered by single-unit trucks. For 2015, much the same: Total miles traveled were 279,844 million miles, an increase of only 0.2%...yes, that’s point 2 percent. Not much of an increase compared to the increases in crashes. As in 2014, most of these miles (61%) were covered by combination trucks.
  • Lastly, how many large trucks are registered? In 2015, there were 11,203,184 large trucks registered in the U.S., an increase of 2.7% over the 10,905,956 registered large trucks total in 2014. As in 2014, however, about a quarter of the large trucks registered in 2015 were combination vehicles.

For 2015, more trucks on the road, more miles being driven, more goods being moved and – regrettably – morecrashes. Not the best of times, but truly not the worst of times:Note that things have improved from about 10 years ago, when the overall number of crashes involving large trucks per 100 million vehicle miles traveled was 190.3. Continued vigilance is required, however, as this rate is creeping back up, driving the need for fleets and owner-operators, along with their drivers, to consider what can be done to improve the fleet safety equation for their operation.

But, before you can choose what to do, knowing where to focus is helpful. In part 2 of this blog post, we’ll delve into a few more details regarding types of crashes. Stay tuned!

If you’d like additional thoughts on how to look at improving safety at your operation, check out our white paper and podcasts on the Fleet Safety Equation here at the Bendix Knowledge Dock.

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