Truck Driver Deaths: The Unfortunate Facts

    Trucking remains one of the deadliest occupations, according to the latest federal data on workplace deaths. More than one of every seven on-the-job deaths occur in heavy-duty trucking, according to the recently released National Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries. In 2019 there were 843 truck driver deaths. That was a 1.4 percent increase, topping the 831 of the prior year.

    Trucker deaths have grown steadily since falling off a high of 880 in 2014 to 745 in 2015, according to federal data. Including professional drivers of light-duty trucks, the industry suffered 1,005 fatal occupational injuries last year, the highest since the agency started tracking the category in 2003. And according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the last decade has seen an upwards trend of fatal occupational injuries of truck drivers.

    Although truck driving is not the nation’s most dangerous occupation (fishing and hunting workers, as well as loggers, roofers, and construction workers have higher workplace fatalities) drivers and truckers still have a death rate of 26.8 fatal injuries per every 100,000 workers, ranking seventh on the risk list.

    Why are truck driver deaths so high?

    A variety of factors contribute to the high rate of traffic fatalities involving truckers, but one of the most concerning reasons is the disregard for driver safety by truck companies. Drowsy driving has a significant impact on the fatality rate because truck drivers are pressured to drive more hours than federal regulations allow.

    Research shows that driver fatigue is actually just as dangerous, if not more dangerous than intoxicated driving. In 2018 the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimated that 91,000 auto crashes involved drowsy drivers. Despite the the risk of fatal injuries, trucking companies sometimes pressure and manipulate truck drivers by not paying them fair wages. As a result, drivers need the money and are willing to put their own lives in danger while driving on an insufficient amount of sleep.

    The high number of miles truck drivers log contributes to the high death rate as well. A typical U.S. driver usually travels 12,000 to 15,000 miles every year and has a 1 in 15 chance of being in a crash. But the average semi truck travels 45,000 miles per year, according to the Federal Highway Administration, increasing their chance of being in an accident.

    What you should know about truck driver deaths

    Around 500,000 trucking accidents occur each year in the United States, with about 5,000 per year resulting in death

    About every 15 minutes, a person is killed or seriously injured in an accident caused by semi-trucks. In fact, around 500,000 trucking accidents occur each year in the United States, with about 5,000 per year resulting in death.

    Sixty-eight percent of all fatal truck accidents happen not in cities, but in rural regions. More than half of all fatal truck accidents occur during the day, and almost 80% occur on weekends. Surprisingly, the majority of large truck crashes occur when the weather is clear and the roads dry. In crashes involving large trucks and other vehicles, 98% of the fatalities occur to the people in the passenger vehicles.

    Over 25 percent of all fatal tractor trailer accidents are caused by truck drivers who have had at least one prior conviction of breaking speed limits prior to the fatal accident. Fatal crashes involving large trucks continues to increase and is often due to driver fatigue, unsafe or careless operation of the commercial vehicle, improper loading that causes the rig to be unstable, or simply poor vehicle maintenance or defective brakes or other equipment.

    Examples of truck defects are:

    •    Problems with tires or wheels
    •    Brake-related crashes
    •    Engine/transmission problems
    •    Defective steering wheels

    How should we address the problem?

    • Improving road infrastructure to reduce traffic hazards would be one step to improve safety. Also greater use of advanced driver assistance systems such as forward collision alert with automatic emergency braking, blind-spot alert and similar technology would help reduce the rate of trucker deaths.
    • Another would be to make sure that drivers impaired by alcohol and drug use are kept off the road.  Expanding  the federal driver Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse database to include drug test failures of all commercial truck drivers, including those who operate delivery trucks and box trucks, would help lower the numbers as well.
    • Regulators also should make hair follicle drug testing a safety requirement, as it is significantly more accurate than urine tests.
    • Another important safety factor would be stricter law enforcement and better educational efforts to reduce distracted driving by those operating passenger vehicles. Texting and driving continues to be a problem.

    Advancements that could make the trucking industry safer

    Truck accidents are some of the most expensive injury claims a business can face; losing an average of $70,000 after a fleet vehicle crash. That’s nearly double the cost of an average workplace injury. Truck crashes also affect productivity, cut into sales numbers, and can hurt a company’s reputation. Studies show that on-board monitoring systems can help improve trucking safety records. Studies have found that fleet vehicle camera systems are one of the most effective ways to reduce driver-related safety incidents. Drivers who were monitored with cameras and given feedback and coaching saw a 38% reduction in safety-related events, including a 75% reduction in severe events.

    Large truck and bus crashes are still all too common, but advancements in camera equipment and AI technology means that drivers can now be automatically monitored for unsafe driving behavior. In-cab alert systems can notify them when they aren’t focused on their driving. Systems like this can wake a driver up who is dozing off, let them know if they are drifting out of their lane, following another vehicle too closely, and otherwise not watching the road.

    New, advanced coaching systems let managers keep driving training current. They are easily able to spot problematic behaviors and correct the situation before it becomes a larger issue.

    When to Contact a Personal Injury Lawyer

    Many truck accident victims can have a lengthy and painful road to recovery with overwhelming medical expenses, loss of wages, and/or permanent disability.  If you’ve been injured in a motor vehicle crash, there are various State of Illinois laws that can help you receive compensation. Please contact the law firm of Palermo Law Group at (630) 684-2332 for a free consultation with nationally recognized truck accident lawyer, Mario Palermo, regarding the best approach to the legal issue of obtaining compensation for your injuries.

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