Each year, heavy trucks are involved in approximately 4,000 fatal crashes, the majority of which are collisions with other motor vehicles. It stands to reason then that carriers whose trucks travel almost exclusively on Interstates would be “safer” than those that travel more frequently on non-Interstate highways.
Trucks now routinely approach 40 percent of the traffic mix on certain segments of interstate highways, at various times of the day, with overall traffic densities frequently approaching or exceeding maximum free-flow capacity limits. The truck portion of the traffic mix will likely continue to increase. Simultaneously, truck accidents and fatalities are rising, as is public concern about this trend. Against this backdrop, there will be continuing strong political debate and economic pressure to increase maximum allowable truck size and weight limits as a way of handling both the need for productivity improvements, and this large and growing amount of travel. Accommodating this seemingly straightforward goal, however, will be anything but simple. Multiple, potentially conflicting, public policy issues are involved.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has spent millions of dollars on naturalistic driving studies of commercial driver fatigue. Instead of looking directly at crashes, these studies put devices on trucks to record videos and other data on driver maneuvers. However, the recorded incidents, called “safety-critical events,” do not validly represent crashes, crash risk or crash causation.
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Millions of dollars are spent to develop and enforce Hours-of-Service (HOS) rules for commercial truck and bus drivers. Most everyone agrees that HOS rules are necessary, and that repeat violators should be punished. But do the rules really matter? It’s my view that specific HOS rules don’t matter a great deal in terms of overall safety outcomes (i.e., crash rates). And the actual safety effects of rules may be quite different than those predicted by government fatigue studies.
A truck involved crash is a disturbing event for the driver, the trucking company and any third parties. Every accident though offers a chance to learn and collect information that can be used to improve fleet safety. A necessary step in that learning opportunity is to decide if the accident was preventable or non-preventable.
CALGARY EYEOPENER | Jan 23, 2015 | 8:01
Driver fatigue may have been responsible for a tanker truck crash that ended in a gasoline spill and the closure of Highway 2 earlier this week in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.
Interview about the issue with Roger Clarke, the chair of the North American Fatigue Management Program, and a Motor Carrier Safety Associate.
Read the transcript of the interview (with few edits for clarity).
A company’s safety culture the thing tells you whether or not safety is central to the way a business is managed. The safety culture says safety is just a word that is acknowledged only when convenient or safety is standard practice.
“How much do I spend on safety? How much does a poor safety performance cost me? How much can I save by investing more resources in safety?
No truck crash is good – they are all bad, and ugly. Yet, relative to each other, large truck crashes can be divided into three distinct categories corresponding to these three adjectives. The three crash categories are quite different in their causal profiles and in what they tell us about driver risk.
As all managers responsible for safety know, injuries and fatalities that occur as a result truck crashes have significant human and financial impact on the driver, his or her family and the trucking company. With improvements in vehicle and road design, driver training, regulatory oversight and enforcement the result has been a steady decline in both the number and severity of highway incidents and their unacceptable consequences. These advances in road safety are making a positive contribution to reducing costs and improving occupational health.