Drivers in California should know that commercial truck accident rates are going up across the nation. The number of truck occupant fatalities rose from 725 to 841 between 2016 and 2017, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. When pedestrians and occupants of motor vehicles are included, the number rose from 4,369 to 4,761.
Serious accidents involving dump trucks and ready-mix concrete delivery trucks are on the rise in California and across the United States according to the Federal Motor Carrier Administration. As a result, federal regulators and traffic safety experts are pushing trucking companies to take steps to reduce driver fatigue and adopt technology that monitors driver performance on the road.
A bill that would help prevent underride crashes from occurring to drivers in California and across the United States has stalled out in Congress. The bill, which is titled the Stop Underrides Act of 2017, aims to reduce the number of underride crashes that occur each year by requiring underride guards on the front and sides of each commercial truck. The bill would also update the standard requirements for underride guards on the back of trucks and require the Department of Transportation to update its standards every five years.
Technological advances in monitoring, data and analytics are driving a surge of safety in the trucking industry. Among the new technologies that trucks are using in California are systems like automatic braking and backup alarms. According to the technology product manager for manufacturer Mack Trucks, that company has been investigating new truck safety technologies since the early 2000s, which is when it started including such features as traction control and stability control in its vehicles.
It's no secret that 18-wheelers pose a unique risk to drivers traveling on California highways. Unlike smaller vehicles, an 18-wheeler needs a tremendous amount of lead time in order to stop. In the best conditions, these large vehicles could need the length of two football fields to come to a complete halt. That distance grows in rain or other wet conditions.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is responsible for the rules that are meant to ensure commercial trucker safety. One of these rules states that all commercial truckers must take a 30-minute break after eight consecutive hours of driving. While this may seem like a reasonable rule, it has been the subject of many comments and criticisms by truckers throughout California and the rest of the country.
In September, inspectors with the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance performed brake inspections on over 35,000 commercial trucks and trailers. The mass inspection was a part of the group's Brake Safety Week. The result of the safety week showed room for improvement within the trucking industry. Just over 14 percent of the inspected truckers, including many in California, were put out of service for brake violations.
Many people in California recognize the dangers of distracted and drowsy driving. A survey conducted by the American Automobile Association identified distracted driving as a growing threat after 88 percent of respondents expressed their belief that it was becoming more common. Their concern exceeded by far any worries about aggressive driving or drug- or alcohol-impaired driving. The widespread adoption of smartphones is largely seen as the top cause of distracted driving, and people blame the promotion of productivity culture as a source of sleep deprivation among commercial truckers.
Fatigue is a major cause of accidents every year. Nationwide, over 100,000 accidents each year are caused by driver fatigue, according to the National Highway Transportation and Safety Administration (NHTSA). The NHTSA reports that 13 percent of all truck fatalities and 28 percent of single-driver commercial vehicle accidents involve fatigue. Companies are working to prevent this problem among truckers.
Federal data shows that the annual number of large truck crash fatalities increased 28 percent between 2009 and 2016. This has led safety advocates to urge the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to consider mandating crash avoidance systems on all heavy trucks. California motorists may be interested to learn that those pleas have received attention from several members of Congress.