Today’s Trucking Is a Dangerous Business

Trucking is one of this country’s deadliest jobs.

According to the most recent census from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), 786 truck drivers were killed on the job in 2016. Not surprisingly, 80% of those deaths involved transportation incidents.

The BLS data underscores the recent findings of other federal agencies which also indicate an increase in truck-related crashes and deaths. For example, the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) reported that 722 truckers were killed in traffic crashes in 2016. That’s up 8.6% from the prior year.

Altogether, the number of truckers who died in 2016 was 47% higher than in 2009 (the year with the lowest number of fatalities since federal agencies began collecting fatal crash data in 1975).

And that’s not all. According to the BLS, truck drivers are also more likely than the average U.S. worker to get injured or sick on the job. As a result, work-related injuries and illnesses led long-haul truckers to be absent from work a cumulative 47,560 days in 2016.

Why Is Trucking So Deadly?

Opinions differ on what makes trucking so dangerous.

Collin Mooney, executive director of the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance (CVSA), believes that fatigue and distracted driving are the primary culprits.


But Norita Taylor, a spokeswoman for the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA), points the finger at lack of training and crash-worthiness testing. The problem is that regulators are focusing on rules that aren’t safety related, Taylor said.

Another factor is the current booming economy, which has resulted in increased highway miles for vehicles of all types. In addition, surging demand for e-commerce translates into a steady rise in freight volumes.

Feeling Less Safe

Whatever the cause, truck drivers are feeling slightly less safe on the job than they did six years ago. That’s according to StayMetrics, a driver-retention technology company that polls truckers on issues such as job safety.

In 2017, the Indiana-based firm surveyed almost 10,000 truck drivers, and asked them to respond to the statement “I feel safe on the job.”  On a scale of 1 to 5 (with 1 being “strongly disagree” and 5 being “strongly agree”), the average rating was 3.88 in 2017, compared with 4.12 five years earlier in 2012.

“There is erosion on how safe drivers feel about the profession,” said StayMetrics Chief Executive Tim Hindes. He surmised that increased traffic congestion and lack of access to safe, predictable parking were the leading causes.


Common Causes

So what are the most common causes of truck-related accidents? Here are the top five:

#1 Driver Error

There are many reasons for driver error: fatigue, the influence of alcohol or drugs, distractions or recklessness. However, studies show the majority of trucking accidents caused by driver error are due to the passenger vehicle driver (81%), not the truck driver (22%). Trucker can improve their defensive driving by keeping a safe distance from other vehicles, being patient with slower or reckless drivers, and using turn signals.

#2 Poor Vehicle Maintenance

Equipment failure, such as worn brake pads or a cracked windshield, can cause a major traffic accident. It’s a driver’s responsibility to check his/her rig at the beginning of every shift and submit a vehicle maintenance report. Failure to do so can be fatal.

#3 Equipment Failure

Poor fleet maintenance isn’t the only thing that can cause a truck’s equipment to fail at a dangerous moment. Equipment manufacturers may be guilty of negligence during a part’s production, leading to defective or dangerous components.

#4 Inclement Weather

Rain, snow and ice can be especially tricky for truckers to drive on, due to the vehicle’s heavy weight and slower stopping speeds. It’s important to slow down whenever road conditions are not ideal. Seasoned drivers know when to pull over safely and wait it out, or park for the night.

#5 Improper Cargo Loading

Mistakes or negligence during loading procedures can make a load fall off onto the road, causing catastrophic accidents. Truckers and cargo loading teams must always abide by industry-specific rules when it comes to loading the bed of a commercial truck.

Will ELD’s Help?

Within the trucking industry, there’s disagreement over how effective electronic logging devices (ELD’s) will be in combating driver fatigue, long considered a prime factor in crash-related injuries and deaths.

The federal mandate requiring carriers and independent drivers to install ELDs in trucks to track driving time became effective last April. Regulators believe the devices will help enforce a federal hours-of-service rule, limiting truckers to 11 hours of driving within a 14-hour workday.

CVSA’s Mooney expects fatality rates to drop as a result of the new mandate. But Taylor of the OOIDA disagrees. Better driver training and crash-worthiness testing will do more to curb driver deaths and injuries than ELDs, she said.

Only time will tell.


Bureau of Labor Statistics

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

GTG Technology Group