NHTSA Reports “Staggering” Commercial Truck Fatalities in 2020

NHTSA Reports “Staggering” Commercial Truck Fatalities in 2020In early March 2022, the National Highway and Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) released their annual report on motor vehicle crashes and fatalities. Large truck fatalities in 2020, the most recent data available for analysis, were at some of their highest rates ever, prompting the Truck Safety Coalition to release a statement, calling the fatality figures “staggering.”

The NHTSA report, entitled “Overview of Motor Vehicle Crashes in 2020” and overseen by the U.S. Department of Transportation, provides a report of motor vehicle accidents on our nation’s highways and roads. They state that 38,824 people lost their lives in motor vehicle crashes in 2020 – the largest fatality rate since 2007, as well as a nearly seven percent increase from 2019.

Out of these numbers, 4,965 fatalities resulted from truck accidents. An additional 146,930 people were seriously injured in commercial truck crashes.

In an open letter, the Truck Safety Coalition (TSC) points out that although these fatal accidents did fall one percent from 2019, in 2020 six percent less people were out on the roads due to the COVID-19 pandemic, so this is not a positive reduction in accidents.

Addressing the trucking safety crisis

Upon the publication of the NHTSA’s fatality report, TSC President Dawn King released a statement. It is also worth noting King lost her father in a truck accident. She said, “Behind each one of those lives lost is a family whose lives are irreparably disrupted. No one should accept the loss of nearly 5,000 lives every year as the cost of doing business to ship goods in America. This has to stop.”

The TSC is an organization, in their own words, “…dedicated to reducing the number of deaths and injuries caused by truck-related crashes, providing compassionate support to truck crash survivors and families of truck crash victims, and educating the public, policy-makers and media about truck safety issues.”

Calling the number of commercial truck accidents and fatalities a “safety crisis,” the TSC believes it is time for trucking companies and government legislators to take action. They propose the following:

  • “Require Automatic Emergency Braking (AEB) on all commercial motor vehicles (CMVs)
  • Require side and front underride guards on all CMVs
  • Require the use of speed limiters in all CMVs
  • Raise the commercial motor carrier minimum insurance requirements
  • Terminate the Unsafe Teen Driver Apprenticeship Program
  • Eliminate the Fair Labor Standards Act Motor Carrier Exemption
  • Improve Entry-Level Driver Training requirements and require CDL applicants to practice driving behind the wheel of a big rig before receiving a license to drive 80,000 trucks alongside passenger vehicles.”

Many of the safety technologies mentioned in the TSC letter are readily available to trucking companies and manufacturers, but some simply choose not to implement them.

Truck safety technology

A variety of safety systems designed for commercial trucks can mitigate many of the dangers that cause accidents. However, the NHTSA does not mandate all of them. Large truck safety technology currently available to trucking manufacturers includes:

  • Automatic emergency braking (AEB). AEB is part of collision avoidance systems, which helped truckers experience 71% less rear-end crashes, 63% less unsafe following distances, and 46% less unsafe lane changes.
  • Side and front underride guards. Although rear underride guards are required on large trucks, currently side and front guards are not. Study after study shows these guards could save thousands of lives each year. Legislators introduced a bill in 2021 to require side and front guards, but they remain optional.
  • Speed limiters. The TSC also reports in their fact sheets that speeding contributes to over 1,000 commercial truck fatalities every year. Speed limiters are much what they sound like; preventing large trucks from exceeding a certain speed. Although they have not been mandatory up until now, the FMCSA recently announced plans to require speed limiters on commercial vehicles.
  • Raise minimum insurance requirements. The TSC raises another point regarding the commercial truck industry’s insurance levels. They note that the minimum insurance requirements for large trucks is $750,000 and has not increased in over 35 years. Adjusting these rates would force changes in the industry and result in increased safety for everyone.

More about speed limiters

As we mentioned above, the FMCSA is moving forward with their plan to require speed limiters on commercial motor vehicles (CMVs), making this announcement on April 27, 2022. In their Notice of Intent, they stated:

FMCSA is moving forward with this rulemaking because of concerns about the number of CMV crashes and fatalities traveling at high speeds. In 2019, there were 860 fatal crashes in areas with posted speed limits of 70 to 75 miles per hour. Twenty-four fatal crashes in areas with posted speed limits between 80 to 85 miles per hour. Approximately 20 percent of fatal crashes occur in areas with posted speed limits in these ranges. The rule will help reduce crashes and save lives on our nation’s roadways.

They have not yet proposed a maximum speed, and have opened up public comments for 30 days on the issue.

Spurring along the push for the speed limiter mandate was the 2021 proposed Cullum Owings Large Truck Safe Operating Speed Act, a bipartisan measure sponsored by Rep. Lucy McBath (GA-06) and Rep. John Katko (NY-24) to require the technology on all heavy commercial trucks. The bill was named for 22-year-old Cullum Owings, killed when a speeding truck on cruise control crashed into the rear of his stopped car.

However and whenever this mandate is passed, it can potentially save thousands of lives.

At Phelan Petty, our attorneys understand the devastation of truck accidents and the injuries they cause. When truck drivers and companies fail to follow safety procedures on the job and you suffer harm, we want to help you secure the compensation to which you are entitled. Our legal team is proud to serve clients in Richmond and throughout Virginia. To schedule a consultation, call our offices at 804-980-7100 or fill out our contact form today.