Road travelers likely know it all too well. Truck accidents happen. The increase was small in 2019 from 2018 in some areas and it was substantially higher in another segment of the trucking industry.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 843 trucker deaths in 2019, the most recent statistics available, and a 1.4 percent increase. The highest yearly death tally (880) occurred in 2014.
Including professional drivers of light-duty trucks, the industry suffered 1,005 fatal occupational injuries last year. It’s the highest since the agency started tracking the category in 2003.
Truck accidents happen; other jobs more dangerous
But trucking is not the nation’s most dangerous occupation. It’s only the seventh most dangerous occupation.
Fishing and hunting works have the highest death rate, 145 per 100,000 workers. Driver and truckers have a rate of nearly 27 per 100,000. The average rate among all jobs is 3.5 per 100,000.
A variety of factors contribute to the high rate of trucker deaths, said Steve Williams, chief executive of Maverick USA, a Little Rock, Ark., motor carrier and the president of The Alliance for Driver Safety & Security.
Improving road infrastructure to reduce traffic hazards would be one step to improve safety. Greater use of advanced driver assistance systems such as forward collision alert with automatic emergency braking, blind-spot alert and similar technology will decrease the death.
Driver assistance systems can also be used alongside some types of liability car insurance coverage designed for truckers to drive costs downs and reward safer driving choices.
Another truck safety initiative is to expand 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.
Regulators also should make hair follicle drug testing a safety requirement. William said it’s significantly more accurate than urine tests. A University of Central Arkansas study found that compared with urine analysis more rigid hair drug testing would remove as many as 300,000 truckers from the profession.
Another important safety factor would be stricter law enforcement and better educational efforts to reduce distracted driving by those operating passenger vehicles. Williams said drivers looking down from their truck cabs at the traffic often see light vehicle drivers texting and conducting other tasks besides driving.
“All the safety technology in the world can’t fix stupid,” he said.