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Speed, Lack of Seat Belts Cited By U.S. in Truck Fatality Spike — 

One-third of the 635 truck occupants who died in accidents during 2011 were not wearing a seat belt, according to a Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration analysis released last week.

The agency also reported that speeding played a role in 22% of those truck-occupant deaths, 2% of the victims had a blood alcohol content of 0.04 or higher, and 4% had some form of impairment — most often fatigue-related.

FMCSA Administrator Anne Ferro said in an interview last week that regulatory officials were “scratching their heads” over what might have caused the 20% spike in truck-occupant deaths during 2011 from the 530 in 2010, which was revealed in a report released last month.

“Why are drivers not using seat belts in those fatal crashes?” Ferro asked. “What can we be doing differently?” Agency officials also offered an update on a wide range of rulemakings they are working on.

Federal regulations say that commercial vehicles cannot be operated unless drivers wear seat belts and they mandate that trucks be equipped with restraining devices for seat occupants and sleeper berths. Federal regulations are silent on the matter of an occupant in the passenger seating position in a truck being buckled, as well as an occupant of a sleeper berth employing the restraint.

A survey released in 2011 by FMCSA showed that in 2010, 78% of the drivers of heavy- and medium-duty trucks drivers used their seat belts, up from 74% the prior year. The latest government statistics showed seat-belt use by passenger vehicle drivers was 86% in 2012, an all-time high.

Overall, truck-involved crash deaths inched up by 1.9% in 2011, to 3,757 from 3,686 the year before, according to the highway safety report that was released last month.

Jack Van Steenburg, FMCSA’s chief safety officer and the assistant administrator, said further study of the occupant fatality information is ongoing. Van Steenburg added, “We’re looking to see who’s private, who’s regulated, interstate vs. intrastate. We are digging down deeper and deeper into all that data.”

Trucking industry officials said federal officials may need to take a longer look at truck crashworthiness standards and other safety measures.

“We need to embrace [the data] as a red flag that really creates a platform to say we need to revisit truck safety,” Don Osterberg, senior vice president of safety for Schneider National, said in an interview. “There are today no crashworthiness standards for commercial trucks.”

Meanwhile, American Trucking Associations will meet on Jan. 24 with FMCSA and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, said Rob Abbott, ATA’s vice president of safety policy. “ATA is concerned and has initiated some steps to better understand the increase [in occupant mortality] so that we can properly shape future policy initiatives to address it,” Abbott said.

“Many manufacturers adhere to voluntary standards, but there are no national mandatory standards,” Abbott said.

The current highway law, known as MAP-21, instructs NHTSA to do a study on the subject of crashworthiness in heavy trucks, Abbott added.

Other safety data from 2011 released by FMCSA last week were:

  •  27%, or 144, of the 530 fatal crashes in work zones involved large trucks.
  •  Driver distraction was a factor in 6% of fatal crashes in 2011, roughly 10% of which was related to cell phone use.
  • 64% of fatal crashes involving a large truck occurred on rural roads.
  • Nearly 47% of all truck or bus fatal crashes occurred in 10 states — California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Texas.
  • More than 4,900 commercial drivers have been cited for violating the cell phone ban that went into effect in 2012.
  • In 2011, the first year of a ban on texting while driving, the agency recorded 630 driver violations. In 2012, more than 1,800 drivers were issued violations.

Source: Transport Topics