New Research Clarifies Large Truck Safety Trends

Large_Trucks_Cover_Front-300x287The American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI) has released findings from research of “…variations in safety trends across different classes of large trucks.

The study separated and evaluated a decade of medium- and heavy-duty truck crash records and identified notable crash trends specific to each population.”

More specifically, their press release states:

Using an ATRI-designed “crash rate index”, ATRI isolated specific variables such as vehicle type, crash location, and weather to determine the degree to which certain factors influenced crash trends for medium- and heavy-duty trucks. The analysis revealed noticeable differences in safety trends between different truck sizes, with medium-duty generally performing worse than heavy-duty trucks. In addition, the results indicated disparities between interstate and intrastate motor carriers.

“This research also points out that blending medium-duty crash statistics with heavy-duty crash statistics may unfairly drag down the safety gains made by heavy-duty truck fleets,” said American Trucking Associations President and CEO Bill Graves. “When it comes to truck safety, clearly one-size solutions do not fit all scenarios.”

This safety data analysis provides important insight for targeting crash mitigation efforts based on different truck size groups, and highlights important opportunities to reduce crashes and improve safety.

To request a complete copy of their research report titled “Large Truck Safety Trends” (FREE), just fill out the online form found at this LINK.

As reported at, the study found “…more crashes of medium-size trucks but far fewer crashes of the heaviest trucks on the road”

ATRI applied a “crash rate index” system and determined that a major drop in crashes of “heavy duty” trucks (those weighing over 26,000 pounds) during the 2000-2010 timespan was overshadowed by a 38.3 percent rise for medium duty trucks, which weigh between 10,001 and 26,000 pounds

In aggregate, the overly broad category signaled a drop in safety results when the largest vehicles actually outperformed the medium duty class. 

This is significant since vehicles with a GVWR of 26,000+ require specially qualified & licensed drivers, generally receive greater scrutiny and must comply with additional regulations (tied to the Commercial Drivers License).   The smaller vehicles are still regulated, but tend to be concentrated in service industries, local operations, construction entities and non-trucking focused. 

The mixed scores affect how fleets are targeted for audits, and clarifying the data may help poorly performing fleets get more thoughfully tailored safety assistance which could reverse crash trends, save lives and reduce risk of injuries.

 Dan Murray, ATRI’s VP-research, told Fleet Owner (magazine) “The good news here is that heavy-duty truck safety is actually better than we thought,” he explained. “But the bad news, which borders on disturbing, is that combining medium- and heavy-duty crash statistics has masked a high level of medium-duty truck crash rates.”

Murray is also attributed by Fleet Owner to have said ATRI is now focused on “drilling down” further into the crash causation data for both truck types to help determine what specific tactics can help boost safety trends for each class of commercial vehicle.

To request a complete copy of their research report titled “Large Truck Safety Trends” (FREE), just fill out the online form found at this LINK.

SafetyFirst Systems works with commercial vehicles from sedans to tractor trailers — providing driver qualification, performance monitoring, coaching programs (for supervisors) and much more. Our client base consists of a network of more than 75 insurance providers, trade associations and more than 3,800 active fleet clients in all industry types.

Coming to ASSE in June?  Hope to see you there with our newest Driver Education releases available for preview. 

How Much Longer Until We Get There?

Based on news reports, we hear about self-driving cars becoming a reality, lane departure warning systems, airbags built into the seatbelt and other “whiz-bang” devices designed to help us survive and avoid crashes.  These features are significant, but are they in your car or truck today?  If not, when can you expect to see them become incorporated into your next new vehicle?

The Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI) recently released a report about the typical time it takes for new safety innovations to become widely available.  Their conclusion after studying tons of data is that it usually takes about three decades for a new safety feature to move from initial introduction to being found as either a standard item OR an available option in 95% of the vehicles on the roadway.

Their article goes on to offer an example; “…it won’t be until 2016 that 95 percent of all registered vehicles could have frontal airbags, the authors predict, even though manufacturers began adding frontal airbags in meaningful numbers during the mid-1980s.”  The real impact of this lag time becomes evident in even more recently introduced appliances; “Forward collision warning, which was rolled out in theUnited Statesin 2000, could take even longer. If it continues to follow its current trajectory, the crash avoidance technology won’t be available in 95 percent of registered vehicles until 2049, HLDI predicts.”

There are two main factors in this lag time: 

  1. new features that prove helpful are not instantly available in all new models and
  2. not everyone replaces their vehicles frequently enough to keep pace with new features as they’re introduced into more makes and models.

It is amazing to investigate the progress made on crash avoidance systems that are presently available in high end luxury cars and as after-market installs for commercial vehicles, but it’s also sobering to realize how few people are presently benefiting from these systems. 

What’s the net impact of this lag time?

“The Institute has estimated that if all vehicles were equipped with forward collision warning, lane departure warning, side view assist, and adaptive headlights, 1.9 million crashes — including 1 in 3 fatal crashes — could potentially be prevented or mitigated if the systems worked perfectly.”

Another factor surfaced from the study – some innovations are more quickly adapted and incorporated than others: “Head-protecting side airbags, for example, shot up quickly in the beginning. It took 10 years for them to be available in 25 percent of the registered fleet, and it’s expected to take 15 years to reach 50 percent. In contrast,ESCreached the one-quarter mark after 16 years and is expected to be in half the fleet after 20 years.”

Finally, they also noted that the presence of some legacy technologies can accelerate new innovation acceptance; “Interestingly, antilock brakes have spread quickly even though they were never required. Despite promising results on the test track, realworld crash data haven’t shown large benefits from the technology. [However,] They got another boost fromESC[Electronic Stability Control] because an antilock braking system is a prerequisite for stability control. Now that the government requiresESCon new vehicles, antilocks have essentially become mandatory, too.”

So pay attention when you see the television ad or the professional journal article about new innovations, but realize that it may be a while until those systems hit the road in earnest.  In the meantime, don’t sacrifice the “basics” of driver training, performance monitoring, and solid vehicle inspection programs tied to preventative maintenance.