Large Truck Crash Fatalities

by Tracy Zafian, Research Fellow

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An 18-wheeler maneuvers through Worcester traffic (from Worcester Magazine, file photo, Steven King)

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has updated its summary on large truck crashes and fatalities to include 2016 data from the Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) maintained by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA). The FARS data show though the number of deaths from large truck crashes has decreased nationally over the last 30 years, the last few years have seen an increase.

In 2016, a total of 3,986 people died in large truck crashes. Two-thirds of these deaths were occupants of cars and other passenger vehicles, 17 percent were truck occupants, and 16 percent were pedestrians, bicyclists, or motorcyclists.

According to IIHS’s analysis of the 2016 FARS data:

  • The number of people who died in large truck crashes was 27% higher in 2016 than in 2009, when it was the lowest it had been since the collection of fatal crash data began in 1975.
  • The number of truck occupant deaths was 47% higher than in 2009.
  • 73% of deaths in large truck crashes involved tractor trailers.
  • 62% of large truck occupant deaths occurred in single-vehicle crashes.
  • 67% of large truck occupants that were killed in multiple-vehicle crashes were in a collision involving another large truck.
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Data from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, Dec 2017. http://www.iihs.org/iihs/topics/t/large-trucks/fatalityfacts/large-trucks

In its summary, the IIHS writes that “truck-braking capability can be a factor in truck crashes.  Loaded tractor-trailers take 20-40% farther than cars to stop and the discrepancy is greater on wet roads or with poorly maintained brakes.  Truck driver fatigue also is a known crash risk.”

A study conducted by NHTSA and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) on large truck crashes over a 3-year period found that truck driver inattention due to fatigue, distraction, and related factors can contribute up to 35% of truck crashes involved an injury or death. As discussed in a recent Innovative Outlook article, one issue which may contribute to truck driver fatigue is the lack of sufficient rest areas for large trucks.

The recent FARS data for Massachusetts shows that the number of fatal crashes in-state involving large trucks declined from 31 crashes in 2013 to 25 crashes in 2016. Over the same period, the number of truck occupant deaths from these crashes decreased from 4 to 2. This indicates that many of the people killed in the crashes involving large trucks were outside of the trucks, as occupants in other vehicles or as motorcyclists, bicyclists, or pedestrians.

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