Professional trucking remains an incredibly safe and secure career option, but with the economy humming and more and more freight trucks and passenger vehicles on the nation’s roads and highways, especially in 2018, accident numbers have been on the rise. Compounding the fact is the state of infrastructure in the U.S. Knowing these facts, fleets have been moving to ensure they stay ahead of the game and can rely on the safety of their trucks and truck drivers.
In the medium-duty segment, accidents last year also showed a rise, primarily because medium-duty vehicles were driven the most miles, year-over-year. Another factor playing into the rise in medium-duty truck accidents lies in the rapid increase in the size of medium-duty vehicles operating within commercial fleets. When you increase the volume and rate of usage, accidents, by sheer statistics, will rise.
Medium-duty fleets also saw the highest rise in physical damage from a loss perspective. Overall, the severity of truck crashes involving the medium-duty segment has proven to be far costlier than that of other segments. As medium-duty vehicles are outfitted with more technologies and add-ons, the cost of an accident rises. This segment also has the longest lifespan, with medium-duty trucks operating in the longest duty cycles. The longer they are on the road, the greater the chances are that they may be involved in a crash.
The rising numbers also transcended what type of industry a motor carrier works in. The highest accident reading came in the delivery service segment, where on-time delivery is incredibly important. As fleet managers, logistics specialists, and truck drivers try to cope with the increase in volume, higher numbers mean higher safety miles, but also more accidents.
One of the bright spots remains light-duty trucks, in which the accident rate remained relatively steady in 2018. Now, the question remains: What are fleets doing to contend with the rising accident rates in 2018, and will 2019 show a marked improvement, even as the economy continues to do well?
Where Are the Issues?
The types of accidents driving the increase are backing into parked vehicles and hitting fixed objects. Medium-duty vehicles are leading the way in the number of vehicles hit. In the case of fixed damage, there is also almost always a certain amount of property damage that must be addressed. This causes a big rise in overall costs.
Fatigue also continues to drain resources and cause potential safety problems. It is imperative that fleets address fatigue through a fatigue management program. It is well known that a tired truck driver can create a big safety concern out on the road. Still, even fatigue and accident type are not the primary cause of the rise in accidents.
The truck driver shortage plaguing the industry, when coupled with a far higher shipping demand, is simply adding a higher level of volume, thus the numbers rise. Additionally, the truck driving force today is filled with new and less experienced truck drivers.
It is important to note, however, that studies still show that most accidents involving large commercial motor vehicles can be attributed to the fault of those driving passenger cars. Around 70 to 90 percent of the time, it was those driving a passenger car that caused an accident, mainly because passenger vehicle drivers do not know that heavier vehicles must have more space and time and have more blind spots.
Trucking Companies Address the Problem
It is well known that safety awareness within trucking companies increases by the year. Transportation companies across the country are doing whatever they can to reduce the number of preventable accidents happening on their watch. The efforts are also quite varied. From safety training to telematics and predictive modeling tools, motor carriers are pulling out all the stops.
As fleets work to attract new truck drivers and greater investment, they want to make sure they have what it takes to keep interested parties, well, interested. While many accident-reduction efforts are focusing on better driving skills, many of them are putting the emphasis on technological innovation, from in-cab and forward-facing video to enhanced safety technologies embedded within the truck.
Advanced data capture and analytics allows fleet managers to demonstrate to truck drivers how specific behaviors impact what happens behind the wheel. Specific numbers can be applied to how much mobile phone usage, eating, or multitasking raises or lowers the potential for a catastrophic accident. Over time, these technologies have become more accurate at predicting and preventing.
With medium-duty applications showing the largest rise in incidents, it should be no surprise that these fleets have been among the early adopters of telematics and advanced fleet safety technologies. Heavy-duty and long-haul fleets are not too far behind.
Technology Changes the Game
As fleets turn to technological solutions to address everything from fleet management to back-office accounting and data analytics, the first area they always look to for a technological solution remains safety. Managing and reducing accidents remains the primary motivating factor for companies pouring tens – if not hundreds – of thousands of dollars into technological solutions.
For medium-duty applications, telematics programs are most desired. Since telematics technology essentially puts a fleet manager inside the vehicle with the truck driver, these solutions can be leveraged as a way to monitor and improve truck driver performance while also identifying high-risk behaviors, from harsh braking to rapid acceleration and speeding.
With backing up into objects remaining one of the highest markers for the accident rate, safety backup cams are increasingly becoming the norm. Other safety features, such as lane departure warning systems, forward collision alerts, and even advanced pedestrian monitoring and avoidance systems are far more commonplace today than they were a short ten years ago.
In fact, just ten years ago, technologies like lane departure systems were quite novel. Today, they are second-nature. The industry has now moved on to side blind zone alerts, rear cross traffic alerts, trailer alerts and monitoring packages, smartphone apps to check on lighting around the truck and trailer, and so much more. The list of safety technologies available to fleets today can sometimes seem overwhelming.
Another change can be seen in how much of this technology is now being installed standard at the OEM before it even reaches the lot. The newer a fleet is, the more likely it is to have safety technologies built-in. In the past, it may have been less likely that you would see technologies like rollover air bags and hands-free phone technology in the medium-duty space, but that is now changing.
Fleet managers are also turning to advanced routing measure to decrease their overall accident rate. By routing vehicles around problem areas, a potential accident can be prevented. Telematics can now afford dispatch managers the ability to see if there are problems on a potential roadway long before their vehicle ever arrives to said roadway.
Finally, addressing truck driver behaviors is critical to ensuring any safety program reduces a fleets overall accident rate. Truck driver training technologies are no longer simply reactive in nature. Fleet managers should be able to address risky drivers before they ever become a problem. Proper tools can be put into place to address these truck drivers and give them the help they need to ensure they have many, many safe miles on our nation’s roads and highways.
From web- to computer-based driver safety training tests, there is no shortage of tools and methodologies at the disposal of enterprising fleets who want to take this matter into their own hands. Initial truck driver training is far more advanced than it used to be, and rightfully so. New truck drivers need more than just a grey classroom with a whiteboard to understand the technologies that drive the vehicles that they will be operating.
More Than Technology
Many trucking industry advocates and insiders contend that if the trucking industry as a whole, in a coordinated effort, were to invest heavily in safety technologies for their fleets, there would be a dramatic decrease in overall truck accidents. And while these technologies can be designed to assist a truck driver be a better truck driver, they are really to help truck drivers keep a careful eye on the actions of passenger car drivers and where there may be road hazards.
It is important to note, however, that safety technologies should be accompanied by truck driver training. A technology is only as safe as the operator who is driving the vehicle. Comprehensive training designed to help truck drivers (especially new ones), get into a professional mindset, combined with consistent monthly training, goes a long way when added to a comprehensive safety technology setup.
As we have reported on in the past, fleets must also make efforts to create a safety culture they can be proud of. From the top to the bottom, everyone within the organization must eat, breathe, and live safety. It is absolutely possible to see 2019 finish out with a lower accident rate than 2018, even if the economy continues to improve. Hopefully, the industry can see that happen.