Overall U.S. Highway Traffic Deaths Down in 2018, But Large Truck-Involved Crash Fatalities on the Rise

On Oct. 22, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) released fatal highway crash data for 2018, which brought some promising news. The total number of fatalities declined by 2.4%, decreasing from 37,437 deaths in 2017 to 36,560 in 2018. Unfortunately, however, the downwards trend was not universal across every category: the number of people killed in crashes involving large trucks is rising.

While the overall number of people killed in large truck crashes rose by just 0.9%, non-occupant fatalities (i.e, pedestrians and cyclists) skyrocketed, increasing a staggering 9.7% in just one year. This may be due in part to the record number of large trucks on U.S. roads. In 2016, nearly 12.5 million registered large commercial vehicles logged over 300 billion vehicle miles. And according to Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) administrator Ray Martinez, “the potential of crashes and injuries does increase” because of freight being at an all-time-high.

Distracted driving, which is still a prevalent issue among commercial truck drivers, was noted as a major contributing factor behind the increase in pedestrian deaths. Around 10% of fatal crashes involve distracted driving and over 3% of drivers on the road on any given day talk on their phones. While some have tried to point the blame at distracted pedestrians using their phones, a New York Department of Transportation study published earlier this year found “distracted walking is a very minor contributor to pedestrian death.” Regardless, drivers are ultimately the ones responsible for navigating safely around pedestrians and avoiding crashes.

Poor government oversight of hazardous truckers may also hold some of the blame. On Oct. 22, the U.S. Department of Transportation announced a federal audit of the FMCSA for its failure to remove dangerous truckers from U.S. roads. The audit was prompted by a fatal large truck crash earlier this year. During an internal investigation of the crash, the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles found serious flaws in its trucker licensing system, including that thousands of safety warnings submitted by out-of-state agencies about Massachusetts truckers went unaddressed for over 16 months. The Office of General inspector will conduct an audit at the FMCSA’s Washington, D.C. headquarters and other unnamed locations to “assess [the] FMCSA’s oversight of state driver licensing agencies’ actions to disqualify commercial drivers when warranted.”

No matter the reason or reasons behind the increasing number of large-truck related deaths, one thing is for sure: something needs to be done to reverse this trend. Discussing the data on a conference call, FMCSA’s Martinez admitted that the agency needs to explore the causes behind the uptick in deaths and determine how many FMCSA-regulated trucks were involved in fatal crashes.

If you or a loved one was involved in a traffic crash involving a commercial truck, contact the personal injury attorneys at Murray & Murray Co., L.P.A. in Ohio today to discuss your legal options.