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Occupant deaths in large truck crashes in the United States: 25 years of experience

Lyman, Stephen; Braver, Elisa R.
Accident Analysis and Prevention
September 2003

There is public concern about the magnitude of the problem of large truck crashes in the US. Fatalities in large truck crashes have not declined much; however, more large trucks are driving more miles than ever before while fatalities per mile driven have dropped substantially. This study examined how the public health burden of large truck crashes versus the risk per unit of travel has changed over 25 years. The present study focused on the US vehicle occupants in fatal crashes involving a large truck during 1975-1999. Occupant fatalities per 100000 population, per 10000 licensed drivers, per 10000 registered trucks and per 100 million vehicle-miles of travel (VMT) were calculated to determine trends in occupant deaths in large truck crashes. In 1999, large truck crashes resulted in 3916 occupant deaths in passenger vehicles and 747 in large trucks. Passenger vehicle occupant deaths in large truck crashes per 100000 population have increased somewhat since 1975 (1.28 in 1975 and 1.44 in 1999). There have been appreciable declines in occupant deaths per truck VMT since 1975, but the percentage reduction has been greater for occupants of large trucks (67%) than for passenger vehicle occupants (43%). However, truck drivers are at elevated risk of dying relative to their numbers in the workforce. Overall large truck involvements in fatal crashes per truck VMT decreased more than passenger vehicle involvements per passenger VMT (PVMT; 68% versus 33% decreases for single-vehicle crashes and 43% versus 23% for multiple-vehicle crashes). Large truck involvement in fatal crashes has dropped substantially when measured per unit of travel, but the public health burden of large truck crashes, as measured by deaths per 100000 population, has not improved over time because of the large increase in truck mileage. Research is needed on measures to better protect both occupants of large trucks and passenger vehicle occupants colliding with them.