IIHS President Adrian Lund shared research on factors that can lead to large truck crashes and stressed the importance of capping truck speeds and the need for improved underride guards in testimony before a Senate subcommittee.
Lund was among five highway safety experts invited to testify March 14 before the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation's Surface Transportation and Merchant Marine Infrastructure, Safety and Security Subcommittee. Also testifying were Christopher A. Hart, chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB); Kansas Highway Patrol Capt. Chris Turner, who is vice president of the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance; Paul P. Jovanis, chair of the Transportation Research Board's Motor Vehicle Carrier Safety Research Analysis Committee; and Jerry Moyes, chairman emeritus of Swift Transportation.
Deaths on U.S. highways have been on a steady rise as the economy has improved, but truck-related deaths are increasing faster than overall motor vehicle deaths.
"The number of people who died in large truck crashes was 22 percent higher in 2015 than in 2009, while crash deaths overall rose less than 4 percent," Lund told the committee. "Preliminary data for 2016 indicate that the highway death toll is still on the rise, and we expect that trucks are contributing to this disturbing trend."
Reducing the problem requires a range of countermeasures.
"Making sure that equipment is in good working order, drivers are properly rested and truck speeds are reduced are important steps that would improve the safety of all road users," Lund said. "Strong rear underride guards are another lifesaving measure that should not be overlooked."
Crash avoidance technologies can help, too. These include vehicle stability control systems, forward collision warning/mitigation, blind spot detection and lane departure warning/prevention. Based on an analysis of crashes during 2004-08, IIHS estimates that a combination of all four technologies could prevent or mitigate as many as 107,000 police-reported crashes each year, representing 28 percent of all crashes involving large trucks.
Hart noted that increased implementation of crash avoidance technologies is on the NTSB's Most Wanted List of transportation improvements for 2017-18. The agency calls for the expanded use of event data recorders (EDRs), including those that can record video, and stepped-up efforts to reduce fatigue-related crashes, alcohol and drug impairment and driver distractions.
"We believe that forward collision avoidance systems and speed-limiting devices should be standard on all commercial trucks," Hart said. Electronic logging devices to record work hours are needed, too.
Jovanis told the committee that regulators should create an enhanced database of large truck and bus crashes that accounts for environment, traffic, road design and vehicle technology factors.
Swift Transportation's Moyes shared with the committee how the carrier, which operates about 18,000 trucks, integrates safety into its business model. Swift adopted speed limiters in the 1990s, added vehicle stability control to all of its new trucks beginning in 2007, deployed electronic logging devices in 2010 and started ordering new trucks with crash avoidance and lane-departure systems in 2013. The carrier also uses video event data recorders.
"We made these changes to improve safety for our drivers and the public because it made business sense and it was the right thing to do, not because we were required by the government."
Moyes said. Moyes also gave a nod to the Institute's new Toughguard award, noting that some of Swift's trailers have rear underride guards meeting IIHS criteria. So far, five North American semitrailer manufacturers have qualified for the award.