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3 Trucking Industry Myths Dispelled

October 10, 2019 by Steven M. Gursten

3 Trucking Industry Myths Dispelled | Michigan Auto Law

Truck accident lawyer dispels 3 major myths from the powerful American trucking industry

As more and more commercial trucks are involved in preventable truck accidents each year, it’s common for trucking industry officials to attempt to shift the blame away from trucking companies and truck drivers.

But don’t be fooled by their misleading propaganda.

Stay focused on the facts:

  • The number of large trucks involved in fatal crashes increased 9% between 2016 and 2017.
  • There was a 40% increase in the number of fatal crashes involving large trucks between 2009 and 2017. (Source: FMCSA, “Large Truck and Bus Crash Facts 2017,” Trends)

I’ve had a unique perspective on this as an attorney. I’ve litigated over 300 truck accident cases and I have very serious truck accident cases referred to me by lawyers throughout Michigan and in other states. I’ve also spoken to trucking companies on the subject of safety and crash preventability. I’ve also spoken to defense attorneys and insurance adjusters at seminars on the subject of preventability and safety as well.

So today I will discuss three of the most frequently told myths by the powerful American trucking industry and the facts that contradict those myths.

Myth 1: The trucking industry claims that truck safety is improving at an acceptable rate because the number of people killed per million miles traveled by trucks is decreasing

The facts are that years ago the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) changed its focus from tracking the number of people killed in truck crashes to tracking the number of people killed per millions of miles of truck travel.

The problem with the change of focus is:

  • It ignores the statistics showing there has still been an increase in the number of fatalities from truck crashes. According to the most up-to-date information available in FMCSA’s “Large Truck and Bus Crash Facts 2017” report, both fatal crashes involving trucks and fatalities in large truck crashes “per 100 million vehicle miles traveled by all motor vehicles” have increased between 2008 and 2017. In fact, from 2016 to 2017, alone, large truck crash-related “fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles traveled by all motor vehicles increased by 6.8 percent.”
  • There is no accurate calculation of the number of truck miles traveled each year.
  • Reductions in fatalities are frequently the result of new technologies like ABS brakes, improved airbags and traction stability control – not improved safety within the industry.
  • All modes of transportation have experienced an increase in use over the past 20 years, and no other industry attempts to justify the number of people killed by counting fatalities as a function of miles traveled.

Myth 2: The trucking industry claims that 71 percent of fatal truck crashes are caused by passenger car drivers

The fact is that this outlandish claim stems from the dishonest stretching of the so-called “findings” from a “study” by the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute (UMTRI). Here are the problems with the trucking industry’s unwarranted reliance on the UMTRI study:

  • The study’s so-called findings are refuted by the FMCSA’s “The Large Truck Crash Causation Study,” which found that 55% of the large trucks involved in the single-vehicle and multi-vehicle crashes “were assigned the critical reason,” i.e., the “immediate reason,” for the crashes. Similarly, the FMCSA’s “Large Truck Crash Causation Study” also found that 44% of the large trucks involved in crashes “between one truck and one passenger vehicle (a car, van, pickup truck, or sport utility vehicle) . . . were assigned the critical reason.”
  • The study did not examine or determine causation or fault in any particular crash.
  • The one-car-one-truck crashes that were studied are susceptible to inaccurate reporting. Because most of the passenger vehicle drivers suffered fatal injuries, the crash reports are nearly exclusively based on the version of events as reported by the truck driver who has a strong interest in deflecting blame and fault away from him- or herself.
  • The Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) data (on which the study was based) is inherently incomplete, as many fatal crashes do not give rise to immediate death.
  • Because the study limited itself to one-car-one-truck crashes, it excluded all of the fatal truck crashes that were most likely to have been caused by the driver of a large truck.

Myth 3: Truck driver fatigue is a relatively small problem in the trucking industry

The fact is that the trucking industry relies on FARS data and police report abstracts for its claim that less than 2 percent of total crash police reports indicate the truck driver involved in a truck accident was fatigued.

However, here’s what the trucking industry isn’t telling you about truck driver fatigue:

  • The industry itself has acknowledged that fatigue plays a much more significant role in causing truck accidents. In its “Trucking Safety Facts” sheet, the American Trucking Associations (ATA) reported that “both FMCSA and ATA have acknowledged that the role of fatigue is likely underreported [in fatal truck crashes]. Accordingly, after reviewing other factors, FMCSA has historically stated that 7% is a more accurate estimate of the number of large truck crashes that are attributable to fatigue.” The ATA describes “driver fatigue” as including when a truck driver is “drowsy, sleepy, asleep, fatigued.”
  • Several states had no “reported” fatigue-related fatal truck crashes, as those states did not have a box labeled “fatigue” for the investigator to mark.
  • Car occupants who died in truck accidents cannot give their side of the crash story.
  • Police have little or no experience detecting truck driver fatigue.
  • The crash has interrupted the driver’s monotony and has caused him to become more alert.
  • In some states, up to 40 percent of truck crashes were coded as caused by fatigue.
  • The study acknowledged that wide variations indicate the difficulty in determining the prevalence of fatigue in fatal crashes, and that its findings of the prevalence of fatigue is, “in all likelihood too low.”

Don’t let the trucking industry — or powerful insurance companies — take advantage of you.

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