Reviewing results of a recent National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) study, I was not surprised to read that single-unit trucks (large trucks that weigh more than 10,000 pounds with non-detachable cargo units and all axles attached to a single frame) were involved in a disproportionate number of crashes resulting in death – about 1,800 deaths each year during the review period 2005 to 2009 – and also caused thousands of injuries.
As the summer travel season heats up, with many families heading onto U.S. roads and highways to enjoy their summer vacations, the NTSB is right to highlight concerns about large trucks, single-unit or otherwise, and issue recommendations to enhance safety. Recommendations, however, aren’t enough. Nothing will change unless the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, the Federal Highway Administration, and the U.S. Department of Transportation take action.
In the meantime, drive defensively – and give those big trucks extra room on the road. – MD
NTSB Recommends Changes To Enhance the Safety of Single-Unit Trucks
The National Transportation Safety Board has released the results of its safety study on single-unit truck crashes. The study researched the injury severity and crash characteristics of single-unit trucks over a five-year period during 2005-2009. The NTSB has adopted the report, pending additional staff revisions requested by the Board.
Single-unit trucks are large trucks that have a gross vehicle weight rating over 10,000 pounds with non-detachable cargo units and have all axles attached to a single frame. They are different from tractor-trailers, which are able to drop off and pick up semi-trailers.
“Crashes involving single-unit trucks resulted in about 1,800 deaths each year during 2005-2009 and also caused thousands of injuries,” said NTSB Chairman Deborah A. P. Hersman. “These trucks are ubiquitous in our communities, yet they are exempted from many safety rules. We must do better for our citizens.”
The NTSB conducted this study because of concerns about the risks posed by single-unit trucks and their exclusion from some safety rules applicable to tractor-trailers. The study examined how the risks and characteristics of single-unit truck crashes compared with those of tractor-trailer crashes and identified areas for safety improvements.
Highlights from the study include:
- Single-unit trucks were involved in a disproportionate number of passenger vehicle occupant deaths in multi-vehicle crashes.
- Single-unit truck crashes have a considerable impact on society, as measured by fatalities, injuries, hospitalizations, and emergency department visits.
- Single-unit trucks should be subject to certain vehicle safety rules applicable to tractor-trailers, including requirements for rear underride guards and treatments to enhance conspicuity.
- Additional vehicle-based countermeasures are needed to protect occupants of passenger vehicles, pedestrians and cyclists involved in single-unit truck crashes, including side underride protection systems and technology to compensate for single-unit truck blind spots.
- Adverse effects of single-unit truck crashes have been underestimated in the past because these trucks are frequently misclassified and therefore undercounted in federal and state databases.
- Multiple data sources are needed to get an accurate picture of large truck safety, including two sources (Trucks in Fatal Accidents and state Crash Outcome Data Evaluation Systems) that are scheduled to be discontinued.
As a result of the findings of this study, the NTSB issued safety recommendations to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, the Federal Highway Administration, and the US Department of Transportation. The safety recommendations address modifications to enhance the ability of single-unit truck drivers to detect pedestrians and cyclists, to prevent passenger vehicles from underriding the rear and sides of large trucks, and to improve visibility of single-unit trucks on dark and unlit roads.
The NTSB is also recommending improving federal and state data on large truck crashes, continuing functions now performed by Trucks in Fatal Accidents and the state Crash Outcome Data Evaluation Systems, examining the magnitude and consequences of single-unit truck drivers operating with an invalid license, and evaluating potential benefits for expanding the requirement for commercial driver’s licenses to lower truck weight classes.
The study used a variety of data sources, including state records of police and hospital reports, federal databases, and case reviews of selected single-unit truck crashes.
A synopsis of the NTSB safety study is available.