2020 is the year the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is calling for a major turn around regarding trucking fatalities that have occurred over the last four years.
Administrator Jim Mullen is urging the agency to find ways to solve this issue as soon as possible. On January 14th, the FMCSA issued a public comment request on the best way to go about studying key factors in large-truck crashes.
The Large Truck Crash Causal Factors Study will replace the agency’s current 15-year-old crash causation study, which it has been using to make policy decisions.
“When I assumed this role as acting administrator three months ago,” said Mullen at the Transportation Research Board’s January meeting, “the members of this panel asked me what are my top priorities. That to me was a no-brainer. The top priority for me at this agency is to reverse that four-year trend increasing fatalities involved with large trucks and buses.”
The agency’s information request will look toward bringing about new ways to take into account data sources, samples, ranges of crash types, and cost efficiency. It also notes that the new study needs to address onboard electronic systems and how they gather data about lane departure, speeding, and braking.
The study will also work to bring through new information that will help the industry discover which activities will bring large reductions in crash rates involving commercial motor vehicles.
“In the more than 15 years since the original study, many changes in technology, vehicle safety, driver behavior and roadway design have occurred that affect how a driver performs,” said the pre-publication announcement. “Since the study ended in 2003, fatal crashes involving large trucks decreased until 2009, when they hit their lowest point in recent years (2,893 fatal crashes). Since 2009, fatal crashes involving large trucks have steadily increased to 4,415 fatal crashes in 2018, a 52.6% increase when compared to 2009. Over the last three years (2016-2018), fatal crashes involving large trucks increased 5.7%.”
FMCSA will be accepting public comments on the request for 60 days after the January 15th publication.
In a “commercial motor vehicle safety landscape” briefing at the meeting, FMCSA’s chief safety officer, Jack Van Steenburg explained that the biggest driver-related factors in fatal truck crashes were distraction, speeding, and failure to yield right-of way.
“The first goal is to stop that upward trend,” Van Steenburg said. “For the next several months, we at FMCSA are going to go out and talk with people. We’re going to listen to people. We want to tell them what we’re doing, ask how we can do it better, what we can do differently, and how we can do it differently to prevent these crashes from occurring.”
Van Steenburg also assured that agency leaders would be in talks with state officials, especially those in states that have seen a decline in these crashes.
“We always show you the top 10 states that have had crashes,” he explained. “But in Pennsylvania, we saw a 22% decrease in fatalities; Georgia, 16%; California, an 8% reduction.”
Another method of bettering the study will be integrating crash datasets with additional information sources in order to begin “completing the picture of crashes,” according to Bill Bannister, the chief of FMCSA’s Analysis Division.
“This will allow us to drill down into the types of circumstances surrounding crashes, the differences among the types of crashes, and whether it’s the vehicles involved or the roadway that’s involved. This sort of information might provide predictors of crashes.”
National Transportation Safety Board project manager Ryan Smith, also outlined the challenges in finding useful data regarding marijuana-using drivers. According to Smith, researchers warn against understanding drug impairment by using the federal Fatality Analysis Reporting System. He says that although those using marijuana could fail a drug test, there is data showing they may not actually be impaired to drive safely.
There is a lot of data out there that is not properly being discussed,” said Smith. “The concern is that people are using data improperly and coming up with these conclusions that are not in journals but are in news reports. Some of the findings are being twisted and can actually be doing more harm.”
Additionally, Joe DeLorenzo, administrator for FMCSA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance, said the agency is currently working on updating its Compliance, Safety, Accountability Program’s safety measurement system. It will use a complex method called “Item Response Theory” to further analyze data. However, he says the system is still not understood by many in the industry.
An evaluation of the IRT model is not expected until later this year.