“We’re looking at the latest crash trends. They concern us,” said FMCSA Office of Research and Registration associate administrator, Tom Keane, at the recent Analysis, Research, and Technology Forum. “So, we’re taking a wholesale look at our programs, reassessing where we might be able to do some things differently. We’re talking with our state partners to figure out what the best practices are, and where we might be able to go from here moving forward.”
This discussion arises as many FMCSA officials presenting findings regarding recent statistical and research-related updates, including those surrounding heavy truck-related crash fatalities and injuries, which have seen a steady increase over the last few years. One particular worry is the increase specifically in regards to truck-involved pedestrian deaths, according to FMCSA’ analysis division chief, Bill Bannister.
Other areas of major safety concern in fatal crashes, according to FMCSA officials, include work zone accidents, distracted driving, failure to use a seat belt, and speeding.
Bannister added that other risky behaviors often involved in dangerous crashes are cell phone use and drug- and alcohol-impaired driving.
“However, we should note that a little more than two-thirds of truck fatal crashes have no driver-related factors cited in the crash,” Bannister noted. Furthermore, he explained that although we do indeed see an uptick in fatal truck crashes, the overall number of bus and truck crashes leading to fatalities is well below the number of these crashes that were reported in the year 2000.
It is important to note, though, that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s methods around collecting data through its Fatality and Analysis Reporting system underwent changes in 2016–the year pickup trucks weighing in at an excess of 10,000 pounds were first counted as being ‘large trucks,’ thus changing considerations regarding comparisons of crash numbers in recent years and those prior to 2016.
“Starting in 2016, NHTSA improved its methodology in assessing the number of trucks, adding pickup trucks to the mix that would have previously counted as small trucks,” Bannister explained.
Pertaining to on-site focused and on-site comprehensive carrier investigations, FMCSA’s acting associate administrator for its Office of Enforcement, Joe DeLorenzo, explained that 2020’s investigation numbers show the ways in which the agency should change its approach to compliance enforcement.
“I think that’s kind of a good story,” he said. “I also think it starts to make us think about lessons learned and what our posture may be in terms of enforcement going into the future, and using maybe more of a blended approach which we were heading in [the direction of], anyway.”
Last year, FMCSA conducted a total of 5,052 off-site carrier investigations, 3,926 on-site focused carrier investigations, and 2,903 on-site comprehensive investigations.
“What this shows is that it does seem that we were able to do as many, or more, investigations remotely during the COVID-19 national health emergency–or any other situation–but also continue to identify non-compliance in those carriers that are presenting us with high risk,” DeLorenzo continued. “It really [made us feel] good about how that worked and how quickly the agency was able to transition.”
One surprise in terms of what was found during these inspections was that the number of hours-of-service violations–besides violations related to 30-minute mandatory break times–saw little to no decline since the HOS regulation change was officially put into effect, boosting break and driving time flexibility for truckers.
“Generally, I had hoped to see 14-hour violations, and maybe 11-hour violations, starting to go down,” DeLorenzo said. “We haven’t quite seen that yet.”
Another recent regulation change was that of electronic logging device mandates, and in December 2020, 92.4 percent of ELD data transfers during inspections went smoothly, up from the average success rate of ELD data transfers of 88.6 percent in 2017.
“This is a little bit of an overlooked part of the ELD rule, but it’s particularly important to me, because what I am hoping to see here as time goes on [is that] we are able to increase the data transfers,” said DeLorenzo, “[so] we should be able to see efficiency in the inspection process.”
Still, it is indeed surprising that even with the recent ELD and hours-of-service regulation changes going into effect last year, the overall number of violations found during these routine roadside inspections saw very few changes–or improvements.
“It doesn’t seem that [in] 2020, even with the pandemic–albeit at lower levels–violation rates really changed in any way, [nor did] types of violations from years past,” DeLorenzo said.