B.C. truck safety improving; the numbers prove it

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LANGLEY, B.C. – The trucking industry in B.C. has come under fire again as a result of several high-profile crashes involving trucks. But the B.C. Trucking Association (BCTA) is fighting back, armed with some impressive stats.

The association has assembled some data that paints a far different picture of the industry’s safety record than the mainstream media would have you believe.

“It comes as no surprise that many politicians and much of the public base their opinion on truck safety on high-profile crashes that are featured in the daily newspapers as and when they occur throughout the province,” BCTA president Paul Landry told Truck West. “But that kind of reporting ignores the fact our industry is a safe industry and the industry record has been steadily – if modestly – improving.”

To prove his point, Landry assembled some crash statistics that were then submitted in a special bulletin to BCTA members and the media.

“Injury and fatality heavy truck crashes are continuing to steadily decline in British Columbia, despite the fact that the number of licensed heavy commercial vehicles (defined as greater than 10,900 kg) is increasing,” the bulletin reads.

“We had a look at fatal and injury crashes that involved large commercial vehicles and over the course of the past five years in which data is available we looked at the number of large commercial vehicles licensed in B.C. and determined that the fatal and injury crash rate was declining,” Landry explained.

Total injury and fatality crashes in the province have declined steadily since 1999, according to Insurance Corp. of B.C. (ICBC) data (See chart). This is despite the fact the number of heavy duty vehicles on the province’s highways is steadily increasing. Landry also pointed to a University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute study that showed most accidents involving trucks and passenger vehicles are found to be the fault of the four-wheeler. In fact, 74.1 per cent of fatal accidents involving a passenger vehicle and a heavy duty truck were the fault of the light-vehicle motorist.

“Head-ons, rear-ends and sideswipes are all crash configurations where the configuration and location of the collision itself is a powerful clue to the relative contribution of the drivers involved. Together these crash types account for 53.7 per cent of passenger vehicle driver fatalities in truck-passenger vehicle collisions,” the study concluded.

“In head-on crashes, the impact took place in the truck’s lane over eight times as often as in the passenger vehicle’s lane. In opposite direction sideswipes, which are similar to head-on crashes, the passenger vehicle encroached into the truck’s lane six times as often as the reverse. And in rear-end fatal crashes, the passenger vehicle was the striking vehicle over five times as often as the truck.”

Those statistics are likely much the same north of the border as they are in the U.S., Landry said.

“Our concern is that the public may believe that when these high profile tragic crashes occur that the truck driver was responsible, but what we’re trying to communicate is if the B.C. experience is like the experience in the U.S. – which we believe it is – then the likelihood is the truck driver is the victim,” he said.

Still, accidents involving heavy duty trucks are inevitable and they will never be eradicated completely. There are a number of factors that cause these collisions, according to statistics.

The top contributing factor for injury and fatality crashes involving heavy commercial vehicles was driving without due care and attention (14.9 per cent), according to provincial police and ICBC statistics from 2002 (the latest year crash stats are available).

Unsafe speed (14.2 per cent), weather conditions (8.6 per cent) and following too closely (6.1 per cent) were also among the leading causes of collisions.

When it came to vehicle defects involving heavy duty commercial vehicles, insecure loads led the way with defective brakes and defective tires right behind.

Still, these factors combined to be a factor in only 4.2 per cent of serious accidents involving heavy duty trucks.

Provincial stats also show that, despite popular public belief that fatigue is a factor in most truck crashes, only 1.6 per cent of heavy commercial vehicle injury and fatality crashes involved a driver falling asleep behind the wheel.

“Trucking companies and professional truck drivers should be proud of the industry’s safety record,” Landry insists. “Notwithstanding negative media coverage and a poorly educated public, the trucking industry’s driving record is commendable and improving.”

Although the bulletin went out to provincial media, the BCTA phone lines haven’t exactly been ringing off the hook from reporters anxious to tell this success story.

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