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Editorial Comment: Should FMCSA crash causation study cause concern?

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) recently released a report suggesting four-wheelers are responsible for 56% of all car/truck collisions....

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) recently released a report suggesting four-wheelers are responsible for 56% of all car/truck collisions.

The study surveyed 967 crashes, providing what the FMCSA referred to as “unprecedented detail about the events surrounding truck crashes that are not available anywhere else.”

It’s long been known that motorists are the cause of most accidents involving automobiles and heavy-duty trucks – but should this latest study be a cause for concern? Previously, the most frequently cited statistics involving the crash rates of heavy-duty vehicles was a study done by the University of Michigan Transport Research Institute.

That study showed 74% of fatal car/truck collisions were the fault of the motorist. Now, while taking into account the University of Michigan study focused on fatal accidents – it wasn’t uncommon to hear industry insiders use that study to validate their claims that the trucking industry consists of the safest drivers on the highway.

Many extrapolated that 74% of all car/truck collisions were caused by the motorist and when you combine that with the fact only 2% of all accidents involved a heavy-duty truck, it painted a pretty stellar picture of the industry’s safety record.

Having said that, there’s a big difference between 74% and 56%. The FMCSA study suggests nearly half of car/truck collisions are caused by the truck driver and if true – that should sound some alarm bells.

Nearly all available statistics indicate the trucking industry is continuously improving its safety record. Crash rates are decreasing while traffic volumes on North American highways are steadily rising. So what gives?

Why is it that nearly half of all car/truck collisions are now being blamed on our professional drivers?

Has the quality of professional drivers on our highways deteriorated in recent years? Are training standards diminishing due to the shortage of qualified drivers?

Are issues such as driver fatique and drug use more prevalent today than they were when the University of Michigan conducted its study several years ago? Or is it all much ado about nothing? The FMCSA doesn’t seem to think so. The organization has since announced it will be delving further into the causes of heavy-duty truck crashes.

“This study makes it clear that we need to spend more time addressing driver behaviour, as well as making sure trucks and buses are fit for the road,” FMCSA administrator Annette M. Sandberg said.

“The multitude of data now available will allow us to analyze specific areas of behaviour and work with our industry and safety partners to develop an agenda on driver safety that will improve commercial motor vehicle driver performance.”

It seems the FMCSA is concerned – and rightfully so. Especially when you consider the study found that among truck drivers, prescription drug use was an “associated factor” in accidents 28.7% of the time; over-the-counter drugs 19.4% of the time; and driver fatigue 7.5% of the time.

While it’s encouraging that truckers enjoy the well-deserved reputation as being the safest drivers on the road, it’s important the industry resists the urge to turn a blind eye to the information contained within this report. While the industry’s safety record is to be applauded, this study is proof there’s still room for improvement.

– James Menzies can be reached by phone at (416) 510-6896 or by e-mail at

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