In September, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) released their latest “Large Truck and Bus Crash Facts” document covering large truck (Class 3-8) and bus crash details for calendar year 2018. In Part 2, we reviewed the numbers on fatality, injury, and property damage only crashes. Collisions, especially with other vehicles, are the big cause of crashes, more so than rollovers and jackknifes. In this part, we’ll do a little deeper dive on different types of collisions.

Collisions, as noted in Part 2, are the major crash situation involving heavy trucks. While there are many kinds of collisions – rear-end, head-on , offset, side swipes, and more –examining each in a little more detail can help you better understand driver assistance technologies and what technologies might help alleviate what types of crashes. Along with a deeper understanding of available technology, this information can also be useful in determining where to enhance driver training.

The best place to start our review is with the first point of impact. For large trucks, initial point of impact in most crashes tended to be the front of the truck. Over 212,000 of the large trucks in crashes started with the front of the truck hitting something – another car, a stationary post, or something else. Frontal impacts accounted for 40.1% of the large trucks in crashes. Rear point of impact on the truck accounted for another 23.5% of the large trucks involved in these crashes, while left and right sides – e.g. side-swipe crashes – accounted for 13.3% and 16.6% respectively.

In terms of severity, large trucks in over 60% of the fatality crashes, and almost 50% of the injury crashes, came from the front of the truck hitting something. On property damage-only (PDO) crashes, while the front was still the major point of impact, it accounted for less of the total large trucks involved in PDO crashes – about 37% -- than for fatality and injury incidents.

Let’s narrow our focus a bit more and get right to a specific crash type – the rear-end collision. FMCSA does the industry a service by supplying details about specific crash types. One that has always interested me the most is the rear-end collision – both the truck rear-ending a passenger vehicle, and the passenger car rear-ending the truck. Here are some quick details:

  • Large Truck Rear-Ending Passenger Vehicle: In 2018, 38,104 large trucks rear-ended a passenger vehicle. That’s about one large truck rear-ending a car der every 15 minutes. Regrettably, this is up 15% from 2017, when 33,094 truck rear-ending car crashes occurred. Most of these crashes, in both 2017 and 2018, were property damage-only crashes, but for 2018, 9,104 were fatality (104) and injury (9,000) crashes. That’s roughly about a quarter of the total truck rear-ending passenger vehicle incidents.

  • Now, to be fair, passenger vehicles do rear-end trucks – more often than you may think! In 2018, about 36,379 passenger vehicles rear-ended a large truck – again, roughly one every 15 minutes. This figure is also up from 2017 by about 8%. The significant difference to note is that almost 4x more folks were killed in the car vs. truck situation.

Interestingly, head-on collisions don’t register much on the crash totals – a little less than 500 passenger car head-on-into-a-truck and truck head-on-into-a-passenger vehicle. That’s 1.4 head-on collisions between large trucks and passenger transports every day. Passenger vehicles tend to head-on into trucks at a much higher rate – almost 7x more than trucks hitting passenger vehicles head on. And, as noted, size matters, so almost all the head-on into the truck resulted in a fatality.

As I noted earlier, when it comes to surviving collisions, size does matter. So, does that mean we should focus only? More? on surviving crashes?

Improving survivability of crashes is becoming less of a focus for both truck and car. To accommodate new energy sources – electric, hybrid, natural gas, etc., most vehicles are getting smaller and lighter. While new materials and design approaches can help improve strength, a basic fact remains – trucks carry loads, and loads weigh more than cars. A fully loaded combination vehicle can weigh 20 – 30x more than a car, resulting in greater impact force when a collision occurs. A 4,000lb. car hitting an 80,000lb. truck at 60mph is not the same as an 80,000lb truck hitting a 4,000lb car. The truck hitting the car delivers about 19x the impact force of the opposite scenario, which means a lot higher probability of a fatality, severe injury, and extensive property damage. Avoiding the crash in the first place is what will help deliver reductions in the fatality, injury, and PDO statistics.

That’s where driver aid safety technologies – on large trucks and cars – can help. As you look at collisions, technologies like forward collision mitigation are proven to reduce truck front-leading crashes. Blind spot technologies – on both sides and the rear of the vehicle – can also help reduce side-swipe incidents. The key, however, is penetration within the fleet. This can take years, even decades, before most of the vehicles on the road to be equipped with safety technologies. In the meantime, as technology makes its slow proliferation, we need to keep a focus on drivers and their skills.

We’ll talk about how we do this in Part 4. Stay tuned. (Here’s teaser – it involves both technology & training!) And for more on part 3, you can listen my discussion on the Truck Talk with Bendix podcast here.

Bendix Blog

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