In October of 2021, 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 2019. 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 a 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 what driver assistance technologies might help alleviate certain 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 216,000 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 40.3% of the large trucks in crashes. Rear point of impact on the truck accounted for another 22.7% of the large trucks involved in these crashes, while left and right sides – e.g. side-swipe crashes – accounted for 13.5% and 16.4% respectively.

In terms of severity, 57.6%% of the fatality crashes, and almost 50% of the injury crashes, came from the front of the large 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 2019, 41,086 large trucks rear-ended a passenger vehicle. That’s about one large truck rear-ending a car every 15 minutes. Regrettably, this is up 8% from 2018, when 38,104 truck rear-ending car crashes occurred. Most of these crashes, in both 2018 and 2019, were property damage-only crashes, but in 2019, 12,086 were either a fatality (86) or injury (12,000) crash. That’s roughly 30% of the total truck rear-ending passenger vehicle incidents. (It’s worth noting that fatalities dropped a bit from 2018, and PDO crashes were about the same, but injury crashes were up about 25% accounting for the increase in trucks rear-ending passenger vehicles.)

• Now, to be fair, passenger vehicles do rear-end trucks – more often than you may think! In 2019, about 37,392 passenger vehicles rear-ended a large truck – again, roughly one every 15 minutes. This figure is also up from 2018 by about 3%. The significant difference to note, though, is that over 3 times more people were killed in the car vs. truck situation.

Interestingly, head-on collisions don’t register much on the crash totals – a little less than 1,400 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 crash head-on into trucks at a much higher rate – over 3 times more than trucks hitting passenger vehicles head on.

Where Are We Headed?

One last point to make – while this information is a few years old, now that we’ve crossed into 2022, the trends are concerning. Increasing crash rates as miles decline is not good. My concern is that we’ll see increasing numbers in the 2020 and 2021 reports. Why the gloomy forecast? At the same time the FMCSA was releasing the Large Truck & Bus Crash Facts 2019 report, NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) released their “Traffic Safety Facts Early Estimate of Motor Vehicle Traffic Fatalities for the First Half (January-June) of 2021.” This report showed an increase in the number of people that died in motor vehicle crashes of about 18.4 percent over the first half of 2020. It will be interesting to see if the trend of all vehicles impacts the trends for large trucks. Look for an update later this year.

As I noted earlier, when it comes to surviving collisions, size does matter. But, this doesn’t mean we should focus only on crash worthiness of vehicles. Vehicles are equipped with a lot more technologies to help drivers and their passengers better survive crashes. Physics is physics, however, and an 80,000lb truck delivers 19x the force at impact of an automobile. Bottom line – the best way to survive the crash is for the crash not to occur! That’s why we consistently note that, Bendix safety technologies complement safe driving practices. No commercial vehicle safety technology replaces a skilled, alert driver exercising safe driving techniques and proactive, comprehensive driver training. Responsibility for the safe operation of the vehicle remains with the driver at all times.

We’ll talk about how we do this in a reprise of last year’s Part 4. (The same factors still apply today as they did a year ago – that’s one thing COVID didn’t change!) Stay tuned. (Here’s teaser – it involves both technology & training.)

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