Truck-involved fatalities up during first year of ELD mandate

Preliminary numbers reveal truck-involved fatalities increased in 2018, despite an overall decrease.

August-September 2019

Tyson Fisher


Traffic fatalities were down overall for the second consecutive year in 2018 and the seventh consecutive quarter, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s early estimates. However, truck-involved fatalities went up during the first full year of the electronic logging mandate.

According to preliminary numbers from NHTSA, an estimated 36,750 people were killed in motor vehicle crashes last year, a 1% decrease from the previous year. This is despite a 12.2-billion-mile increase in vehicle miles traveled.

Final numbers for driver, passenger and motorcyclist deaths are projected to decrease slightly for 2018. However, fatalities involving at least one large truck are expected to increase by 3%. Pedestrian fatalities are also expected to go up 4% and bicyclist deaths up by 10%.

The ELD mandate went into effect on Dec. 18, 2017, in an attempt by regulators to increase truck safety. However, preliminary numbers suggest that ELDs did not have the intended effect.

There is a two-year compliance phase that ends this year that allows truckers to use AOBRDs installed and in-use before December 2017. After this December, all truckers must use self-certified ELDs.

Per 100 million vehicle miles traveled, there were 1.14 fatalities in 2018, down from 1.16 fatalities in 2017.

Six of 10 regions experienced declines in traffic fatalities last year. Region 5, which includes Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio and Wisconsin, had the largest decrease at 5%. At 4%, Region 4 had the largest increase, which includes Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont.

The fourth quarter of 2018 marked the seventh consecutive quarterly decrease when compared to the same quarter in the previous year. Historically, fatality numbers ebb and flow per quarter when compared to the previous year. The current decrease streak is a break from a 10-quarter streak of increases from 2014 to 2017, the only major streak of increases since records began in 1975. Significant decreases were seen in the early 1980s, early 1990s and from 2006 to 2010.

In the past decade, traffic fatalities have decreased by nearly 2%. In 2008 and 2009, fatalities decreased by more than 9% each year. However, fatalities jumped by 8.4% in 2015 and 6.5% in 2016. With 37,806 deaths, 2016 was the worst year for traffic fatalities in the past 10 years. In the same periods, traffic deaths reached a low of 32,479 in 2011 after four consecutive annual decreases.

NHTSA’s preliminary numbers for 2018 also estimate an increase in fatalities involving drivers 65 and older.

The most recent stats are only estimates as the data is still incomplete. Numbers are likely to change as more data is collected. According to NHTSA, it is too soon to speculate on the contributing factors or potential implications of any changes in deaths on our roadways.

Are safety regulations safe?

Trucking industry stakeholders have been anxiously awaiting fatal crash stats involving large trucks for 2018. When the official numbers come out, they will indicate how effective the ELD mandate was at reducing fatal crashes. So far, it’s not looking good for ELD advocates.

In addition to the ELD mandate, federal lawmakers are trying to push more so-called safety regulations on the trucking industry.

One such bill is the DRIVE-Safe Act, which will allow drivers 18- to 21-year-olds to acquire a CDL for interstate travel. Those for the bill claim it solves an employment problem within the industry. Opponents state it’s just another way for large carriers to pay lower wages for younger, inexperienced drivers.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for U.S. teens. Although drivers ages 15-19 make up 6.5% of the U.S. population, they account for 8.4% of the total costs ($13.6 billion) of motor vehicle injuries.

More recently, Sens. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., and Chris Coons, D-Del., introduced S2033, which would require all new trucks to have speed limiters set at no more than 65 mph at all times. The requirement also would extend to existing trucks that already have the technology installed.

Numerous studies have revealed that speed differentials between trucks and passenger vehicles can be extremely dangerous, even fatal.

According to FMCSA, more than 77% of fatal crashes involving a large truck occur when the truck was traveling 65 mph or slower. This means that only 22.6% occurred at speeds that the bill does not want truckers to drive.

A U.S. Department of Commerce study found “the greater the variation in speed of any vehicle from the average speed of all traffic, the greater its chance of being involved in an accident.”

When accounting for the fact that truckers are typically not at fault, the percentage of fatal crashes at speeds greater than 65 mph is likely not enough to justify speed limiters if the logic is to save thousands of lives.

Also being considered is the Stop Underrides Act, which was reintroduced in March. The bill would require side, front and rear underride guards on all trucks.

In April, the U.S. Government Accountability Office released a report on truck underride guards that found about 95% of all newly manufactured trailers already meet the proposed requirements for rear guards. The report also found that less than 1% of the total number of traffic fatalities from 2008 through 2017 involved underride crashes.

In January 2018, OOIDA President and CEO Todd Spencer sent a letter to the sponsors of the bill.

“In fact, the mandates you’re promoting may actually increase the number of crashes on American highways while simultaneously worsening their severity,” Spencer said.

Many of the regulations that are attempting to be forced upon the trucking industry in the name of safety have no proven record of promoting safety. Oftentimes, studies reveal the opposite, with results showing an increase in crashes.

“Truckers are subject to more regulations and greater enforcement than ever before,” Spencer wrote in submitted testimony to a House subcommittee. “And while compliance with those regulations has never been higher, crash rates are still moving in the wrong direction.” LL

Tyson Fisher

Tyson Fisher joined Land Line Magazine in March 2014. An award-winning journalist and tireless researcher, his news reports, features and blogs bring depth to our editorial content, backed with solid detail. Tyson is a lifelong Kansas Citian.