Truck fatalities highest in 30 years in first full year of ELD mandate

October 23, 2019

Tyson Fisher


The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration published the final fatal crash numbers for 2018, revealing an overall reduction. However, fatalities involving large trucks reached a 30-year high during the first full year of the ELD mandate.

According to NHTSA, there was a 2.4% decrease in people killed in motor vehicle traffic crashes in 2018 when compared with the previous year. In total, 36,560  people were killed. In 2017, 37,473 people died in a vehicle crash.

The number of occupants killed declined in all vehicle categories except large trucks.

Large truck occupant fatalities increased by 0.8% to a total of 885. That is the highest it has been since 1988, when 911 truck occupants were killed. The number of fatal crashes involving large trucks increased by 1.1%.

Large truck fatalities

The increase comes despite the ELD mandate that went into effect in December 2017. Proponents of the mandate claim that ELDs promote safety and will decrease truck-related traffic deaths.

Per 100 million vehicle miles traveled, traffic fatalities decreased by 3.4% from 1.17 to 1.13. The decrease was not a result of less driving. VMT increased by 0.3% in 2018 compared with 2017.

Although vehicle occupant fatalities decreased, the number of nonoccupants killed increased. Pedestrian fatalities increased by 3.4%, with cyclist deaths up 6.3%. Both pedestrian and cyclist fatalities are the highest since 1990.

The largest decrease came from occupants of passenger cars, down 5.2% with 702 fewer deaths. Including light trucks, traffic fatalities are down 4.1%, which is 966 fewer occupants killed.

Since 2016, the number of urban fatalities has been larger than rural fatalities. From 2015 and years earlier, the reverse was true. Last year, the trend that began in 2016 continued. Nearly 19,500 people were killed in urban areas, compared with 16,411 in rural areas. Urban populations increased by 13% from 2008 to 2017. Conversely, rural populations decreased by 12%.

Urban vs rural fatalities
Other positive news came in the form of alcohol-impaired-driving fatalities. Accounting for 29% of the overall fatalities, the number of drunken fatal crashes as a percentage hit its lowest since 1982, the same year NHTSA began reporting alcohol data. Compared with 2017, alcohol-impaired-driving fatalities decreased by 3.6%.

Distracted driving appears to be improving. The number of fatalities where distraction was a factor decreased by 12.4% to 2,841 deaths, accounting for 7.8% of total traffic fatalities. Regarding drowsy drivers, that number is down by 4.3%.

As reflected in a recent Transportation Research Board study, younger drivers are the largest contributors to the overall fatality decrease grouping by age. Compared to 2017, drivers 16-24 involved in fatal crashes decreased by nearly 6%.

Drivers in fatal crashes ages 25-44 dropped by 2.3% and ages 45-64 dropped by 2.4%. However, the 16-24 age group was the only group to experience a decrease in a 10-year comparison, a reduction of nearly 9%. All other age groups reported an increase ranging from 15% (25-44) to 35% (65 and older).

There were large differences per state. In New Hampshire, traffic fatalities increased by 44%. On the flip side, traffic fatalities in Rhode Island decreased by 30%. Accounting for drunk driving fatal crashes, deaths went up 77.8% in New Hampshire but down 41.2% in Rhode Island.

NHTSA also released preliminary data for the first half of 2019. From January through June, 16,890 were killed in crashes, compared with 17,479 in 2018, a 3.4% reduction. Again, vehicle miles traveled increased by 0.8% compared with the previous year. Preliminary numbers do not include stats by specific categories, such as vehicle type.