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Truck accident fatalities in 2013 increased while others declined

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration released its analysis of 2013 motor vehicle accident data in December. It seems that 2013 was the safest year ever on American highways. Unless, of course, you were involved in a crash with a tractor-trailer.

The number of fatalities nationwide for all motor vehicle accidents dropped 3.1 percent from 2012, from 33,782 to 32,719. Better yet, the number has declined 25 percent in the last decade.

In alcohol-related accidents, the number of fatalities declined 2.5 percent, from 10,336 to 10,076. Fatalities in motorcycle accidents showed a 6.4 percent drop, from 4,986 to 4,668.

There were improvements almost across the board. Even the number of young drivers in fatal accidents declined.

In almost every way, 2013 was a banner year -- until you look at the number for accidents involving heavy trucks. Of the 32,719 fatalities, almost 4,000 were in crashes involving tractor-trailers and other big trucks, a 0.5 percent increase from 2012. The NHTSA noted that 2013 marked the fourth year the number has increased.

Drilling down tells a more complicated story for the trucking industry. The number of fatalities in accidents with other vehicles actually declined in 2013. Deaths among nonoccupants -- pedestrians and bicyclists -- increased, and 60 percent of the fatalities among truck occupants occurred in single-vehicle accidents.

For the NHTSA, driver fatigue continues to be a significant risk to the safety of drivers and others on the road. Congress is looking into whether the hours-of-service rule is an effective solution, but results of the study ordered in December will not be available until October at the earliest.

Other potential solutions focus on technology. Federal regulators are close to finalizing rules requiring stability-control technology on large trucks, truck-trailers and large buses. In its summary of the proposed rule, the NHTSA states that the systems could reduce the number of "untripped" rollover crashes by 40 to 56 percent. An untripped rollover involves no other vehicles and occurs when a driver is speeding on a curved roadway.

New York reported 1,199 motor vehicle accident fatalities in 2013, a minor increase from 2012. The data showed an almost even split between rural and urban crashes, but the majority of the urban crashes occurred in the New York City metropolitan area, with Suffolk County on Long Island the most dangerous.

Fatalities among truck occupants increased dramatically, from 10 to 16, year-over-year. The number of nonoccupants killed increased from 356 to 383, with pedestrian fatalities accounting for the difference. Fatal bicycle accidents went down, from 45 to 40.

Sources:

Carrier Management, "Large-Truck Crash Deaths Increase for Fourth Year," Dec. 24, 2014

NHTSA, "Traffic Safety Research Note" and "Traffic Safety Facts - New York: 2009 - 2013," December 2014

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