This year's National Truck Driver Appreciation Week is September 11-17, 2022. The week is dedicated to bringing attention and giving thanks to the 3.6 million professional drivers that are the backbone of the US economy. Their hard work and commitment put food on our tables and deliver almost everything else we need to live our lives—safely and securely.
The week is championed by the American Trucking Associations (ATA), which has a long history of supporting drivers and truck safety. The organization’s other initiatives are often focused on safety and have included mandatory drug and alcohol testing for truck drivers, required use of electronic logging devices, and prohibitions on hand-held mobile phones.
According to the ATA, the trucking industry is also committed to improving safety with an annual investment of at least $10 billion to that end. Safety technology and training, driver safety incentive pay and compliance with safety regulations are investments it’s made over the years.
One of the difficult truths about the trucking industry is that being a truck driver is not easy and can be dangerous. There are times when drivers themselves are unfairly blamed for some of the problems that happen on the road. In the interest of illustrating just how safe truck drivers are, we identified some myths about driving accidents that need to be busted.
The following are some safety statistics from the ATA that show some common perceptions are false. These are some heavy topics—but safety is serious. Drivers deserve more credit for how safely the vast majority go about their jobs.
For one, driver fatigue is often cited as a prevalent cause of accidents. Driving a truck comes with long hours and covering a lot of monotonous miles. But according to the ATA, “Driver fatigue (e.g., drowsy, sleepy, asleep, fatigued) is cited as a factor in only 1.6% of fatal truck crashes. However, both FMCSA and ATA have acknowledged that the role of fatigue is likely underreported. Accordingly, after reviewing other factors, FMCSA has historically stated that 7% is a more accurate estimate of the number of large truck crashes that are attributable to fatigue.”
Another common belief is that drug and alcohol use by truck drivers on the job is also prevalent. The truth is that it’s actually infrequent. According to the ATA, the industry alcohol use violation rate was recently measured at just .03% (i.e., eight-hundredth of one percent). The industry drug use violation rate was measured at 1%.
These misperceptions may be rooted in the past. The truth is that since 1980, fatal truck crashes have declined dramatically. For example, from 1980-2017, the number of large trucks involved in fatal crashes declined by 16%, and the fatal crash rate per 100 million miles dropped by 69%. In general, trucks have an overall crash rate 27% lower than that of other vehicles.
The truth is most of the accidents that happen with trucks, as sad as they all are, happen because of mistakes by drivers in other vehicles. So, when it comes to safety, these statistics illustrate that more responsibility must be taken by the other drivers on the road.
The moral of the story is that everyone has to play a part in road safety.
A simple thing we can do is convince people to pay attention to those signs on trucks that say: “If you can’t see my mirrors, I can’t see you.” Many truck accidents happen when drivers in other vehicles are unaware of a truck’s blind spots. Large trucks have a reduced field of vision because they are so large. Blind spots are the areas around the truck – in front, behind, and sides – where the truck driver cannot see directly using their side view mirrors.
Another safety mistake cars make around large trucks is stopping in front of them or cutting them off abruptly. Trucks have much longer braking distances due to their large size and weight. Other drivers should always avoid cutting a truck off. This might seem obvious, but it happens frequently and is a common cause of preventable truck crashes. As a tip, drivers should make a point to be sure they can see the entire front of the cab in their rearview mirror to know it is safe to merge in front of the truck
At the same time, drivers need to keep a safe following distance when they’re behind a truck. Tailgating or not allowing enough space makes it more difficult to react in time to avoid a collision. Rear-end accidents usually happen for this reason and are one of the most common types of incidents.
In general, it’s always a good idea to give trucks more space on the road. Yes, they already take up a lot of room, but they need that room to maneuver safely. For example, trucks can need a whole other lane to make some wide turns, so when you’re passing a truck, ensure that the driver is not preparing to make a turn or change lanes. As with all driving, it’s important to drive defensively around trucks. This means being vigilant on the road, operating at safe speeds, expecting the unexpected, and always being prepared to react.
National Truck Driver Appreciation Week is an excellent time to recognize the hard work these professionals perform and the underappreciated commitment to safety they bring to their jobs daily.
How other vehicles act around trucks is as essential to safety as what the truck drivers themselves do. This means it is on all of us to understand the critical role trucks play in our lives and our shared responsibility for keeping the roads safe.