Trucking Deaths Up for 2017, Expert Blames Truckers

Liz Carey

Washington, DC (WorkersCompensation.com) – According to a recent report, trucking deaths on the job reached a record high in 2017,and experts are blaming truckers.

A report from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics showed that 840 truckers died on the job in 2017, up from 786 in 2016. Since 2011, the number of heavy-duty trucking deaths has risen by 25 percent. As a profession, the trucking industry has on average 26.8 deaths per 10,000 workers, compared with 3.5 deaths per 10,000 workers across all professions.

Experts say the cause is related to driver behavior. Just like consumer car crashes, leading contributing factors to trucker deaths were distracted driving, excessive speed and not using a seat belt, the report showed.

“What’s killing these truckers is distracted driving, excessive speed and lack of seat belt use,” says Brian Fielkow, CEO of Jetco Delivery, a trucking company based in Houston.

“Responsibility for safety rests with each individual. There is no handbook, law or regulation that is more important than individual accountability,” Fielkow says in an email interview. “A decision to text and drive or a decision not to buckle up is made by the individual. The employer is responsible to ensure nonnegotiable value alignment. Safety is a nonnegotiable core value. This means managing production pressure so that it never trumps safety. It means leaving drivers alone while they are driving. It means engendering a culture where everyone is aligned around safety as a core value.”

Fielkow says fixing the problem requires educating truckers, a strict enforcement of law and company policies and a societal change and improvement of “employer safety cultures.”

Nearly 40 percent of truckers killed in 2017 were not using their seat belts, says Jack Van Steenburg, chief safety officer of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. Driving tired is another factor, as is driving in interstate bottlenecks near major cities, he says.

“You’re driving at highway speeds, and all of the sudden it comes upon you that there’s a traffic stop ahead,” Van Steenburg says. “For a large truck, it’s not easy to stop.”

Earlier this year, the FMCSA announced it was going to look into the reason for the fatalities with a crash-correlation study.

But many trucking companies are adding advanced driver-assistance technology to help keep truckers safe. Technological assistance like lane-departure warnings, automatic emergency braking and adaptive cruise control is added on to new trucks when companies order them.

Some truckers, however, say it’s the training and the new technology that are the problem.

James Cowger,a truck driver, says the lack of training for new truck drivers adds to the dangers on the road.

“I think part of the reason there is a rise in the death of drivers is that there are some companies out there that are training drivers and putting them in their own truck way to soon just so they can get another truck rolling down the road,” he says on trucks.com. “They need to keep an eye on some of their trainers to (sic) because there are some of them that are not taking the time to teach their students how to back up they just have them with them to cover the miles going down the road.

Bonnie MacPherson, another driver, says on the message board that technological add-ons only made her job more dangerous.

“The so-called driver assist technology is a safety hazard in a big rig! Lane control indicators beep constantly, causing distracted driving to become highly irritated driving; the automatic braking is seriously hazardous, almost causing crashes instead of stopping crashes,” she says. “I know nothing about the adaptive cruise control, but if it is anything like the other two safety devices, it will probably assist in killing more truckers. The first two items, I am speaking from experience. I bought a truck that had the lane control crap, within 3 days I ripped it out of the truck. I drove a company truck with auto-braking, that crap almost put me through the windshield! Nothing safe or safety about it.”

The labor bureau data also showed that for the fifth consecutive year, overdose deaths at work from nonmedical drugs and alcohol increased at least 25 percent.

“Commercial drivers must be well-trained, well-rested and drug- and alcohol-free,” says Lane Kidd, managing director of the Alliance for Driver Safety and Security, adding that more effective drug tests are needed.

About 1 in 7 applicants for trucking jobs cannot pass a drug test, according to the National Transportation Institute.

Fielkow says adding in truckers’ alcohol and drug use only muddies the issue.

“It’s hard for me as an employer to know (the impact of drugs and alcohol),” he says. “We can only drug and alcohol test employees under permissible conditions. We must have zero tolerance for employees who test positive in accordance with the law. It’s a “one strike and you’re out” mentality. If you read the root causes (of the fatalities) people select these behaviors every day without drugs or alcohol entering the equation. Trying to muddy commonplace unsafe decisions that lead to death and drug/alcohol doesn’t make any sense. Both are serious and should be dealt with separately.”

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