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* 5,212 people were killed in crashes involving large trucks in 2005, representing about 12-13 percent of all traffic fatalities.  Of these, 78 percent were occupants of another vehicle, 15 percent were large truck occupants, and 9 percent were non-occupants.  An additional 114,000 people were reported injured in those crashes (based on data published in 2004 Projections, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), April 21, 2005),

* The annual death toll from truck-related crashes is the equivalent of 52 major airline crashes every year, one crash every week resulting in 95 deaths.  

* Large trucks are 9 percent of all vehicles involved in fatal crashes and represent 11-13 percent of all crash fatalities despite the fact that large trucks make up only 3 percent of all registered vehicles (Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), 2001-2006;  NHTSA, 2001-2005).

* The fatality rate for big combination truck (tractor-trailer) crashes in 2005 was 2.34 per 100 million vehicle miles traveled (MVMT), almost double the rate for passenger vehicles (1.14 per 100 million vehicle miles traveled) (NHTSA 2005, FMCSA 2007).

* Large trucks are more likely to be involved in fatal multiple-vehicle crashes, as opposed to single-vehicle crashes, than are passenger vehicles.  Eighty-four (84) percent of all large trucks fatal crashes were multiple-vehicle collisions in 2002, compared with only 62 percent for passenger vehicles) (IIHS, 2004).

* Almost 3 times as many large trucks are involved in injury crashes than passenger vehicle per 100 MVMT (FMCSA, 2004).

* Passenger vehicle occupants die in record numbers in collisions with large trucks because of the great difference in weight between cars and large trucks.  In two-vehicle crashes involving passenger vehicles and large trucks, 98 percent of the fatalities were occupants of the passenger vehicle.  More than 1 out of every 5 occupant deaths in passenger vehicles that had multi-vehicle fatal collisions in 2002 was the result of crashes involving large trucks (IIHS, 2004).

* There is no real progress being made in dramatically reducing deaths produced by large truck crashes.  Fatalities from large truck crashes have either remained flat or have increased over the past several years.  The number of truck crash deaths in 2004 (5,235), for example, is not significantly different from the number in 1998 (5,395), and the number of fatal crashes involving big trucks in 2000, for example (4,573), is about the same as in 2005 (4,533) (NHTSA, 2005).

* Large truck crashes are seriously underreported to the federal government’s motor carrier safety agency.  The FMCSA’s Motor Carrier Management Information System (MCMIS) crash file receives reports on only 3 of every 4 truck crashes based on the National Governor’s Association (NCA) crash reporting system.  The FMCSA also is missing 2 of every 3 towaway crashes in its data base for heavy trucks more than 26,000 pounds gross vehicle weight rating.  Some states do not submit all NGA reporting system crashes (FMCSA, 2004).

* Big trucks are also regularly operated with safety defects --  in both 2005 and 2006 , more than one of every five trucks that were inspected was placed out of service for deficiencies that prevented it from continuing to operate (FMCSA 2005, CVSA 2006).  

* The costs to society of large truck crashes each year are nearly $20 billion.  The large number of truck-related deaths and injuries imposes an enormous personal and financial price on Americans (FMCSA 2004).

By any measure, large trucks are dramatically overrepresented in severe and fatal crashes.  Despite representing only a very small percentage of vehicles on our streets and highways, big, heavy trucks are the major cause of road and bridge damage.

* There are more trucks and bigger trucks than ever before.  Over the past 20 years alone (1982 – 2002), there has been a 42 percent increase in registered large trucks and the mileage they have driven has almost doubled.  (Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), 1997;  FMCSA, 2004).

* Trucks Keep Getting Bigger.  Trailer lengths for combination vehicles (tractor-trailers) have continued to grow over the past few decades, moving from an industry standard of 40 feet in the 1960s, to 48 feet in the 1970s, to 53 feet in the late 1980s.  Some states even allow 57- and 59-foot trailers.  (FHWA, 1997).

*  Bigger Trucks Compromise Safety.  The chances of a big truck crash resulting in deaths and serious injuries increase with each extra ton of weight over the 80,000 pound gross vehicle weight (GVW) limit in federal law.  These federal weight limits are used by many states as the upper limit on truck weight even on most of their state roads.  A big truck weighing even a legal 80,000 pounds is 50 to 100 percent more likely to be involved in a fatal crash than a truck weighing about 50,000 to 65,000 pounds.  (University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute (UMTRI), 1988; FHWA, 1997).

*  Bigger Trucks Require More Stopping Time and Distance.  A 100,000 pound truck takes 25 percent longer to stop than an 80,000 pound truck and a 120,000 pound truck can travel as much as 50 percent further before stopping than an 80,000 pound truck, especially if these big trucks have unadjusted brakes.  Truck inspections often find up to one-third of all trucks with out-of-adjustment brakes.  Federal standards require cars to stop in 215 feet, but big tractor-trailers are only required to stop in 355 feet (UMTRI, 1983;  IIHS 2003;  National Academy of Sciences (NAS) 1990;  NHTSA 2004;  CVSA 2000).

* Overweight trucks are even more dangerous.  Overweight trucks above 80,000 pounds are more dangerous than trucks that stay within the current federal weight limits.  Overweight trucks not only take longer to brake and are more prone to roll over in crashes, but they also damage roads and bridges at rapidly increasing rates even when slightly overloaded.  Damaged highways and bridges are even more dangerous (IIHS, 2004;  FHWA, 1997;  FHWA, 2000).

* Big Trucks Don’t Pay Their Fair Share for Highway Use, and the U.S. Taxpayer Subsidizes Big, Heavy Trucks.  Motor Carriers want to use bigger and bigger, heavier and heavier trucks.  Under current federally legislated truck fees, big trucks pay less and less of their real share of road and bridge destruction as the trucks get heavier.  Many states can allow overweight trucks even on their Interstate highways, and most states charge only small fees for overweight permits (FHWA, 2000;  FHWA, 1989).  Big, heavy trucks destroy our roads and bridges at frightening rates.  One legal 80,000 pound tractor-trailer does as much damage to road pavement as 9,600 cars (Highway Research Board, NAS, 1962).

*  Bigger Trucks Will Still Mean More Trucks. Increases in truck size and weight will not decrease the number of trips, result in fewer miles traveled, or improve safety by reducing the number of trucks on the highways.  Past increases in truck size and weight have not resulted in fewer trucks, fewer trips, or fewer miles traveled.  The number of trucks on U.S. highways has consistently grown over the past few decades even after several increases in both the sizes and weights of large trucks.  And big trucks have been allowed by the federal government to be driven for even longer hours than ever before – up to 88 hours in 8 days (FMCSA 2004;  FMCSA, 2003).

*  The TRB Study Supporting An Increase in Truck Size and Weight is Badly Flawed.  The Transportation Research Board (TRB) Special Report No. 267, Regulation of Weights, Lengths, and Widths of Commercial Motor Vehicles (2002), has been rebutted by every truck and highway safety organization. The study supports two specific configurations as larger, heavier vehicles of choice without a single argument as to why these configurations are better than others. The Committee undermines any possible support for these combinations by pointing out that virtually nothing is known about the relationship between any specific design configurations, crash risk, and truck handling and stability. Yet the Committee itself also issued warnings about the unintended consequences that may accompany the use of larger combination trucks with higher axle and gross weights (Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, 2003).

* U.S. Infrastructure Cannot Safely Support Bigger Trucks. A survey conducted in the early 1990s by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) showed that many ramps on even Interstate highways were unable to accommodate the off-tracking, swept path width of a tractor-trailer pulling even a 48-foot long semi-trailer.  Many combination trucks currently pulling 53-foot long trailers cannot safely negotiate such ramps, especially elevated ramps bordered by bridge parapets or guardrails.  These trucks also intrude into the traffic lanes used by passenger cars and threaten their safety.

* Americans Consistently and Overwhelmingly Don’t Want Bigger Trucks.  Seventy-seven (77) percent of Americans oppose allowing trucks to get bigger and heavier, 78 percent of Americans are willing to pay higher prices for goods shipped in trucks in exchange for tougher truck safety standards, and 80 percent believe that big trucks pulling more trailers are less safe (Lou Harris Polls, 1999 and 2004).

March 2007
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