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Safety improvement goals for 2016

Safety on the highways is improving.
/ Industry News & Trends /

By: Phil Sneed

Based on recent data from the U.S. Department of Transportation, the American Trucking Associations found that truck-involved fatalities are declining, both in the short and long term.

The ATA concluded, based off an analysis of miles traveled, truck-involved fatalities declined for the second straight year to 1.40 per 100 million miles traveled. Another organization, the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, stated there were 3,903 truck-involved fatalities in 2014, representing a staggering 61 percent decrease from 2013. In the last two years, the fatality rate has declined 4.76 percent, but over the last 10 years, that same rate has declined by 40 percent.

The increase in safety is important to note because it comes at a time when drivers are driving even more miles, and all together, the industry logged approximately 279 billion miles on the road.

"Truck-involved fatalities declined for the second straight year."

"America's trucking industry has invested billions to improve safety and that commitment is paying off," Bill Graves, ATA president and CEO, said in a statement.

Graves added that while short-term trends are important to note, the more important figures are centered around the long term. This is due to the possibility of short-term trends being what essentially amounts to blips.

"The long-term trend – in this case, a more than 40 percent improvement – is of paramount importance," Graves added.

ATA Executive Vice President for National Advocacy Dave Osiecki also said in a statement that while safety in the trucking industry has greatly improved, there is still work that needs to be completed.

The accomplishments cannot be dismissed, but drivers, fleet owners, shippers and carriers may want to focus on some key safety areas to ensure an even greater level of safety.

Fatigue concerns
The National Transportation Safety Board recently unveiled its list of most wanted transportation safety improvements. While not everything applied to trucking, a majority of improvements did.

The investigative agency called for a reduction in fatigue-related accidents. According to the NTSB, approximately 20 percent of the more than 180 major transportation accidents between 2001 and 2012 involved fatigue.

According to Fleet Owner, NTSB Chairman Christopher Hart said fatigue is an issue, partly due to the fact it can't be measured.

Fatigue is a common occurrence for everyone, not just truck drivers. However, truckers who drive behind the wheel while severely tired increase their risk of an accident. To help reduce fatigue, drivers may have to make some lifestyle changes.

Livestrong stated that exercise and a good night's sleep are just a few methods to stay awake throughout the day. A driver's diet also has an impact, however, it's not always possible to eat healthy while on the road. Truckers may want to try snacking on fruits and whole grains in between large meals. Water is also important, as dehydration can be a factor in fatigue.

"To help reduce fatigue, drivers may have to make some lifestyle changes."

If anything, drivers should attempt to stay away from energy drinks and other liquids loaded with sugar, because while there will be an immediate boost, truckers will subsequently experience a dip in blood sugar and experience what's known as a sugar crash.

Elsewhere, the NTSB recommended a comprehensive medical certification system. Currently, the screening requirements differ in various transportation modes.

While these types of checks may diagnose unknown health issues, they may also do more harm than good by either forcing existing drivers out of a job, or preventing some from being hired.

At a time when fleets are grappling with an ongoing driver shortage, a middle ground must be met with regards to ensuring drivers are healthy to drive, but not making it difficult to hire more drivers.

Importance of technology
Technology will continue to play an important role in the industry. The most notable being yet another federal mandate fleets must comply with. In the summer of 2015, Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx revealed that electronic stability control systems will be required on semi-trailers starting in 2017. While ESC systems will further increase safety on the highways, they will also add more costs.

Personal technology distractions must also be minimized. From smartphones to tablets, these devices, while helpful in some instances, are deadly if they cause too many interruptions. Drivers should not be using these devices while driving and limit usage to breaks.

If truckers must use these devices, they should take advantage of hands-free usage, such as using Bluetooth headsets.

The trucking industry received positive news with reports indicating the number of truck-involved fatalities has steadily decreased in recent years. There is nothing wrong with trying to further improve safety, and the NTSB recently unveiled safety initiatives that can have a positive impact. However, a balance must be found between improving safety within the industry and the number of federal regulations.