Highway Deaths Increase
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has released preliminary crash fatality data for 2020. They estimate that 38,680 people died in crashes, an increase of 7.2% over 2019. However, the vehicle miles traveled during 2020 decreased 430.2 billion miles, or about a 13.2% decrease. The decrease in miles coupled with the increase in deaths raised the 2020 fatality rate to 1.37 per hundred million miles, a 23% increase over the 2019 rate.
NHTSA’s research suggests that throughout the national public health emergency and associated lockdowns, driving patterns and behaviors changed significantly, and that drivers who remained on the roads engaged in more risky behavior, including speeding, failing to wear seat belts, and driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Traffic data indicates that average speeds increased throughout the year, and examples of extreme speeds became more common, while the evidence also shows that fewer people involved in crashes used their seat belts
Fatalities in crashes involving a large truck (commercial or non-commercial use) are projected to decline marginally (down 2%). Fatalities among older persons (65+ years of age) are projected to decline by about 9 percent. Some of the crash factors that showed significant increases in 2020 include:
- Occupant ejection (up 20%);
- Unrestrained occupants of passenger vehicles (up 15%);
- On urban interstates (up 15%);
- On urban local/collector roads (up 12%);
- In speeding-related crashes (up 11%);
- On rural local/collector roads (up 11%);
- During nighttime (up 11%);
- During the weekend (up 9%);
- In rollover crashes (up 9%);
- In single-vehicle crashes (up 9%)
- In police-reported alcohol involvement crashes (up 9%)
These statistics demonstrate that now, more than ever, defensive driving tactics are critical to safe operation. Make sure your speed is not excessive for weather and traffic conditions, constantly scan ahead and beside you for potential problems, and most importantly, keep adequate following distance to avoid driving into a bad situation.
Automatic Emergency Braking
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) released an update on the progress of automakers manufacturing new passenger vehicles with low-speed automatic emergency braking (AEB) systems. The installation of AEB is part of a voluntary commitment by 20 automakers to equip virtually all new passenger vehicles with low-speed AEB that includes forward collision warning by September 1, 2022.
AEB systems help reduce the severity of crashes, or help prevent crashes altogether, by applying the brakes in imminent front-end collision scenarios. These systems use on-vehicle sensors such as radar, cameras, and lasers to detect an imminent crash risk, warn the driver, and even apply the brakes if the driver does not take sufficient action. At the time of the agreement, NHTSA estimated that the agreement would make AEB standard on new cars 3 years faster than could be achieved through the formal regulatory process.
The voluntary program does not, however, apply to large trucks. NHTSA had proposed a rule in 2015 that would have required AEB on large trucks, but under the Trump administration it did not pursue that action. Now, the agency says it plans to publish a proposed rule in April of 2022. Once that happens we’ll get a look at the specifics and it will be open to public comment.
As with any regulatory action, some parties believe that the NHTSA is moving far too slowly, and others argue that the technology isn’t ready for large vehicles and may actually cause problems. Safety advocacy groups are glad that there’s movement on the issue, but they must be content with the very slow rulemaking process. Truck manufacturers and motor carriers will have to wait until the notice of proposed rulemaking is published and formulate a reply.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, a research group supported by auto insurers, found in a study last year that automatic emergency braking and forward collision warnings could prevent more than 40% of crashes in which semis rear-end other vehicles. A study by the group found that when rear crashes did happen, the systems cut speeds by more than half, reducing damage and injuries. That’s the type of statistical evidence that may sway opinion since rear end accidents tend to be more severe and result in injuries.
2021 Brake Safety Week
This year’s Brake Safety Week is scheduled for Aug. 22-28. Commercial motor vehicle inspectors will conduct North American Standard Inspections, focusing on the vehicle’s brake systems and components. In addition, inspectors will compile data on brake hoses/tubing, the focus area for this year’s Brake Safety Week, to submit to the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance (CVSA). CVSA will report its findings later this year.
- Brake system and brake adjustment violations accounted for more vehicle violations than any other vehicle violation category, accounting for 38.6% of all vehicle out-of-service conditions, during last year’s three-day International Roadcheck inspection and enforcement initiative.
- “Brake system” was the third most cited vehicle-related factor in fatal commercial motor vehicle and passenger vehicle crashes, according to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s (FMCSA) latest “Large Truck and Bus Crash Facts” report.
- Brake-related violations accounted for eight out of the top 20 vehicle violations in 2020, according to FMCSA’s Motor Carrier Management Information System.
- During last year’s Brake Safety Week, 12% of the 43,565 commercial motor vehicles inspected were placed out of service for brake-related violations.
Sleep Apnea Guidance
After years of discussion there is no sign of any rulemaking or even guidance to clarify all of the questions regarding obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). In 2013 Congress passed a law that prevents FMCSA from issuing guidance regarding the risk of OSA without going through the lengthy rulemaking process, which they have declined to do. FMCSA maintains that there is no definitive evidence linking apnea, as a primary factor, to crashes. However, FMCSA does acknowledge that OSA could contribute to a driver’s health and performance issues such as fatigue.
During a recent meeting, FMCSA’s medical review board pushed the agency to add information about OSA in the medical examiner’s handbook, which is undergoing revision. They contend that in the absence of regulations, or even guidance, medical examiners and even motor carriers have been reluctant to push the issue very hard.
A study released in 2020 by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute found that nearly half of truck drivers may have OSA. The researchers used a screening tool to assess the driver’s tiredness, observed apneas, hypertension, body mass index (BMI), age, neck circumference and gender. This information was used to determine their risk factor for sleep apnea. It’s important to note that the research method did not result in a confirmed diagnosis of OSA, but rather identified drivers who were at risk.
The issue of OSA has been very contentious from the beginning. Especially since the selection process for determining drivers who need testing isn’t as definitive as, say, high blood pressure where a certain reading verifies the problem. Then, of course, there’s the issue of who will pay for the OSA testing, the driver or the motor carrier.
It’s unclear exactly what “additional information” will be added to the medical examiner’s handbook, but it’s not likely to be as definitive as many hope for. In addition, it’s not coming soon since the handbook has been under revision since 2015.