Truck Safety:

Motor Carriers Office's Activities to Reduce Fatalities Are Likely to Have Little Short-term Effect

T-RCED-99-89: Published: Feb 23, 1999. Publicly Released: Feb 23, 1999.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO discussed the safety of large commercial trucks on the nation's highways, focusing on: (1) trends in crashes involving large trucks; (2) factors that contribute to such crashes; and (3) the Federal Highway Administration's Office of Motor Carrier and Highway Safety's (OMCHS) activities to improve the safety of large trucks.

GAO noted that: (1) of the nearly 42,000 people who died on the nation's highways in 1997, about 5,400 died from crashes involving large trucks; (2) this represents a 20 percent increase from 1992; (3) at the same time, the annual number of miles traveled by large trucks increased by a similar proportion; (4) if this trend of increasing truck travel continues, the number of fatalities could increase to 5,800 in 1999 and to more than 6,000 in 2000; (5) while trucks are involved in fewer crashes per mile traveled than are cars, crashes involving trucks are more likely to result in a fatality; (6) in 1997, 98 percent of the fatalities from crashes between trucks and cars were the occupants of the car; (7) although no definitive information on the causes of crashes involving large trucks exists, several factors contribute to these crashes; (8) these contributing factors include errors on the part of car and truck drivers, truck driver fatigue, and vehicle defects; (9) of these factors, errors on the part of car drivers are cited most frequently as contributing to crashes involving large trucks; (10) specifically, errors by car drivers were reported in 80 percent of the crashes, while truck drivers errors were reported in 28 percent of the crashes; (11) while many factors outside OMCHS' authority--such as the use of safety belts by car occupants and states' actions--influence the number of fatalities that result from crashes involving large trucks, the Federal Highway Administration has established a goal for 1999 of reducing these fatalities; (12) its goal is to reduce the number of fatalities to below the 1996 level of 5,126--substantially less than the projected figure of 5,800; (13) OMCHS has undertaken a number of activities intended to achieve this goal, such as identifying high-risk carriers for safety improvements and educating car drivers about how to share the road with large trucks; and (14) however, OMCHS is unlikely to reach the goal because: (a) its initiative to target high-risk carriers for safety improvements depends on data that are not complete, accurate, or timely; (b) several activities will not be completed before the end of 1999; and (c) the effectiveness of OMCHS' educational campaign to improve car drivers' behavior is unknown.

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