Commercial trucking serves as a barometer for the economy. It represented nearly 71% of the tonnage carried by all modes of domestic freight transportation in 2017, including manufactured and retail goods. With more trucks on the road, there were also more accidents, including a rise in fatalities. Trucks were involved in 59% more accidents per mile than in 2010, despite the new technologies and the best efforts of regulators, according to the American Trucking Association (ATA). Further, the number of people who died in large truck crashes was also 30% higher than in 2009, when it was the lowest it has been since the collection of fatal crash data began in 1975.
It’s been 11 years since the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) first reported the average cost of a police-reported crash involving a large truck. Adjusted for inflation, those numbers indicate that the average cost for large-truck accidents is about $120,000, while crashes involving tractor-trailers average $382,000. If fatalities are involved, the average cost goes up to $4.8 million. However, it should be noted that these numbers do not account for the rising cost of repair and liability since the report was first published in 2007. With accidents increasing, claims costs are about two times more likely to exceed $100,000.
On the surface, the main reason for the severity of truck accidents can be attributed to the weight discrepancy between trucks and passenger cars. Trucks weigh twenty to thirty times more than passenger cars. They are also taller with greater ground clearance, resulting in the smaller vehicles under-riding trucks in crashes. In addition, truck braking capabilities are an issue. A loaded tractor-trailer will take 20% to 40% more distance to stop than a car. And this discrepancy is greater on wet and slippery roads or with poorly maintained brakes. Another factor is that a lot of older $50,000 trucks are now being replaced with new $150,000 trucks that cost much more to repair.
Controlling losses is a big challenge for the trucking industry with driver fatigue one of the big issues. Drivers of large trucks are allowed by federal hours-of-service regulations to drive up to 11 hours at a stretch. However, surveys indicate that many drivers violate the regulations and work longer than permitted. In December 2017, the long-awaited FMCSA (Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration) rule that trucks must have electronic logging devices (ELD) to accurately track and manage a vehicle’s record of hours of service went into effect. The ELD device is designed to automatically record driving time, enabling motor carriers to better comply with federal limits on how long drivers can safely drive in a day.
Around the same time the American Automobile Association Foundation (AAA Foundation) and the Alliance for Driver Safety & Security (the Trucking Alliance) joined forces to adopt the AAA Foundation’s new Truck Safety Recommendations, including various warning, monitoring and braking systems that could prevent as many as 77,000 crashes and save up to 500 lives annually. Both experienced and new drivers say they want “all the bells and whistles” of the new equipment not just personal comforts, but the safety technology as well.
RECENT TRUCKING CLAIMS (source)
Compounding this situation is the fact that the average truck driver is generally in their mid-50’s. As the average age of drivers increase, trucking companies are struggling to find new drivers, leading some firms to consider easing their hiring requirements to entice new drivers – including dropping commercial driving experience requirements down to as little as one-year or less.
Anecdotally, the chronic driver shortage is considered a leading cause of the general erosion in driver safety but getting the data to support that is easier said than done. Most carriers don’t have the level of claim detail in their claims systems to actuarially state that the age and experience of their drivers makes a meaningful difference. However, numerous insurers are now asking questions about driver experience. Many trucking firms are also beginning to invest in training, not just for new drivers but existing ones as well. The new equipment, with all the new driver comfort and safety features requires additional training; like Boeing’s new Max 737 airplane, training can make a difference.
At CRC Group, clients can depend on us to look at what is happening in the trucking industry and help analyze the risks facing insureds. Contact your CRC Group Producer for more information.
- ATA Truck Tonnage Index Increased 6.6% in 2018, January 22, 2019 Press Release
- 2018: A Challenging Year for Trucking, Donald Jerrell
- $1.4 million settlement obtained for plaintiff injured in multi-vehicle truck accident, Fitzsimmons Law Firm PLLC, March 15, 2019