Trucking by the numbers

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I've been seeing and hearing a lot from Jack Van Steenburg – assistant administration and chief safety officer for the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) – this week.

But to be perfectly honest, “FMCSA” is an acronym many folks in trucking get pretty steamed about these days, largely due to all the safety regulations the agency keeps churning out – at an average rate of 16.5 rulemakings per year in Steenburg's estimation; some 29 over the last two years alone.

Not factoids designed to warm the cockles of any trucker’s heart, I imagine.

Yet regardless of your personal feelings toward FMCSA and its doings, the agency collects and distills some interesting information about the trucking industry – especially in terms of its safety profile.

So, in that regard, I’ve compiled a plethora of statistics Steenburg shared from FMCSA’s files during his presentations here at the 2014 Zonar Systems user conference – some of which may surprise you:

  • FMCSA employs 1,110 personnel – with the bulk of them, over 800, dispersed across the nation at the state level.
  • Half of FMCSA’s annual budget – roughly $541 million – goes to state enforcement agencies in the form of Motor Carrier Safety Assistance Program or “MCSAP” grants.
  • There are currently 5 million commercial driver’s license (CDL) holders in the U.S.
  • There are 525,000 active motor carriers in the U.S. today, with 12,000 active bus companies, 11,000 active hazardous material transports, and 4,500 household goods carriers.
  • Of those 525,000 motor carriers, 46% are for-hire and 42% are private. And even though for-hire and private carriers have roughly the same out of service (OOS) rates, the crash rate for for-hire carriers is three times higher than that of private carriers.
  • Some 10,000 for-hire and 350 private carriers now use the FMCSA’s pre-employment screening program (PSP). The agency says among carriers using the PSP system, crash rates have fallen 8% and OOS rates have dropped 17%.
  • Since FMCSA’s Compliance safety Accountability (CSA) program went live four years ago, the agency has compiled data from 3.5 million roadside inspections. That data has allowed it to target 7,200 “high risk” carriers.
  • Since CSA went into effect, violations per roadside inspection have declined 14% and driver-specific violations per roadside inspection have dropped 17%.
  • Over the last six years, there’s been a 28% reduction in truck-related crash fatalities.
  • That being said, according to data compiled by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 3,921 people were killed in large truck crashes in 2012; 697 of them truck occupants (usually the driver) and 381 of them pedestrians or bicyclists.
  • Roughly 34% of the truck occupants killed in those crashes were not wearing seatbelts; speeding was the cause of 20% of those truck crash fatalities while 24% of all truck crash fatalities occurred in highway work zones.
  • About 30% of those truck-related fatalities occurred in crashes involving vehicles similar to the F-350 and motorhomes, aid Steenburg: vehicles that don’t fall under the regulatory auspices of the FMCSA.

That’s a lot of numbers, no doubt, but one quote from Steenburg about those numbers – specifically truck fatalities – sticks in my mind.

“Those killed in large truck crashes, those are real people,” he said. “To me, if there’s even one such fatality, it’s too many. I don’t want to one of those fatalities; you don’t want to be one of those fatalities; and you don’t want your children to be one either. It’s just too much.”

That's something to keep in mind as the debate over the many safety regulations governing the trucking industry continues.

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