Road Management & Engineering Journal
Road Management & Engineering Journal
June, 2000
TranSafety, Inc.
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Fatality Facts 1998: Large Trucks

(This article is reproduced, with permission, from the website of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety at

Based on their numbers on the road and the amount they travel, large trucks (tractor-trailers, single-unit trucks, and some cargo vans weighing more than 10,000 pounds) account for more than their share of highway deaths. Tractor-trailers have higher fatal crash rates per mile than passenger vehicles.1

Large truck occupant deaths number about 700 annually, but about 4,000 occupants of passenger vehicles die each year in collisions with large trucks. This amounts to more than one-fifth of all passenger vehicle occupant deaths in multiple-vehicle crashes. The main problem is the vulnerability of people traveling in smaller vehicles. Trucks often weigh 20-30 times as much as passenger cars.

  Passenger Vehicle Large Truck
1975 2,431 107
1976 2,668 110
1977 3,174 133
1978 3,412 148
1979 3,652 140
1980 3,126 112
1981 3,254 106
1982 2,959 96
1983 3,101 101
1984 3,133 103
1985 3,175 87
1986 3,098 84
1987 3,163 77
1988 3,230 77
1989 3,154 83
1990 3,080 60
1991 2,814 71
1992 2,558 55
1993 2,961 67
1994 3,107 54
1995 2,958 50
1996 3,082 60
1997 3,199 70
1998 3,133 58

©2000, Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, Highway Loss Data Institute

Truck braking capability is a safety problem. Loaded tractor-trailers take 20-40 percent farther than cars to stop, and the discrepancy is worse when trailers are empty.2 Of a representative sample of trucks inspected in 1996, 29 percent were ordered off the road because of serious vehicle defects, more than half of which were brake defects.3 Antilock brakes help and are required on new tractors as of 1997 (new trailers as of 1998).4

Other issues involve the drivers of large trucks, who are allowed to drive up to 16 hours per day and 70 hours in 5 days.5 Surveys indicate that many drivers violate federal hours-of-service regulations.6,7 Other studies show drivers are much more likely to crash after long hours behind the wheel.8-13

The following facts are based on analysis of data from the U.S. Department of Transportation's Fatality Analysis Reporting System:

Deaths in large truck crashes
Deaths in large truck crashes by highway type, 1998
Fatal crashes by number of involved vehicles, large trucks compared with passenger vehicles, 1998
Deaths in large truck crashes by truck configuration, 1998
Distribution of deaths in large truck crashes by day of week, 1998
Distribution of deaths in large truck crashes by time of day, 1998


1National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. 1998. Traffic safety facts 1997. Washington, DC: US Department of Transportation. DOT-HS-808-806.

2National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. 1987. Heavy truck safety study. Washington, DC: US Department of Transportation. DOT-HS-807-109.

3Federal Highway Administration. 1998. National fleet safety survey 1996. Washington, DC: US Department of Transportation. FHWA-MC-98-015.

4Federal Highway Administration. Parts and accessories necessary for safe operation; antilock brake systems. 49 CFR Part 393. Washington, DC: US Department of Transportation.

5Federal Highway Administration. Hours of service of drivers. 49 CFR Part 395. Washington, DC: US Department of Transportation.

6Braver, E.R.; Preusser, C.W.; Preusser, D.F.; Baum, H.M.; Beilock, R.; Ulmer, R. 1992. Long hours and fatigue: a survey of tractor-trailer drivers. Journal of Public Health Policy 13 (3): 341-366.

7McCartt, A.T.; Hammer, M.C.; and Fuller, S.Z. 1997. Work and sleep/rest factors associated with driving while drowsy experiences among long-distance truck drivers. 41st Annual Proceedings of the Association for the Advancement of Automotive Medicine, 95-108. Des Plaines, IL: AAAM.

8Frith, W.J. 1994. A case-control study of heavy vehicle drivers' working time and safety. Proceedings of the 17th Australian Road Research Board Conference, 17:17-30. Queensland, Australia: Australian Road Research Board.

9Jones, I.S. And Stein, H.S. 1989. Defective equipment and tractor-trailer crash involvement. Accident Analysis and Prevention 21:469-81.

10Lin, T.D.; Jovanis, P.P.; and Yang, C.Z. 1994. Time of day models of motor carrier accident risk. Transportation Research Record, 1467:1-8. Washington, DC: Transportation Research Board.

11Mackie, R.R. and Miller, J.C. 1978. Effects of hours of service, regularity of schedules, and cargo loading on truck and bus driver fatigue (DOT-HS-803-799). Washington, DC: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

12Saccomanno, F.F.; Shortreed, J.H.; And Yu, M. 1996. Effect of driver fatigue on commercial vehicle accidents. Truck Safety: Perceptions and Reality, 157-74. Waterloo, Canada: The Institute for Risk Research.

13Summala, H. and Mikkola, T. 1994. Fatal accidents among car and truck drivers: effects of fatigue, age, and alcohol consumption. Human Factors 36:315-26.

14Federal Highway Administration. 1998. Highway statistics 1998. Washington, DC: US Department of Transportation. (accessed Sept. 15, 1999).

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