Technology is changing the way we drive. Is it also changing the way accidents happen?

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration wants to know. For the first time in 15 years, the agency is studying the causes of large truck accidents.

Looking at new, old problems

FMCSA last studied the issue from 2001-2003, reviewing 120,000 crashes. The agency cites the emergence of technology as a major factor behind its new research.

Distracted driving is a chief concern, such as when truckers are talking on phones or texting. The new study focuses on the impact of in-cab navigation and fleet management systems.

The study reexamines long-standing issues, such as when truckers speed to meet delivery deadlines. There are other common hazards for truckers over the years:

  • Fatigue
  • Driving under the influence of alcohol and drugs
  • Poor training
  • Improper truck maintenance

Looking at rising fatality rates

Saving lives is the primary goal of the study. In 2009, fatal crashes involving large trucks fell to 2,893. Since then, however, fatalities rose to 4,415 in 2018, an increase of 52.6%. More recently, fatal crashes involving large trucks rose 5.7% from 2016-2018.

Besides fatal accidents, the new study examines injury and property damage crashes. A loaded tractor-trailer can weigh 80,000 pounds, posing a series threat to the occupants of a 3,000-pound car.

Common truck accident injuries are serious. They range from neck and spinal injuries to broken bones and internal injuries. Victims, while facing lengthy rehabilitation, also must deal with complicated legal issues.

Looking toward the future

The FMCSA study is welcome news, with the potential to protect the health, lives and property of motorists. It could lead to changes in safety technology, driver behavior and roadway design.

In the meantime, though, risks from truck accidents remain too high. All motorists can do is practice safe driving techniques around large trucks, and hope truckers are doing the same.