In the first nine months of 2015, there was a 9.3 percent increase in traffic deaths compared with the prior year. According to Consumer Affairs, estimates suggest 26,000 people were killed in collisions over this nine month period, compared with 23,796 deaths in car accidents over the first nine months of 2014. Nationwide, the increase in fatalities ranged anywhere from two percent more deaths in 2015 to 20 percent more deaths in 2015 compared with in 2015. Federal safety regulators indicate driver behavior is the reason why more crashes are happening.
Some safety experts also indicate federal agencies should be doing more, including implementing a nationwide Vision Zero policy aimed at reducing traffic fatalities to zero. One such safety organization is called AnnaLeaha and Mary for Truck Safety. It was founded after two sisters who were killed when their car was hit by a semi-trailer. The family started the organization because they believe the trucker had been behind the wheel for too long and because the family believes that there should have been stricter rules for underride protection in place to prevent the deadly accident.
The focus on improving criteria for underride guards has long been a big issue for advocates concerned about truck accidents in Southern California.
New Safety Initiatives Could Help Prevent Deadly Truck Accidents
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration proposed stricter regulations for underride accident prevention in December of 2015. The new regulations would impose new requirements on underride protection guards to be used to prevent cars from sliding under the backs or sides of tractor trailers. While this is good news that regulations are finally being proposed and may move forward, it has taken decades for NHTSA to act, although Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has long warned about the risks and indicated current underride standards were not strict enough.
Underride crash prevention is just the start of what federal agencies could, and arguably should, be doing to prevent upticks in accidents like the rise in collisions which happened in 2015. NHTSA receives only two percent of the Department of Transportation's annual budget, and many critics indicate NHTSA is very slow to respond to risks and act upon them. Critics also complain that while DOT is spending taxpayer money to "congratulate itself for its safety efforts," an estimated two million Americans have died in traffic accidents since the agency was vested responsibility for highway safety.
NHTSA and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (NHTSA) regulate various aspects of the truck driving industry, with NHTSA focusing on equipment requirements for trucks and FMCSA passing rules related to things like loading of trucks and number of hours truckers can drive before taking rest breaks.
Since trucks and truckers are more heavily regulated than typical motorists on the road, there is more room for regulations to improve safety equipment and change driver behaviors. Taking actions to impose stricter safety requirements on trucks and truckers could be a good first step in moving towards the Vision Zero which safety advocates urge lawmakers to try for.