Putting safety news in context

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Updated Dec 14, 2009

 The good report last week on 2008’s highway fatality numbers, including truck-related deaths, was a bit incomplete because of the highly unusual drop in vehicle miles traveled (VMT, in government-speak). Of course, that decline was due to months of outrageous fuel prices during late 2008.

The press release from the American Trucking Associations conveniently failed to mention that factor, even though it did cite increased use of safety belts and the hours of service regs that took effect in 2005. Instead, it trumpeted only total truck-involved fatalities dropping 12 percent in 2008 from the year before, from 4,822 deaths to 4,229.

Granted, the heavy-truck VMT hasn’t been determined yet and the overall VMT number is preliminary, says Duane DeBruyne of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. Still, that overall VMT and its change from 2007 was included in the primary announcement from the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration. And Rose A. McMurray, acting deputy administrator for FMCSA, made the point that “the downturn in the economy clearly impacted freight volumes and the overall number of miles logged by truck drivers.”

NHTSA calculates a 3.4 percent decrease in VMT for all drivers over the year. Even if trucking’s rate were double that (6.8 percent), it would mean truck-related fatalities still dropped dramatically (12 percent) – hardly anything to be ashamed of.

 — Max Heine