FMCSA Plans Large Truck Crash Study

By John Gallagher, Freight Waves

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) plans to take factors such as texting and other cellphone distractions into account in gathering data for its first large truck crash study in more than 15 years.

In a formal proposal made public Tuesday, the agency said it is seeking information on how best to design and conduct a study to identify factors contributing to all FMCSA-reportable crashes involved in tow-away, injury, and fatal accidents.

“The methodology should also address the use of on-board electronic systems which can generate information about speeding, lane departure and hard braking,” according to the proposal. “The study should be designed to yield information that will help FMCSA and the truck safety community to identify activities and other measures likely to lead to significant reductions in the frequency, severity and crash rate involving commercial motor vehicles.”

Comments on the study are due 60 days after the proposal is published in the Federal Register.

A primary finding of the last formal large truck crash causation study, conducted from 2001 to 2003, was that “the vast majority” of crashes were attributed to a driver-related action or inaction (where the critical reason for the crash was assigned to the large truck). A subsequent report to Congress on that study was issued in 2006.

But FMCSA pointed out that since that time, “many changes in technology, vehicle safety, driver behavior and roadway design have occurred that affect how a driver performs.” It noted that since 2009, fatal crashes involving large trucks have steadily increased to 4,415 fatal crashes in 2018, or 52.6%, and increased 5.7% over the last three years (2016 to 2018).

The agency expects the new survey to take into account factors such as the increase in distraction caused by cellphones and texting, along with the advent of in-cab navigation and fleet management systems and safety equipment such as automatic emergency braking systems.

The updated study, according to FMCSA, will also develop a baseline of truck crash factors and “help guide mitigating crash avoidance strategies to prevent future crashes,” even in Level 4 and Level 5 driving automation (high and full automation). “Knowing more about driver behaviors will identify areas where new driving automation systems can be of help and aid in formulating performance metrics and standards that may need to be considered if they are to reduce crashes involving large trucks,” the proposal stated.

In addition, because some driver-assistance systems are already deployed in many fleets, “this study can provide data on their effectiveness in determining what crash avoidance capabilities may need to be incorporated in the Automated Driving Systems that may be provided on the [commercial motor vehicle] platforms in the future.”

The FMCSA requests that comments include answers to four questions:

  • Should FMCSA pursue a nationally representative sampling approach or can convenience sampling serve the needs?
  • What type of study are you recommending (e.g. nationally representative vs. convenience sampling), and what are the pros and cons of this approach?
  • How important is it for the new study results to be comparable with findings of the original?
  • What other sources of data can enrich the new study, and how can they be identified and included?

Gallagher, J. (2020). FMCSA plans large truck crash study. Retrieved from


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