The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) is calling for public input on the design of a new truck crash causation study. FMCSA last conducted a Large Truck Crash Causation Study (LTCCS) in 2001-2003. It sampled 963 crashes involving at least one truck over 10,000 pounds gross weight resulting in a fatality or injury. Investigating over 1,000 variables in each crash – such as weather, road conditions, equipment failure, familiarity with route, driver fatigue, etc. – the study provided guidance to FMCSA on policies and regulations to prevent future crashes.

Why conduct a new truck crash study?

Large truck fatal crashes have been on an upswing. When the LTCCS ended in 2003, fatal crashes involving large trucks decreased until 2009, at 2,893 fatal crashes. Since then, according to FMCSA, fatal crash numbers have steadily increased, reaching 4,415 fatal crashes in 2018, the most recent year figures are available. Some have pointed out the reasons may be that the economy, and consequently the number of large trucks on the road, has also steadily increased since the economic recession in 2009. Regardless of cause, turning the trend around is in everyone’s interest.

FMCSA also notes that vehicle technology has also changed since 2003, positively, by providing capabilities such as in-cab navigation and automated emergency braking, and negatively, by introducing distracted driving as a societal concern. FMCSA now looks to capture the impact of these vehicle technologies on crash causation in the new study and specifically to use that information to inform developers of autonomous vehicles as well as to give direction to FMCSA’s own regulations.

What a new truck crash study will and will not do.

What the new study will not do, just as the LTCCS did not, is try to assign fault for crashes or attempt to determine crash preventability. Rather, FMCSA is seeking data that will help prevent crashes from even happening. But PrePass readers will recall that FMCSA has recognized that motor carriers and professional drivers should not have their safety ratings affected by non-preventable crashes.

The new FMCSA crash causation study, labeled “Large Truck Crash Causal Factors Study” or LTCCFS, is in the developmental stage. And the Federal Register notice published Jan. 15, 2020 seeking public input asks very fundamental study design questions, perhaps more familiar to researchers than to the general public:

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

From the eventual LTCCFS study FMCSA looks to improve its and state partners’ ability to:

  1. Evaluate crashes involving large trucks and identify emerging trends
  2. Monitor crash trends and identify causes and contributing factors
  3. Develop effective safety improvement policies and programs

As dry as this may sound, this new study will be the basis for future truck regulations and important to everyone concerned with highway safety. Comments can be submitted by March 16, 2020 by going to www.regulations.gov, entering Docket Number FMCSA-2019-0277, and following the online instructions.

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