Single unit trucks just as dangerous as tractor trailers

When asked to identify which commercial vehicles pose the greatest risk on the highway, most people would not hesitate to name semi tractor trailers. Although these vehicles can, indeed, be a threat at high speeds due to their size, weight and lack of maneuverability, a recent study indicates that single unit commercial trucks can also be dangerous.

According to the five year study conducted by the National Transportation Safety Board, single unit trucks are responsible for a disproportionate amount of fatal truck accidents involving passenger vehicles when the numbers are adjusted for the number of vehicles registered and miles traveled. The study, entitled Crashes Involving Single-Unit Trucks that Resulted in Injuries and Death, also found that drivers of single unit trucks were more likely to have invalid licenses than those who driver larger vehicles.

As a result of the study, the NTSB recommended that federal agencies, including the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, take several steps. The NTSB recommendations include:

  • Mandating the installation of systems on single unit trucks that allow for the detection of motorcycles, bicycles and pedestrians
  • Requiring side and rear under ride guards on all new single unit trucks
  • Improving data collection efforts by federal and state authorities to better track information regarding accidents caused by single unit trucks

The FMCSA, NHTSA and the U.S. Department of Transportation are still working to analyze the findings of the study and the feasibility of the NTSB's recommendations. For now, however, some safety experts are recommending that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration expand its commercial licensure requirements to smaller, single unit trucks.

So far, trucking organizations such as the NAFA Fleet Management Association have offered vocal criticism of the study. This organization's primary objection to the study's methodology is that it makes no differentiation between single unit truck drivers who are part of a fleet and those who are not. Some of the statistics, the association argues, may even include information about drivers who have received no formal commercial truck driving training. They have advised the FMCSA, the NHTSA and the DOT to exercise caution in adopting the NTSB's recommendations without further research.

It is currently unclear whether the federal agencies regulating the trucking industry are likely to act in an effort to curb single unit truck crashes. Given the large number of crashes, however, it seems that a solution is necessary.