LEXINGTON, Ky. — 471 truck drivers in the transportation industry suffered fatal injuries on the job in 2019, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries. That sector’s fatality rate was 27.2 worker deaths per 100,000 compared to the U.S. overall rate of 3.5 deaths per 100,000 full-time workers.
Despite these statistics, little research has been conducted on small and medium truck driver injuries compared to those of heavy trucks. The University of Kentucky College of Public Health’s Kentucky Injury Prevention and Research Center (KIPRC) wanted to investigate this population. Using Kentucky’s workers compensation (WC) first report of injury (FROI) data, which provide characteristics of crashes and injury types, KIPRC was able to pinpoint what types of training are needed to enhance safety among truck drivers, especially for drivers of light and medium trucks.
Terry Bunn, PhD, principal investigator and director of KIPRC, is not new to research on injuries in truck transportation, having conducted previous studies on injuries of drivers of heavy trucks, such as semi-trucks. “We’ve been pursuing that line of work for a number of years. We started to look at our workers’ compensation data and noticed there were a lot of first reports of injuries involving light vehicles and medium vehicles that were work-related,” Bunn stated.
In the study, published in the December 2022 issue of the Journal of Safety Research, “heavy” trucks refer to those weighing over 26,001 pounds (e.g., semi-trucks), “medium” refers to trucks weighing 10,000 to 26,000 pounds (e.g., tow trucks), and “light” refers to those weighing 10,000 and under (e.g., utility vans).
For the investigation, Bunn et al. used First Report of Injury data from 2010–2019. “First reports of injuries contain injury narratives only from working drivers. This would automatically exclude those that are driving a passenger vehicle to work (commuting) and are not working at the time that the injury occurred,” explained Bunn. FROI data also include driver demographics, injury characteristics, and an injury free text narrative. Using this data source, the researchers were able to identify trends involving the most common injuries by vehicle type in order to recommend specific trainings.
Unlike heavy truck drivers, who are subject to mandated training, light and medium truck drivers have no federal training requirements. That disparity in required training was borne out in the results of Bunn’s research: Light and medium truck drivers are likely to be younger than drivers of heavy trucks, and younger drivers of light and medium trucks had a higher FROI rate compared to heavy truck drivers of the same age.
Analysis of the FROI data showed light and medium truck driver crashes most commonly involved being rear-end crashes, running red lights, and turning in front of other vehicles. Because of this, the researchers recommend that employers of light and medium drivers provide targeted trainings to drivers with previous crashes that address distracted driving and emphasize rear-end crash prevention. “In-vehicle monitoring systems, which help identify risky driving behaviors, might be considered as effective in increasing driver safety,” added Bunn.
For heavy truck drivers, collision or sideswipe with another vehicle accounted for 32% of injuries; vehicle upset, rollover, or jackknife accounted for 27%; and “crashes not otherwise classified, including sudden start or stop”, represented 37%. With this in mind, the researchers recommended enhanced driver safety training on speeding on narrow roadways, nearing intersections, and downshifting on hills for heavy truck drivers.
This study is a start in recommending training for truck drivers, especially for the understudied population of light and medium drivers. Bunn believes the results indicate mandated training is important for this group, given the fact their drivers tend to be younger and less experienced than heavy truck drivers. Bunn hopes, “National regulations can be developed and implemented for this rising number of light and needed medium working vehicle drivers.”
Additional studies using WC data are needed to thoroughly identify the specific industries, vehicle types, and circumstances surrounding light and medium truck crashes.
This investigation expands on the research of KIPRC’s Kentucky Occupational Safety and Health Surveillance Program, the goal of which is to prevent worker injuries. This study was funded by a grant 5 U60OH008483-17 from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.