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Texas leads the United States in trucking accidents. More alarmingly, Texas leads by a considerable margin: The rate is 137% of that of California, Texas’s closest competitor in this deadly game. In addition, the rate in Texas is 31.5-times the rate in South Dakota, which has the fewest truck accidents every year. Florida, Georgia, and New York round-out the top five. Sadly, in these states, percentages and proportions correlate with the gross statistics. In Texas, California, and Florida, truck accidents average well over 7% of all fatal traffic accidents—more that twice the national average.
Geographic and demographic variables influence accident rates
Geography and demography influence trucking accident rates. One very long, straight, autobahn-like ribbon of Interstate 90 stretches across South Dakota from east to west; the same in North Dakota, where I-94 runs straight from Fargo to Beach with barely a curve. In those two states, the largest cities compare with medium-sized suburbs in California and Texas; and their major industries, dependent on the trucking industry as they are, nevertheless do not contribute to traffic congestion and safety issues as in the biggest cities. The total population of South Dakota is less than the population of El Cajon, California, just one industrialized San Diego suburb.
Texas, California, and Florida also have the nation’s largest and busiest seaports, and they depend on containerized shipping to generate significant chunks of their GDPs. Containerized shipping drives the local trucking industries, increasing traffic volume and density, and inevitably driving-up the accident rates.
In Texas and southern California, the petro-chemical industry also has significant impact on truck traffic and safety. In a recent training bulletin, the Los Angeles Fire Department cautioned, “Approximately 25 million gallons of gasoline are produced by oil refineries in and adjacent to the City of Los Angeles each day. This gasoline is pumped underground to distribution terminals where it is loaded into large tanker trucks for delivery to the consumer by way of City streets and freeways. Given the volume of traffic and the amount of gasoline transported on our freeways and highways, the potential for a gasoline tanker truck rollover is great.” Given that, the Los Angeles refinery network is barely one-third the size of installations in Texas, the Texas traffic density and safety hazards increase proportionally. Moreover, these industrial operations constellate around the states’ major cities, so that trucks inevitably must travel congested inner-city freeways, making travel significantly more hazardous for truck drivers and other motorists alike.
Infrastructure plays a role in truck accidents.
Road repairs and new highway construction have failed to keep pace with increases in highway use. In California, development of efficient mass transit systems has lagged so far behind the need, many urban planners and civic leaders have despaired even of suggesting it, exacerbating problems on the state’s freeways and Interstates. In Los Angeles and San Francisco, morning and evening drive-times last more than five hours each; in other words, in California’s two largest industrial centers, traffic is locked bumper-to-bumper and moves at 8 mph for nearly half of every day—Saturdays and Sundays included. In the three states with highest truck accident rates, the major thoroughfares and Interstate highways have been seriously degraded by over-use. The truck lanes are pock-marked and pot-holed to the point major trucking companies report up to 30% reduction in tire life, and more independent truckers feel compelled to use re-tread trailer tires, because they cannot afford to replace high-end tires as quickly as the roads tear-up their treads. Texas, California, and Florida simply are not collecting enough revenue to offset the effects of widespread unemployment and repair the roads simultaneously.
Managing the risks and hazards relating to truck accidents
In Texas, California, and Florida, major trucking operations have seized the initiative to get their big rigs out of the traffic, shifting schedules and routes to avoid morning and evening drive times and perpetually congested areas. They are working with truck and trailer manufacturers to reduce the weight of tractors and trailers and improve their suspension, so that they do not inflict serious damage on aging pavements. Several of the nation’s largest trucking companies also are working with the University of Michigan to deploy Integrated Vehicle-Based Safety Systems in the trucks they calculate are most at-risk of serious accidents. One Los Angeles trucker comments, “My rig now has more radar and sonar than the average Navy submarine”, adding that he feels an obvious difference in his safety-awareness and practices defensive driving as he negotiates heavy traffic on I-405 through L.A.