Number of large truck crashes hits highest point in at least a decade in Oregon

A big rig hauling hay crashed on the Marquam Bridge in Portland on Nov. 27, 2017. ODOT says that year saw the highest number of large truck crashes in the state in at least a decade.

A local trucking industry leader responded Wednesday after KATU dug up a shocking statistic buried in a presentation to Oregon lawmakers. It says the number of large truck crashes in the state recently hit its highest point in at least a decade.

"It doesn't surprise me that when business is strong and there are lots of trucks on the road that there's going to be a lot more potential for accidents," said Jana Jarvis, CEO of the Oregon Trucking Associations. "2018 was a record year for the trucking industry. There's probably more volume and trucking than we have seen in recorded history."

Oregon's Department of Transportation (ODOT) said it's seen an increase as well.

But David House, an ODOT spokesman, said the spike in the number of crashes was not necessarily due to more trucks being on the road. Still, he said the number of crashes involving all vehicles has risen dramatically and that the agency has taken steps to make sure truckers are driving safely.

From 2007 to 2017, ODOT statistics say there was a 1.8 percent increase in the number of large trucks on the road.

"In 2017 we saw a spike in the number of reported at-fault truck crashes in Oregon," House said, explaining that "at-fault" means they were due to human error and not necessarily all the fault of truck drivers.

The spike was the highest number of large truck crashes in the state in at least a decade.

From the Marquam Bridge in Portland to wrecks on winding rural roads and other places, ODOT says there was a rate of 0.49 large truck crashes per million vehicle miles traveled in 2017.

"We attribute that largely to the severe winter weather of the 2016-17 winter, especially some storms in early 2017 which would show up in that calendar year," House said. "And since then we don't have final results yet for 2018 but the rate has gone back to a more normal, what's more normal in terms of crashes per million vehicle miles traveled."

After the 2017 spike, House said ODOT talked to trucking companies, industry groups and law enforcement about some dangerous trends.

"One of them is speed is a factor. People tend to be driving faster these days on Oregon freeways than 10 years ago," House explained. "And another possibility with commercial vehicles is lane changes."

Jarvis said she's surprised by the data.

"But I think some of it is just intuitive," she said. "I mean there's a lot more traffic on the road. There's a lot more congestion on the road and there's certainly a lot more distracted driving. That's a big issue."

House agrees, saying distracted driving is a major reason why the overall number of crashes in Oregon rose by more than 33 percent from 2006 to 2016. During the same period the rate of traffic fatalities rose by around 1.5 percent.

Jarvis said if you're driving a regular passenger vehicle, remember, truckers can't stop as quickly as you.

"If you're traveling on the right side of a truck, chances are he can't see you," she explained.

Generally, as the signs say, if you can't see a truck driver's mirrors, she said, they can't see you.

ODOT says the number of vehicle miles traveled rose by 11 percent in Oregon from 2012 to 2017.

Nationwide, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration says, "There were 12 fatal large truck crashes per million people in the United States in 2016, a 13-percent increase from 10.6 in 2010."

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