1.35 million, 50 million, 4.4 million, 38,680, 1.37.
Those are some of the figures we discuss as members of the Together For Safer Roads coalition. 1.35 million traffic fatalities and 50 million debilitating injuries on the world’s roads. 4.4 million serious injuries in the United States and 38,680 traffic-related fatalities in 2020. And last but certainly not least ,1.37 represents the wonky, yet professional standard used to evaluate safety: the number of deaths per 100 million vehicle miles traveled in the United States during 2020, a 23% increase in the fatal crash rate despite an estimated 13% decline in driving as the pandemic took hold.
Most people I speak with are surprised to learn that the risk on our roads increased even as our lives have been curtailed by the coronavirus. One might conclude that drivers with more open space were taking more chances and causing serious crashes, injuries, and fatalities. That is partially correct. NHTSA’s analysis of the 2020 data shows that the main behaviors that drove this increase include: impaired driving, speeding, and failure to wear a seat belt. But, it’s equally true that we have systemic, chronic issues affecting our roadways that prevent us from ending the pandemic of road deaths and serious injuries.
What does this have to do with commercial vehicles and fleets? Let’s start with the fact that owners and operators of business-related vehicles make up a large portion of the miles traveled on our roads. Millions of commercial vehicles are traveling billions of miles on our roads. What’s also a fact is that we have an aging commercial vehicle fleet, one that is not equipped with safety technologies that are standard on modern production lines.
This leaves the drivers of these vehicles and the communities in which they operate exposed to an awful lot of crash risk – risk that is personal for sure – but that paradoxically can’t be boiled down to personal responsibility.
Don’t get me wrong. I do think people, especially professional drivers, want to be responsible. But we as humans are imperfect. We are prone to distraction, we get busy, we forget things, we literally don’t see things that are right under our noses (let alone things obscured in blind zones), we are emotional, we are… human. These reasons are why we need to accept our species’ shortcomings and take a more proactive, systematic approach to addressing risks when we are behind the wheel.
Amazon was recently taken to task for doing just this. Confidential documents revealed the company “has developed a point system for drivers using the cameras in its delivery trucks that can identify anything from a sneeze to whether a driver has their eyes on the road or is following another car too closely.” Whoa. That sounds pretty bad. Sneezing? Come on. Typical Amazon. That’s ridiculous.
How about eyes on the road? Phone use? Tailgating? Speeding? Drowsiness? Using video telematics to understand these things and ensure responsibility at scale is smart given human biology and susceptibility. In fact, when you are dealing with a supply chain as vast and evolving as quickly as Amazon’s, I would even say it is laudable. Too often supply chain champions decide to draw neat lines of responsibility, reinforced by legal agreements, that shift risk without putting in place any real risk mitigation measures. At least, in this case, Amazon is creating a system that measures and mediates risk across their massive network of delivery service partners (DSPs) and their self-managed fleet.
Of course, tech isn’t a universal panacea. None of this matters if video telematics does not deliver results as promised and help us humans to create safety cultures. Whether for performance management, fatigue, and distraction monitoring, advanced driver assistance or coaching and training purposes, video telematics is rapidly catching on. Market adoption rate data and early evidence make it look like it’s making a difference. Fleets are seeing double digit declines in risky driving behaviors and even improvements in fuel efficiency. More data and studies are needed, but I’m optimistic that this emerging best practice can have a far reaching, life-saving impact. But don’t just take my word for it. Now is the time to act.
About the author: David Braunstein is president of Together for Safer Roads, leading the global coalition's efforts to improve road safety and save lives, including implementing Vision Zero city partnerships and expanding TSR's work with large and small fleet operators.
Hear more from Braunstein at the 2021 Fleet Safety Experience closing keynote, "How Will the Truck of the Future Enhance Road Safety?" on Sept. 23 at 3:30 ET.