Truck-related fatalities rose 8.7 percent last year, reversing a long-term trend, while overall highway deaths dropped to their lowest level since 1949, the Department of Transportation said.
In 2010, 32,885 people were killed in accidents of all kinds, a 2.9 percent decrease from 2009, said a preliminary report from the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration.
However, 3,675 people were killed in large truck crashes, NHTSA said. That figure includes truck drivers and drivers and passengers of other vehicles.
The latest NHTSA figures are bound to intensify debate over truck driver hours of service reform. Trucking interests and the DOT are battling over plans to shorten driver work hours.
The number of truck drivers killed in crashes rose 6 percent last year to 529 people. Almost 64 percent of those truckers, 337 people, were killed in single-vehicle crashes, NHTSA said.
Fatalities of trucker inovlved in in multi-vehicle crashes shot up 16 percent to 192 people, said NHTSA. The number of other-vehicle occupants killed rose 9.1 percent to 2,790 people.
The number of injuries sustained in large truck crashes rose 12 percent from 2009 to 19,000. Injuries reported solely in passenger car accidents increased 3.5 percent to 1,258,000.
The American Trucking Associations called for more information and analysis of the data and cautioning policymakers against drawing conclusions based on preliminary data.
“The uptick in the 2010 preliminary report concerns us deeply,” said ATA President and CEO Bill Graves. Still, he said 2010 “was the among the safest years on record” for trucking.
From 1999 through 2009, the number of registered large trucks grew by 3 million, while the number of truck-related fatalities fell 35 percent and injuries fell 45 percent, Graves said.
Supporters of shorter hours of service for truckers argue the 26 percent decline in truck-related fatalities in 2008 and 2009 is attributable to lower economic activity during the recession.
ATA counters that truck fatalities dropped 35 percent from 2002 through 2007, a period of economic expansion that included a sharp increase in trucking from 2004 through 2006.
The current 11-hour driving limit and 14-hour daily on-duty limit was introduced in 2003, replacing a 10-hourdriving/15-hour on-duty day that dated back to the 1930s.