Bitter sweet outcome in NTARC truck accident study

Major NTI-insured heavy vehicle losses down but driver error and fatalities up

Bitter sweet outcome in NTARC truck accident study
Part of an image from the report


The latest Major Accident Investigation Report from truck insurer NTI's National Truck Accident Research Centre (NTARC) paints a difficult picture of rising truck-driver deaths but falling heavy vehicle-loss frequency, while car-suicides remained constant.

This is the first edition of the report since it was upgraded a biennial publication on incidents two calendar years prior to annual publication reporting incidents from the immediately prior year.

"The proportion of incidents resulting in at least one fatality increased from 3% to 4.8%," the report, written by Adam Gibson with advice from Dr Kim Hassall, states.

"This was overwhelmingly driven by an increase in truck driver deaths."

That rise was 2.5 times higher than in 2017.

"There was a 75% increase in driver deaths in single vehicle crashes, combined with a number of truck drivers who lost their lives in multi-vehicle truck on truck crashes," the report finds.

"No truck drivers lost their lives in multi-vehicle crashes involving a car and an NTI insured vehicle in 2019.

"This marks a significant departure from 2017 where there were no truck driver fatalities in multivehicle crashes involving an NTI insured vehicle, irrespective of the third party vehicle class."

Importantly in the road-safety policy context, where a truck and a car were involved in a fatal crash, the car was at-fault 80 per cent of the time, though, for non-fatal truck-car crashes, that falls to 39.5 per cent.

Involved here is the vexed and sensitive issue of ‘suicide by truck’, which NTARC broached in its previous report.

The rate remains much the same, with "the findings for the contribution of suicide to fatal truck and car crashes in 2019 are consistent with those for incidents in 2017.

"Overall 37.9% of fatal truck and car crashes involving an NTI insured truck were indicated or strongly indicated to be suicides by the driver of the car."


Truck driver error losses rose sharply from 29.6 per cent to 39 per cent after a significant increase in incidents resulting from inattention/ distraction, with this happening particularly on straight sections of road.

There is an age and experience correlation here, with drivers aged 25 years and under being over-represented by 80 per cent when compared to all large losses.

Nearly a third of all of NTI’s large losses involving a driver 25 years or under in 2019 were the result of inattention/distraction

Combined, inattention/ distraction (34.8 per cent) and fatigue (30.4 per cent) make up a bit more than 65 per cent of truck-driver fatality causes, with the next worst inappropriate speed at 17.4 per cent.


Read about the major findings of the last year’s NTARC report, here


On the vehicle side, non-impact truck and trailer fires continue to be a growing concern, up from 8.1 per cent of large losses in 2017 to 10 per cent in 2019, but with a shift of location on the vehicles.

Whereas, mid-decade, the focus was on cabin/engine bay incidents, these have been overtaken by an increase in wheel end fires, which rose  from one in three to 47.1 per cent  of all non-impact fire incidents, with tyre failure rising from 30 per cent of such cases to 45 per cent.

The split between electrical and mechanical origins remained consistent with previous years, with 55.6 per cent due to electrical failures, 40.7 per cent mechanical and 3.7 per cent of indeterminate cause.

Of mechanical failure sources, the overwhelming preponderance of losses were down to steer-tyre failure, at 52.9 per cent, with the next worse being other tyres at 14.7 per cent.

"Despite the tremendous safety risk posed by these high speed catastrophic failures, little to no discussion of reform to sum of axles restrictions has taken place since the publication of the 2019 report," NTARC comments.

The National Heavy Vehicle Regulator (NHVR) hails NTI’s move to produce and release the NTARC report annually.

"Safety information is critically important to the work the NHVR does and the NTARC report allows us to access major accident data relating to heavy vehicles in a more effective and timely manner," NHVR CEO Sal Petroccitto says.

"This year’s report has identified an increase in the number of heavy vehicle driver fatalities, bucking the trend from previous years.

"In particular, the report findings show fatigue and distraction were a major cause of single heavy vehicle crashes.

"This finding highlights the importance of the work the NHVR is leading to pursue recognition of fatigue and distraction detection technology, which has the potential to be a positive safety game changer in helping to get ahead of these incidents before they occur.

"Also concerning is the continual increase in serious crashes involving heavy vehicles caused by light vehicles and we want all motorists to remember that Trucks Need Space to Keep You Safe.

"It’s important everyone involved in the heavy vehicle industry continues to maintain a strong focus on heavy vehicle safety, we want to see a reduction in heavy vehicle fatalities across the board."

The full report can be found here.

NTARC now has a new website that can be found here.


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