Truck traffic increasing in Wyoming
by Wyoming Department of Transportation (WYDOT)
May 21, 2007
The number of trucks passing through Wyoming ports of entry reached 3 million for the first time in 2006 and is expected to exceed that number this year, but the most recent national statistics available show the state's fatality rate was below the national rate for crashes involving trucks.
Wyoming's fatality rate was 2 per 100 million vehicle miles traveled in the state by commercial vehicles in 2005, when more than 2.8 million trucks cleared the state's ports. That was the 15th lowest rate in the nation, and below the national rate of 2.4 fatalities per 100 million miles traveled by commercial vehicles.
The fatality rate for crashes involving large trucks on I-80 in Wyoming was 1.56 per 100 million vehicle miles traveled.
Wyoming's 31 fatalities in crashes involving commercial vehicles was the 13th lowest of any state in the nation in 2005, and 24 percent lower than 2004's 41 fatalities. Nationwide, fatalities in truck crashes increased slightly from 5,190 in 2004 to 5,226 in 2005.
"Any fatal crash, whether it involves trucks or passenger cars, is too many, and we really would like to address those situations and reduce those numbers," said Matt Carlson, WYDOT's state highway safety engineer. "But these figures confirm that Wyoming is as safe or safer than most states when it comes to truck traffic."
In 2005 trucks accounted for about 28 percent of all the vehicle miles traveled on Wyoming's roads. During that year, trucks were involved in 16 percent of the fatal crashes in the state. The 31 people killed in those crashes represent 18 percent of the highway deaths in the state that year.
The statistics also indicate not all the crashes involving trucks were caused by the truck drivers or their equipment. Of the 23 fatal crashes involving trucks in Wyoming in 2005, no violation was found on the part of the truck driver in 15, or 65 percent of those crashes. In the other eight crashes, unsafe speed was a contributing factor in five, and following too close, driver fatigue and making an improper turn were each cited in one.
Carlson said a recent report by the Truck Safety Coalition citing state fatality rates for 2005 based on the number of deaths per 100,000 population is not a statistically valid way to compare truck safety in Wyoming with other states.
"The use of population numbers to do your statistical analysis is incorrect," Carlson said. "Vehicle miles traveled is the way crash rates are established and comparisons are made between states, because you want to look at how much travel those vehicles are actually doing in the state."
Along with the smallest population in the nation, Wyoming has one of the highest percentages of traffic from out-of-state because it is a bridge state, meaning much of its traffic is out-of-state vehicles passing through to get to another state.
About 70 percent of all the truck traffic in Wyoming is passing through, and three-quarters of the fatal truck crashes in the state in 2005 involved trucks driven by out-of-state drivers, said Capt. Vernon Poage, the Wyoming Highway Patrol's motor carrier officer.
Some truck drivers are not prepared for conditions they encounter in Wyoming, Poage said, particularly among the approximately 6,000 trucks that cross the state on I-80 every day, where the lowest elevation is about 5,000 feet and the highest is more than 8,600 feet.
"Some drivers just aren't used to the wide open country and they aren't used to the weather conditions and the long distances between cities and towns and truck stops," he said. "And I think the average truck driver is under pressure. The faster they drive, the more loads they carry, the more miles they cover, the more money they make."
The single most effective measure truck drivers could take to improve safety would be to slow down when weather and road conditions deteriorate, Poage said. "We have very few truck fatalities here, but I believe there are things we could do to possibly decrease that number. More troopers on the highway would make a difference, because we don't have enough to cover the miles that we have."
Training of truck drivers, the number of hours they are allowed to spend behind the wheel and the length of required rest periods are all issues federal regulators should consider, Carlson said, but drivers of passenger vehicles also need to address their driving safety.
"Everybody, I think, gets a little frustrated with the volume of truck traffic that is on the road," he said. "When you add trucks and hills like we've got here on I-80, it causes some congestion which causes some driver frustration. Drivers who become very frustrated and start doing non-typical maneuvers around trucks can cause some issues."
Passenger vehicle drivers should take care not to drive in trucks' blind spots or tailgate them, and not pull into a lane in front of them and then slow down. "Don't make a lot of unnecessary maneuvers around trucks and I think everyone will be a lot safer," Carlson said.
With truck traffic projected to continue to grow in Wyoming, WYDOT is looking at ways to address the visibility, wind, ice and snow problems winter brings, and to get more information to drivers about conditions ahead.
"The truck volume on I-80 is going to go up dramatically, and here at WYDOT the engineers are looking for solutions," Carlson said. "We're building truck turnouts for rest and planning more electronic message signs and Web cameras, but most of the solutions involve adding capacity to the highway and just how you go about doing that. The costs to do that will be in the billions of dollars."
The Legislature's Joint Transportation, Highways and Military Affairs Committee is scheduled to study traffic levels on I-80, the feasibility of widening the highway and how that could be funded, and report its findings during the 2008 session.