University of Kentucky safety researchers urge more training for delivery truck drivers

By: - May 12, 2023 11:00 am

The injury reports revealed a significantly higher percentage of light- and medium-truck drivers with lost work time due to injuries compared to heavy-truck drivers. The period under study was before the COVID-19 pandemic produced a surge in e-commerce and deliveries. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Terry Bunn

LEXINGTON — A University of Kentucky researcher is recommending more training for drivers of medium- and light-weight trucks based on a study of injury reports.

Terry Bunn, director of the Kentucky Injury Prevention and Research Center, said drivers of smaller trucks who were injured in crashes lost more work time than drivers of heavy trucks injured in crashes.

Also, drivers who were injured in smaller trucks tended to be younger than those injured in crashes involving heavy trucks.

“Heavy-truck drivers have to undergo mandatory training. They have to have the certified driver’s license. They’re under Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration regulations. The light- and medium-truck drivers are not,” Bunn said. 

“And that’s pretty much what I’ve recommended out of this study: Companies need to establish mandatory driver training for their drivers.”

Bunn and three other researchers studied 11,790 first-reports-of-injury filed from 2010 to 2019 with the workers compensation program in Kentucky. Their study was published in December in the Journal of Safety Research. 

Drivers younger than 25 accounted for 12% of reported injuries in light- and medium weight trucks compared with 4% in heavy trucks.

The workers comp reports also revealed a significantly higher percentage of light- and medium-truck drivers with lost work time due to injuries compared to heavy-truck drivers. 

The period under study was before the COVID-19 pandemic produced a surge in e-commerce and deliveries. 

To ensure valid results, Bunn said, at least five years of data would be needed before updating the study to see what effects, if any, increased e-commerce and deliveries had on injury trends. 

Heavy trucks refer to those weighing more than 26,001 pounds, including semis, coal trucks and dump trucks. 

“Medium” refers to trucks weighing 10,000 pounds to 26,000 pounds; “light” refers to trucks weighing 10,000 pounds or less such as utility vans. 

The most common light and medium trucks in Bunn’s data were delivering retail and wholesale goods. 

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has also recommended training for light-truck drivers, said Bunn, although little research has been done on accidents involving smaller trucks, in contrast to a large body of research on heavy truck safety.

Driving a truck is a risky job. The occupational fatality rate was 27.2 deaths per 100,000 truck drivers in 2019 compared to the overall U.S. rate of 3.5 deaths per 100,000 full-time workers. That year, 471 truck drivers suffered on-the-job fatal injuries. 

One of the UK study’s limitations, Bunn said, was not being able to determine from the workers comp data who had been at fault in a crash. “The next study that needs to be done” would include data showing who was at fault, she said.

The analysis showed that rear-end crashes, running redlights and turning in front of other vehicles were the most common reasons cited for injury crashes involving light and medium trucks. 

The researchers recommend that employers of light and medium trucks provide targeted training to drivers who have been in crashes to address distracted driving and preventing rear-end crashes. “In-vehicle monitoring systems, which help identify risky driving behaviors, might be considered as effective in increasing driver safety,” said Bunn.

Among heavy truck drivers, collision, sideswipe, rollover, jackknife, vehicle upset and unclassified crashes involving sudden stops or starts were the most common causes of injuries. The researchers recommended enhanced driver safety training on speeding on narrow roadways, nearing intersections and downshifting on hills for heavy truck drivers. 

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Jamie Lucke
Jamie Lucke

Jamie Lucke has more than 40 years of experience as a journalist. Her editorials for the Lexington Herald-Leader won Walker Stone, Sigma Delta Chi and Green Eyeshade awards. She is a graduate of the University of Kentucky.