How dangerous it is to drive tractor units

Risk in road traffic: with the van and the truck

Around 3.4 million goods vehicles are currently registered in Germany. These include 2.6 million delivery vehicles and trucks, 185,000 tractor units and 560,000 other tractor units (2014).
The term “transporter” is usually understood to mean delivery vehicles and trucks up to 3.5 t. There are currently around two million vehicles.

Vans and trucks are essential for moving goods in a modern society. In many companies they are used on short and long distances. The vehicles for courier, express and parcel services also belong to this group. In addition, vans and small trucks often serve as customer service vehicles that transport tools and spare parts in addition to people.

In 2014 there were 29,301 accidents with personal injury in Germany in which at least one goods vehicle was involved. Around half of these accidents occurred in urban areas, 27 percent on country roads and 22 percent on motorways. 759 people were killed (143 of them were occupants of goods vehicles) and 40,357 people were injured, including 7,234 seriously injured. Around half of the goods vehicles involved in these accidents were small trucks, around a quarter were trucks over 3.5 t and a little more than a fifth were tractor units.

Every second accident with personal injury occurred in urban areas, 27 percent on country roads and 22 percent on motorways. In the case of small trucks, urban accidents dominated at over 60 percent, while in the case of semitrailer tractors, at 48 percent, the largest proportion of accidents occurred on motorways.

Around six percent of truck accidents were solo accidents. The most frequent opponent of the truck in collisions were cars. However, there were also numerous collisions with people traveling on bicycles, motorized two-wheelers and on foot. There has also been a certain number of accidents between two goods vehicles. In all of these accidents, 239 car occupants, 90 people walking, 75 cyclists and 48 people on two-wheelers were killed. Due to the size and mass of the goods vehicles, the consequences of the accident for those involved in the accident are usually several times higher than for the occupants of the truck.

The drivers of goods vehicles appear disproportionately often as the main cause of the accident. This was the case in almost 60 percent of the accidents. In the case of small trucks, the share of the main culprits is even higher at almost 64 percent.

The most frequent misconduct is accused of being too close to the distance between goods vehicle drivers; this was the case with around 20 percent. The second most frequent errors were errors when turning, turning, reversing, driving in and starting (17 percent) and disregarding the right of way (13 percent). Unadjusted speed was in fourth place with ten percent. The influence of alcohol is only found relatively rarely in drivers of goods vehicles (1.5 percent).

If you look at the accidents with fatalities, the picture changes: Here, the unadjusted speed comes first at 17 percent (mostly accidents with this cause occur outside of town). Errors when turning, turning, reversing, entering and starting up are in second place (15 percent), with errors when turning being the most common. Such accidents mostly happen in urban areas. In third place is the gap that is too small (11 percent, almost exclusively out of town), followed by incorrect behavior towards pedestrians (9 percent, mostly in urban areas).

Two things become clear from these figures: Serious accidents involving goods vehicles often occur outside of built-up areas as a result of underestimating the effects of too high a speed and too short a distance, while inside built-up areas they tend to be due to carelessness towards others, especially those who are weaker. Typical of fatal urban accidents are, for example, the accident constellation truck / bicycle when turning and the collision of the truck with people walking, both when turning and at other points.

There is also a correlation between the causes of accidents and the age of the drivers for goods vehicles: In relation to every 1,000 people involved, the cause of the accident “inappropriate speed” decreases with age, while errors of right-of-way or priority errors increase.

Accident research sees a deeper reason for traffic accidents in commercial vehicles in the multitude of physical and psychological stresses to which drivers are exposed.
These include time pressure due to heavy traffic or delays in loading and unloading, irregular and often long working hours, exhausting search for parking spaces and too little sleep due to unfavorable environmental conditions.

In a research work by the Federal Highway Research Institute, the relationship between stress and the risk of accidents in truck drivers was examined in more detail. Accordingly, younger people up to 35 years of age tend to show a particular risk behavior. As part of the investigation, a driver typology was developed, whereby primarily the so-called “stressed type” and the “daredevil type” bear a high risk. Around every fourth driver fell into the group of the "stressed types", every tenth was the "daredevil type". Together they made up more than a third of the respondents. The "stressed types" stood out because they react aggressively to other road users to stress and strain. The "daredevil types" are hardly aware of their own stress, but still react to stress in an emotionally confrontational manner: their perception of danger decreases, while driving errors increase. They also stood out due to their high tendency to be tired. This makes it clear that the ability to cope with stress is a prerequisite for safe driving.

Federal Statistical Office: Traffic Accidents 2014. Fach Series 8 Series 7, Wiesbaden 2015
Federal Statistical Office: Traffic accidents. Accidents involving goods vehicles in road traffic 2014, Wiesbaden 2015
Federal Highway Research Institute (Ed.): Effects of loads and stress on the traffic behavior of truck drivers. People and safety booklet M 204, Bergisch-Gladbach 2009

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