The Realities of Road Freight Safety
Among the five freight modes, roads show the worst safety conditions. They have the highest number of crashes, fatalities, and serious injuries. This is because roads are open to everyone, motorized and non-motorized travel, and not dedicated to only freight transport, unlike pipelines or airport runways. Further compromising safety, roads have multiple access points for vehicles to enter and exit, including from driveways, intersections, and interchanges. Roads are designed with multiple travel lanes providing vehicles the opportunity to weave and pass, unlike rail — which limit vehicles to a highly defined and literal track.
Add to all of this, the size and weight of trucks and it is no surprise that the issue of truck safety is a hot topic and high priority across the OKI region. This webpage is dedicated to presenting existing truck safety-related data to shed light on what and where concerns exist. In this discussion of road freight safety, the term “truck” includes FHWA vehicle classification numbers five through 12.
Distinction: Truck-Involved Versus Truck-Caused Crashes
In this road safety summary, OKI will be using the term “truck-involved crash.” A truck-involved crash means that at least one vehicle in the crash report was a truck. To determine whether a truck was the cause of a truck-involved crash, such information must be documented and publicly available. OKI receives crash data from each of our three-member states’ departments of transportation. Only in the Ohio Department of Transportation data is it listed which vehicle unit was at fault. Upon examining Ohio 2020 data, trucks were reported at fault in 1,193, or 57.9 percent, of the total 2,060 truck-involved crashes. This percentage cannot be applied across every year and state’s crash data; however, it provides a general idea to how many truck-involved crashes were attributed to the truck driver during one calendar year — in this case, about six out of 10.
It might be surprising to some readers that out of the region’s total 325,090 crashes between 2016 and 2020, truck-involved crashes comprised only 6.4 percent or 20,889 crashes. Overall, the region’s total number of annual truck crashes has decreased by 18 percent since 2016. Our Ohio and Indiana counties have witnessed significant improvement in truck safety, ranging from Dearborn’s 22 percent reduction in truck crashes to Clermont County’s 38 percent reduction. However, OKI’s northern Kentucky counties have all experienced increases in truck crashes since 2016. Kenton County shows the greatest rise with almost 48 percent more truck crashes in 2020 than in 2016.
It should be noted that between 2016 and 2019, the total number of truck related crashes had remained constant. However, in 2020 with the COVID-19 pandemic, a dramatic drop in truck crashes occurred. With fewer passenger vehicles on the region’s roadways, every county except Kenton witnessed a decrease in truck related crashes between 2019 and 2020.
View the most current truck crash data on the “Safety” tab within OKI’s Interactive Truck Map
Examining crash data between 2016 and 2020 from a bird’s eye view, the I-75 corridor is clearly the region’s most significant roadway with the heaviest concentration of truck-involved crashes. When looking at frequency, Hamilton County is the clear leader with 38 percent to 47 percent of the region’s total truck-involved crashes over the past five years. Boone, Butler and Kenton counties have jockeyed annually for the second, third and fourth top truck crash county positions. Certainly, miles of roadway, truck origins and destinations, and truck volumes all impact a county’s probabilities for higher truck-involved incidences.
Between 2016 and 2020, 85 fatalities resulted from truck-involved crashes. These fatalities represent 10.5 percent of the 808 fatalities that occurred from all vehicle crashes across the OKI region during the same five years. With the highest number of truck crashes occurring in Hamilton County, it is not a surprise to see that 25 percent of all the fatalities occurred there as well.
While truck-involved crashes decreased in 2020, every OKI county except three (Clermont, Dearborn and Warren) saw a large increase in fatalities from truck crashes that year. COVID 19 stay-at-home mandates reduced the overall number of vehicles on the road. Fewer vehicles enabled speeds higher than previous years, which may explain the rise in 2020 fatalities. However, removing 2020 data to account for a potential COVID anomaly shows that fatalities still rose between 2016 and 2019 by almost 42 percent.
Truck Fatality Rate
The Truck Fatality Rate is calculated as the number of fatalities that occurred from truck-involved crashes during a calendar year per 100 million truck miles traveled (TMT) during the same time. This metric provides a more accurate measure of the risk of being in a fatal accident involving a truck. This is because it is based on the total number of miles traveled by trucks. Years 2019 and 2020 are reported based on the availability of TMT data, which was necessary for the analysis. The FHWA vehicle classifications included in this analysis of TMT are numbers six, single-unit, three-axle trucks, through 12.
Unfortunately, the findings present an undesirable change in safety between 2019 and 2020 for almost the entire OKI region. Data shows that the region as a whole and five counties (Boone, Butler, Campbell, Hamilton, and Kenton) saw increases in their truck fatality rates, ranging from 32 percent to more than 148 percent. COVID 19’s impacts on these findings (e.g., reduced 2020 congestion resulting in higher-than-normal travel speeds) should again be considered.
On a more positive note, Clermont and Warren counties had decreases in their truck fatality rates, with Clermont reporting zero fatalities in 2020. Dearborn was the only county in the region having zero fatalities for both years.
Truck-Involved Serious Injuries
Between 2016 and 2020, 335 serious injuries resulted from truck-involved crashes. Serious injuries are incidents where at least one individual has been incapacitated in a motor vehicle crash during a calendar year. These types of injuries represent only 5.2 percent of the total 5,461 that occurred from all vehicle crashes across the OKI region during the same time. Not surprisingly, Hamilton County had the highest number of truck crashes accounting for 39 percent of all serious injuries.
Unlike fatalities, most OKI counties saw fewer serious injuries overall between 2016 and 2020. However, in 2020, Campbell, Dearborn and Kenton counties, as well as the region overall, saw spikes in serious injuries. Most likely, this is due to the uncongested roadways and higher travel speeds brought on by the pandemic. Despite improvement in all the other counties, the region overall saw a 7.6 percent increase as a result. In this instance, removing 2020 data to account for a potential COVID anomaly, reverses the region’s serious injuries status, showing instead a 9 percent improvement between 2016 and 2019.
Truck Serious Injury Rate
The Truck Serious Injury Rate is calculated from the number of serious injuries resulting from truck-involved crashes during a calendar year, divided by the total of 100 million truck miles traveled (TMT) during the same time. This metric provides a more accurate measure of the risk of serious injury resulting from a truck-involved crash, since it is based on the total number of miles traveled by trucks. Once again, years 2019 and 2020 are reported based on the availability of TMT data, which was necessary for the analysis. The FHWA vehicle classifications included in this analysis of TMT are numbers six, single unit three-axle trucks, through 12.
In comparison to the change in Fatality Rate, a 46 percent increase, the Truck Serious Injury Rate for the OKI region worsened between 2019 and 2020 by only 17.5 percent. Butler and Hamilton fared well being the only counties that witnessed a decrease of 69 percent and almost 12 percent, respectfully, in truck-involved serious injury rates. Kenton County topped the list with a staggering 890.6 percent truck-involved serious injury rate surge. Unfortunately, Campbell County had zero truck serious injuries in 2019, but had seven in 2020.
Bicycle and Pedestrian-Involved Truck Crashes
Due to the importance of bicycle and pedestrian safety, OKI examined truck-involved crashes from this perspective. Between 2016 and 2020, 13 bicycle and 43 pedestrian truck-involved crashes occurred in the OKI region. These combined 56 crashes represent only 1.4 percent of the region’s 4,211 total bicycle and pedestrian crashes in that same time. Unfortunately, every OKI county — except for Campbell and Dearborn counties who reported no bicycle and truck-involved crashes — witnessed at least one bicycle and pedestrian incident over the five-year span.
Bicycle and Pedestrian Fatalities and Serious Injuries
This metric includes all non-motorized (bicycle and pedestrian) fatalities and serious injuries involving a truck during a calendar year. Between 2016 and 2020, a total of 20 bicycle and pedestrian fatalities and serious injuries resulted from truck-involved crashes. These truck-related bicycle and pedestrian incidences represent 2.5 percent of the 792 total number that resulted from all vehicle crashes across the OKI region during the same five years. So, although truck-involved bicycle and pedestrian crashes comprise a lower percent of the region’s total crashes (1.4 percent), truck-involved crashes result in more severe injuries than other vehicle crashes.
Six fatalities occurred in pedestrian and truck-involved crashes. The only county having a truck-involved bicycle fatality was Kenton in 2017. Campbell, Clermont and Dearborn counties had zero deaths from pedestrian truck-involved crashes over the five-year span.
Contrary to the fatality findings, all but two of the region’s serious injuries resulting from truck-involved crashes involved bicycles. Kenton and Warren counties saw the only serious injuries to pedestrians with both occurring in 2020. Boone and Campbell counties saw no serious injuries over the five-year span.
Upon examining the data to see the overall, five-year safety trends, safety conditions for bicyclists and pedestrians across the region worsened by 67 percent. Butler, Dearborn and Warren counties also degraded, however, only by one or two incidences between 2016 and 2020. Boone, Campbell, Hamilton and Kenton counties held constant. Only Clermont County improved from two incidences in 2016 to zero by 2020.
Property Damage Only
Of the 20,889 total crashes involving trucks between 2016 and 2020, 91.3 percent resulted in property damage only — with no injuries. Over that span, the region’s incidences of property damage only truck-involved crashes improved by about 20 percent. In fact, most OKI counties witnessed substantial reductions in property damage only crashes, which ranged from 19 percent in Dearborn County to almost 39 percent in Clermont County. Campbell and Boone counties saw property damage only crashes increase at rates of less than 1 percent and about 4 percent, respectively. Kenton County had the highest jump in property damage only crashes at 38.8 percent over the five-year period.
Of the 20,889 total crashes involving trucks between 2016 and 2020, 26.6 percent indicated the crash location at an intersection. Over that span, the region’s number of these truck crashes decreased 5 percent. Once again, most OKI counties experienced a decline in intersection-indicated truck crashes, ranging from about 3 percent in Campbell County to as much as 26.4 percent in Warren County. Only Boone and Kenton counties saw the number of intersection crashes increase by about 48 percent and 150 percent, respectively.
Of the 20,889 total crashes involving trucks between 2016 and 2020, 9.1 percent indicated a roadway departure. In that time, the region’s number of truck-involved crashes with roadway departures has decreased 39 percent. In fact, every OKI county has seen an improvement in their number of roadway departure crashes. Boone, Campbell, Dearborn and Kenton counties all reported zero roadway departures in 2020.
Of the 20,889 total crashes involving trucks between 2016 and 2020, 5.8 percent reported that the cause of the crash was speed related. Over that span, the region’s number of speed-related truck-involved crashes increased 93.6 percent. However, if 2020 data is removed to avoid any potential anomaly from COVID 19 impacts, the region’s speed-related crashes for the four-year period increased by only 0.4 percent. Applying this same consideration to each of the counties’ data results in improvements in half the counties’ speed-related truck-involved crashes for the years 2016 to 2019, while the other half reported worse safety conditions. Given this analysis, no clear answer can be made on whether 2020’s speed-related crash numbers involving trucks was an abnormality or a trend for truck safety in the future.
Work Zone Related
Of the 20,889 total crashes involving trucks between 2016 and 2020, 3.8 percent were work zone related. In this same time, the region’s number of work zone related truck-involved crashes increased 13.3 percent. Half of OKI counties also saw work zone related crash increases, which ranged from about 167 percent in Dearborn County to 323 percent in Kenton County. Fortunately, the other half of OKI counties experienced decreases in work zone related crashes, which ranged from 17.6 percent in Hamilton County to 85.7 percent in Warren County. Of course, the increases and decreases could be related to the amount of construction taking place within each county during different calendar years.
The final truck crash attribute included in all three OKI member-state datasets is train involved crashes. Of the 20,889 crashes involving trucks between 2016 and 2020, only two involved a train. Both train incidences occurred in 2020. One each was located in Boone County and Hamilton County.
Brent Spence Bridge
Given the overall importance of the Brent Spence Bridge (BSB) to the OKI region and the nation, as a critical infrastructure asset to commerce, OKI staff examined its crash data and the bridge’s immediate ramps connecting it to local roadway networks. Between 2016 and 2020, 877 total crashes occurred on the BSB, or nearly one every other day. About 35 percent or 306 of total crashes involved a truck. However, this represents only 1.5 percent of all truck-involved crashes throughout the OKI region during the same period.
An examination of key BSB truck-involved crash data for 2016 to 2020 was conducted. Over the five years, 94 percent of all crashes were property damage only. This is compatible with other truck-involved crash findings for the OKI region. No BSB truck-related crash resulted in a fatality; however, about six percent did involve an injury. 2020’s spike in speed-related BSB truck crashes, more than 18 percent of all bridge incidences, may lend support to the theory that while passenger vehicle trips were greatly reduced due to COVID-19, truck traffic rose and was able to travel at higher speeds due to less roadway congestion.
The image shows BSB’s truck-involved crash locations covering the entire bridge and on/off ramps. The random blanketing of crash locations does not give evidence that the BSB has any specific spot safety concerns for truck traffic, but rather that the entire structure itself poses a safety concern.
Brent Spence Bridge Truck-Involved Crash Locations, 2016-2020
Source: Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana Regional Council of Governments (OKI). (2022). Ohio Department of Transportation. Ohio Traffic Crash Facts. (2016-2020). Kentucky Transportation Cabinet. Kentucky Collision Facts. (2016-2020). [Data sets].
Truck Bridge Strikes
A bridge strike is a type of truck crash that occurs when a large commercial vehicle or its load does not have sufficient vertical and/or horizontal clearance to safely travel under a bridge structure. Although there are no federal vehicle height limits, the Federal Highway Administration recommends a minimum vertical clearance for trucks as 14'6" (14.6 feet). At the national level, between 2013 and 2018, the number of vehicle-bridge collisions ranged from 18,000 to 13,000. (Source: National Highway Safety Administration (NHTSA). (2018). Traffic Safety Facts Annual Report. [Data set].)
Truck bridge strikes pose both a safety and a mobility concern. Some strikes cause serious damage to bridges and private property. But a, larger concern comes from the threat to public safety and the adverse impact strikes have on traffic congestion. This congestion is due to the length of time a truck is stuck under the bridge, blocking travel lanes. Its spilled cargo can also cause traffic backups when it is limiting safe traffic movement.
To identify truck bridge strikes in our region, OKI conducted an analysis of truck-involved crashes using online platforms provided by the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet and Ohio Department of Transportation. OKI used the Kentucky and Ohio platforms to query crash data based on specified attributes. For bridge strikes, OKI staff chose where the vehicle event type equaled “Bridge Overhead Structure.” Indiana data does not distinguish overhead bridge strikes; thus, Dearborn County was not included in this study.
OKI’s analysis showed that from 2016 to 2020, 16 bridge locations had a combined 100 truck strikes due to lack of sufficient vertical clearance. These 16 bridges are a small percent, 0.8 percent, of all bridges in the region. There were no truck bridge strikes in Boone County during this time. The number of truck bridge strikes had been declining annually since 2017. That is, until a rise in 2020 that saw a 15 percent increase for the region over this period. Many of bridge locations that experienced this 2020 upsurge are in Hamilton and Kenton counties. It cannot be confirmed, but a rise in home deliveries and truck traffic during COVID 19 may have contributed to this increase.
Fourteen of the 16 truck bridge strike locations are railroad bridges. The I&O Railroad bridge in Cincinnati’s Madisonville neighborhood traverses Madison Road just east of the Kenwood Road intersection. It experienced the greatest number of truck strikes with a total of 34 from 2016 to 2020. In fact, most bridge locations experienced multiple strikes. The other strike locations that are non-railroad bridges carry the Little Miami Scenic Trail across Shawnee Run Road (Hamilton County) and the Roebling Suspension Bridge Ramps to and from Court Street in downtown Covington (Kenton County).
The roads traveling under these truck bridge strike locations represent a variety of functional classifications; thus, they carry a range of traffic volumes. Eight are major collectors, six are local roads, three are other principal arterials, and two are minor arterials. Information on the percent of truck traffic for every roadway is not available; however, for those it is: truck percentages range from only 3.0 percent to 7.5 percent.
In terms of vertical clearance, the 16 bridges range from eight to 13.6 feet. Karl Brown Way’s I&O Railroad bridge has the lowest vertical clearance at only eight feet. The city of Loveland has installed flashing lights, warning signs and other measures to direct trucks to take alternate routes.
Horizontal clearance concerns are noted in half of the truck bridge strike locations. Narrow clearance issues arise from the bridge structure itself, which limits shoulder or travel lane widths. In some locations, bridge piers are in the roadway median further limiting vehicle widths for safe travel.