Acccording to a recent vehicle collisions report by the Department of Transportation, U.S. highway deaths fell to the lowest level in 2010 since 1949, but truck-related fatalities rose for the first time since 2005. In 2009, 3,380 people were killed in truck-related accidents and 3,675 were killed in 2010, which is a 295 increase. In addition, the number of people injured in truck-related accidents also saw a 12% increase.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is currently investigating the possible causes of this increase. One factor that may have led to the increase in truck-related fatalities is increased truck traffic because of the economic recovery. However, until the NHTSA finishes their analysis of truck mileage from 2010, the effects on the fatality rate will remain unknown.

In light of this new finding, American Trucking Associations President and CEO Bill Graves urged policymakers to avoid jumping to conclusions about the new fatalities finding.

“Every fatality on our highways is a tragedy, and the uptick in the 2010 preliminary report concerns us deeply. Without more information and analysis, though, it is difficult to draw conclusions about what this preliminary data means,” Graves said. “We would hope tht policymakers will avoid the ‘error of recency’ by overemphasizing the newest data at the expense of the overall, long-term trend, which has been overwhelmingly positive. We look forward to seeing further analysis from DOT on crash types as well as how many miles American motorists and truck drivers treveled last year.”

Truck-related accident fatalities have declined in six of the past 10 years and there was still a 30% decline in 2010 when compared with the number of deaths which occured in 2000.

However, this issue of truck-related accident fatalities plays a large role in the legal battle over the driver hours-of-service rule. Truck drivers and their advocates argue that 11 hours of service is safe, while critics believe that 11 hours is too long and should be reduced to ensure driver fatigue is avoided. The increase in truck fatalities could be used by critics to support a reduction in the driver hours-of-service rule.

More research needs to be done to understand what factors have caused the recent increase in truck-related accident fatalities. Until all of the relevant factors have been analyzed, people can only speculate as to what the cause of this occurance may be. Once all relevant analysis is done, policymakes can evaluate and change regulation, if needed, to protect the safety of all drivers.