Chances are you've heard it said that when heavy trucks and cars collide, the truck always wins. That's even more the case when it's a collision involving a pedestrian or bicyclist, and in a Nov. 18 webinar, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) talked findings from its latest collision fatalities study and encouraged police to train on traffic stops of large trucks and buses.

Key in that study — which includes latest-available data up through 2013 — is that commercial vehicles are disproportionately involved in crashes on the road. Heavy trucks and buses accounted for about 4% of registered vehicles and 9% of total miles driven, but were involved in 13% of accidents and 13% of overall traffic fatalities, according to FMCSA's data for 2013.

"Trucks and buses are overrepresented in traffic crashes," said FMCSA Chief Safety Officer Jack Van Steenburg. "We have to pay attention to this detail." However, as participants heard, what's causing the crashes is critical to understanding the data and taking action to reduce collisions.

The webinar was part of U.S. Transportation Sec. Anthony Foxx's "Mayors' Challenge for Safer People and Safer Streets" calling on city leaders to advance roadway safety for bicyclists and pedestrians. Some 240 cities in 45 states have joined that initiative, officials noted during the webinar.

In that vein, Jeff James, FMCSA division administrator for Washington state, presented some findings from a large vehicle/non-motorized vehicle traffic safety assessment that took place in May examining some particular roads in Seattle. With everyone from city officials to truckers, cyclists and walking and jogging enthusiasts involved, he said all parties agreed on one thing to make roads safer: separate motorized and non-motorized vehicle traffic.

And where it's not possible to actually separate the two, participants suggested better markings of designated paths for motor vehicle traffic and foot/bicycle traffic with things like bright or reflective paint, James noted.

Van Steenburg provided an overview of accident and fatalities data compiled by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). In 2013, he told listeners, 3,806 crashes across the United States involving a large truck or bus killed 4,251 people. Of those fatalities, however — largely due to simple physics, since commercial vehicles are the biggest dog in the fight, so to speak — only 739 deaths, or 17%, were of large truck or bus occupants.

But 3,512 of the crash fatalities were people in passenger vehicles or motorcyclists, bicyclists or pedestrians. In terms of those last two, there were more deaths of those on foot: 338 pedestrians and 78 bicyclists were killed in 2013, according to FMCSA.

Van Steenburg noted that crashes with fatalities were concentrated in 10 states, those being California, Texas, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and a string of states from Illinois, Indiana, Ohio and Pennsylvania to New York.  

"These 10 states account for 50% of the fatal crashes throughout the United States," Van Steenburg said, adding that FMCSA will look to focus some resources and safety improvement efforts there. "We're not considering vehicle miles traveled, we're considering people, folks — that's what this is all about is saving lives," he continued. "If we can just reduce crashes in these states by 10%, it would save over 200 lives during the next year."