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Truckers serve a vital part of the nation’s economy, as they devote hours of their lives moving goods to where they’re needed. Driving trucks is a tough job with many issues, and one of the biggest issues with long-haul trucking has to do with safety. Here’s a look at how unsafe trucking can be and why a long-haul trucker described tractor-trailers as “40 tons of death.” 

Long-haul trucking is a tough and dangerous job

Long-haul trucking along the Great Western Highway from Sydney to Adelaide, Australia
Long-haul trucking | Tim Graham/Getty Images

As The New York Times wrote, the trucking industry is facing many serious issues right now. Currently, the industry has a turnover rate of 91%, which means that 91% of people who sign up to be truckers eventually quit. This wasn’t always the case, as a few decades ago, trucking was a well-paid industry that had a strong and powerful union. However, due to the changing economic and political landscape, those unions crumbled.

Now there’s a trucker shortage. While some folks think that being a trucker means freedom, that’s not really the case. This is because truckers are heavily monitored. Many trucks even track the truck driver’s eye movements, and electronic systems onboard will disable the engine at certain times of the day.

While some of those technologies are used in the name of safety, long-haul trucking is still a hazardous job. Not only is it dangerous for the truck driver, but it’s also perilous for everyone else on the road.

Why tractor-trailers are ’40 tons of death’

John Knope, a long-haul truck driver, called tractor-trailers “40 tons of death,” according to The New York Times. Like any vehicular accident, size matters, and few things on the road are as large as a semi-truck hauling a trailer. Not only that, but those trucks are also moving at highway speeds, which means that one wrong move can have disastrous consequences

Tractor-trailers currently account for 10% of all road fatalities, and that number has been increasing lately. According to the IIHS, most accidental deaths involving large trucks come from passenger vehicles that were hit by a large truck. Currently, about 67% of all accidental deaths involving large trucks are from passenger vehicles. 15% of those deaths are from motorcyclists, bicyclists, and pedestrians, while 16% are from the large trucks themselves.

In terms of deaths, 4,119 Americans were killed in an accident involving a large truck in 2019. This is lower than the deaths in the 70s and 80s, but the trend has reversed somewhat. Deaths from these accidents have generally been climbing since 2009, when only 3,147 died from such accidents.

Can long-haul trucking become a safer profession?

There aren’t any simple fixes, but there are solutions to this problem. As The New York Times wrote, many long-haul truck accidents happen because of fatigue. While trucking companies monitor fatigue in their drivers, fatigue can also be managed by simply driving fewer hours and giving truckers longer breaks.

This would also require truckers to be paid better for their work. After all, if a trucker can’t make a living working 40 hours a week, then they might work longer hours to make ends meet. On top of that, simply paying truckers better and giving them better working hours will probably also improve retention. 

That said, there are other ways to lower these kinds of deaths. Trains are a safe and efficient way to move goods, so using trains to carry more stuff around will reduce the number of truckers on the road.


The American Trucking Associations Recorded a Record Deficit of 80,000 Truck Drivers in 2021