Risk of commercial truck fires in the United States : an exploratory data analysis
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Risk of commercial truck fires in the United States : an exploratory data analysis

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      Large trucks are involved in only 8 percent of fatal crashes per year, but 17 percent of fatal fires. The scope of the current body of research is limited. Studies have treated truck fires generally as a subset of vehicle fires or in their own right on a smaller scale, confined to a limited pool of data. This study, commissioned by the Volpe National Transportation Systems Center (Volpe Center) for the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), expands the current body of research to collect and analyze information from government, industry, and media sources on the magnitude, trends, and causes of truck fires in the United States and to identify potential risk-reduction measures.

      This study succeeds FMCSA’s Motorcoach Fire Safety Analysis (2009), furthering the agency’s mission to improve commercial motor vehicle (CMV) safety on our nation’s roads. Focusing on non-passenger CMVs with a Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) of Class 4 and above, this study combines several government and industry data sources to investigate potential causal relationships across truck fire incidents, crash rates, and fatalities.

      For this study, the Volpe Center developed several relatable databases of reported truck fire incidents between 2003 and 2008. These include records from the U.S. Fire Administration’s National Fire Incident Reporting System (NFIRS), FMCSA’s Motor Carrier Management Information System (MCMIS), and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) Fatal Incident Reporting System (FARS) database. To obtain a preliminary representation of truck fire incidents, Volpe Center analysts matched data points across multiple datasets. The Volpe Center organized the resulting databases to facilitate analysis by geographic distribution, vehicle characteristics, fire origin, incident characteristics, and inspection and crash histories.

      This study found that CMV fires are most common among GVWR Class 8 trucks with the frequency of truck fire fatalities six times greater than that of other motor vehicles. This figure is high, but when examined in conjunction with crash, inspection, and vehicle data, it offers insight into new areas of research. For example, analysis indicates that truck fires occur more often in the days following a crash. Trucks with compliance issues are also much more susceptible to fires. The truck is the striking vehicle in the majority of fatal fires. This portrait of truck fires may have significant implications for the future direction of truck fire safety.

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