Canadian livestock consultant completes study of commercial livestock hauling mishaps.

Bad weather often gets the blame, but in actuality, driver fatigue is the main factor in livestock truck accidents, says a Canadian livestock consultant who has tabulated the results of 415 commercial hauling accidents in Canada and the United States.

“Most people assume bad weather is the main cause of rollover accidents involving livestock trucks. However, that common belief is not true. Data shows fatigue has been a major factor in a high percentage of truck accidents,” reports Jennifer Woods, a livestock consultant from Blackie, Alberta, Canada.

Woods collected data from 1994-2007 based on Alberta incident reports as well as information from insurance companies, police and fire departments, trucking companies, Internet searches and unpublished industry sources in both countries.

Results showed that:

  • Fifty-nine percent of the accidents occurred during the early morning hours from midnight to 9 a.m., resulting from drivers falling asleep at the wheel. This was most surprising to Woods, who thought that figure would be 90% or higher. From 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., 28% of accidents occurred, followed by only 12% in the early evening hours.

  • Eighty percent of the accidents involved a single vehicle. Driver error accounted for about 85% of the problems, making driver training a key element. Other drivers at fault accounted for 10% of the accidents.

  • Reasons for Driver Fatigue

    In 83% of truck accidents, the vehicle rolled over, and in 84% of the accidents the trucks rolled to the right, both symptoms that driver fatigue played a role, she says.

  • Only 1% of the accident reports identified weather conditions as the probable cause of the accidents, with 2% blamed on mechanical problems.

  • Fifty-six percent of all accidents involved cattle trucks; 27% involved pigs and 11% involved poultry.

  • Of the 169 documented accidents involving cattle, 23% took place with trucks hauling slaughter weight cattle, while 70% involved feeders and calves.

  • Of the 103 documented accidents with swine, 80% involved trucks hauling market hogs, while 16% involved feeder or weaner pigs and 3% involved sows (Figure 1).

The greatest number of these accidents did not occur during the winter months. More accidents happened in October, followed by November, August, April and May. The least number of accidents occurred in July (Figure 2).

Figure 3 illustrates the number of truck accidents documented in each state.

Woods says the conclusion that driver fatigue is the leading cause of livestock-hauling accidents is based on the fact that the majority of the mishaps occurred between midnight and 9 a.m., and most were single-vehicle accidents.

Major contributors to driver fatigue are driving long hours and having to load livestock in the middle of the night in order to have animals arrive at the packing plant first thing in the morning, Woods explains in her report.

Plus, the high profile of a livestock trailer provides little margin for error. When the truck veers right onto the shoulder, it's very difficult to keep it from ending up in the ditch, she warns.

“Hundreds of thousands of animals are moving on our highways daily, and accidents are inevitable,” Woods asserts. “Unlike other freight carriers, though, these trailers are carrying live animals, making these accidents an increasing public concern. As well as a livestock welfare issue, there is a large cost associated with these accidents — the loss of the value of the animal, the cost of rescue and recovery, the loss of equipment and the increase in insurance cost.”

Woods tabulated average animal mortalities in 212 of the accident cases and found: fat cattle, 9 head; weaner calves, 23 head; feeder calves, 14 head; market hogs, 34 head; and feeder/weaner pigs, 327 head.

“Transportation is a vital link for the livestock industry, and it is the responsibility of the entire livestock industry to ensure that animals are being transported safely and humanely,” she says. “Transporters need to be provided the necessary tools to educate and train drivers on accident prevention. Fatigue management is a key.”

Woods has trained more than 2,000 people in North America regarding how to handle livestock involved in motor vehicle accidents. She notes the most prevalent problems she has observed are a lack of understanding and training needed by the people at the scene to deal with the situation.

For more information, contact Woods by telephone (403) 684-3008, e-mail livestockhandling@mac.com or go to her Web site, www.livestockhandling.net.