A report by the National Transport Insurance company has found the number of truck driver fatalities more than doubled in 2019 compared to any year over the past decade.
The report also found cars were responsible for about 80 per cent of deadly multi-vehicle crashes involving trucks.
The steep rise in truck driver deaths was described in the report as a “workplace tragedy”.
It found 53 truck drivers died last year, with fatigue linked to 34 per cent of the deaths.
Quarterly figures from the federal government show there were 20 deaths involving heavy rigid trucks in the last quarter of 2019, up almost 67 per cent compared to the same period in 2018.
Data from SafeWork Australia also found those who worked in the transport, postal, and warehouse sector had the highest fatality rate of all industries in 2018.
Driver distraction was also flagged as a major issue.
The report found 82 per cent of crashes involving drivers aged 25 and under were caused by distraction.
NSW Transport and Roads Minister Andrew Constance hoped measures such as mobile-detection cameras introduced in the state would help reduce deaths caused by distraction.
The insurance company broadened its research after it noticed the sharp rise in deaths among its clients.
“That caused us to look at the broader road toll and we saw there was around a 65 per cent increase in truck occupant deaths in 2019, compared to almost any year in the decade prior,” report author Adam Gibson said.
Mr Gibson said people were too quick to assume truck drivers were at fault.
“Part of it is the language we use; it is ‘family killed in truck crash’ and it tends to imply that the truck was at fault,” he said.
“We need to understand that behind the wheel is a human being.
“They deserve the benefit of the doubt and we need to extend them that courtesy.”
Long-distance tanker driver Mike Williams said the rate of deaths in his industry was a harsh reality.
“I have lost a few very good friends on the road,” Mr Williams said.
“We see it happen every year. If you stay in this game long enough you will lose a friend on the road.”
He wanted to see improved driver education for all road users.
“There are a number of things that need to be done; one of the first things that needs to be done is we need to have proper rest areas with reasonable facilities,” he said.
“But I think the largest part of what needs to be done is driver education and training.”