Analysis: Increase in regulations not preventing fatal crashes

June 25, 2019

Mark Schremmer

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If there was one central theme in OOIDA President Todd Spencer’s testimony on June 12 to the House subcommittee on Highways and Transit, it was that an increase in compliance with federal trucking regulations hasn’t led to improved highway safety.

“Truckers are subject to more regulations and greater enforcement than ever before,” Spencer wrote in his submitted testimony. “And while compliance with those regulations has never been higher, crash rates are still moving in the wrong direction.”

As evidence to Spencer’s point, preliminary numbers released last week by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported that fatalities involving a heavy-duty truck increased by 3%. For those scoring at home, 2018 was the first full year of the electronic logging mandate.

The ELD mandate, of course, was touted as a way to boost safety. However, even though the number of hours-of-service violations have dropped significantly since enforcement of the ELD mandate, a study released in January by researchers from Northeastern University, the University of Arkansas, and Michigan State University said it did not lead to a reduction in crashes.

“ELDs were a monstrous mandate on small-business truckers … that realize no safety benefit,” Spencer said. “If it has a direct impact on safety, it is quite likely a negative one because of the pressures it puts on drivers.”

Despite new regulations almost every year, large truck and bus crashes have been on the rise for a while. According to FMCSA’s Large Truck and Bus Crash Facts, 4,889 large truck and buses were involved in fatal crashes in 2017, a 9% increase from 2016. Fatal truck and bus crashes increased by 40 percent between 2009 and 2017.

Some lawmakers have attempted to deal with the problem by forcing the FMCSA to create more regulations for truckers to follow. Spencer told the House subcommittee that the abundance of regulations is having the opposite of the intended effect.

“This is a copy of the regulations that all drivers are required to comply with,” Spencer said while holding up the 700-page Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations handbook to show the lawmakers. “They are trained on virtually none, but they are there because they can be held responsible even when they should have no responsibility.

“Looking at what the data shows, there is a disconnect between compliance with the regulations and improved safety outcomes.”

Still, many safety advocates are pushing for more regulations, such as mandatory speed limiters and underride guards. This is despite studies that show speed differentials are actually a detriment to safety and a recent report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office that said less than 1% of the total number of traffic fatalities from 2008 through 2017 involved underride crashes.

“Truckers prioritize safety, but oppose the implementation of costly and burdensome regulations that do nothing to improve it,” Spencer wrote. “For example, not enough is known about underride crashes or equipment to justify implementation of a multibillion dollar mandate for front and side underride guards. The proposed speed limiter mandate would create dangerous speed differentials on American roads, which is proven by empirical third-party research to increase crash rates.”

OOIDA’s approach to improving safety is to focus on driver training and to keep experienced and safe drivers from leaving the industry.

“If Congress is serious about improving the state of trucking in America – and I believe you are – you must start by helping to make careers in trucking more viable,” Spencer wrote. “To do so, you must work to create a regulatory environment featuring rules that are proven to enhance safety. With the exception of driver training, you must also limit the implementation of one-size-fits-all requirements that fail to reflect the diversity of trucking. Additionally, steps must be taken to improve working conditions and ensure drivers are fairly compensated.”

Mark Schremmer

Mark Schremmer, staff writer, joined Land Line in 2015. An award-winning journalist and former assistant news editor at The Topeka Capital-Journal, he brings fresh ideas, solid reporting skills, and nearly two decades of journalism experience to our staff.

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