OOIDA: Improving highway safety shouldn’t fall to trucks alone

July 23, 2021

Mark Schremmer

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When it comes to improving highway safety, truck drivers shouldn’t be the lone focus.

That was one of the messages from OOIDA President Todd Spencer during a July 8 driver retention roundtable hosted by the U.S. Department of Transportation and the U.S. Department of Labor.

Current turnover rates for large long-haul carriers are more than 90%. Spencer and other industry stakeholders said that improving wages was the best way to lower that turnover rate. However, several stakeholders also discussed poor working conditions, such as inadequate driver training and stringent yet ineffective regulations, as part of the problem.

Truck drivers, Spencer said, will support regulations that lead to positive safety outcomes but feel many of the current rules are ineffective and do nothing but create additional stress for the drivers.

“Truck drivers are more concerned with highway safety than anybody else, because they spend their lives out there on the road,” Spencer said.

Crash stats

Preliminary statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said that fatality crashes increased by 7.2% in 2020. Even though the amount of traffic decreased because of the COVID-19 pandemic, fatality crashes increased in almost every category. One area where it didn’t increase was with large trucks. With fewer passenger vehicles on the road to deal with, fatal crashes for heavy-duty trucks actually fell by 2%.

While those statistics might suggest that passenger vehicles are the main source of the problem, Spencer noted that the majority of regulations for highway safety are directed at commercial motor vehicles.

“I hear a lot of discussion about the importance of regulations,” Spencer said. “And I should point out that during this last year, we saw truck drivers keep delivering goods. We saw crashes come up among people driving cars even with reduced traffic. We didn’t see any corresponding increase in truck crashes. They were actually down a little bit. And I should point out that virtually none of these regulations were applicable to those (passenger vehicle) drivers … none of them.”

NHTSA fatal crash stats also indicate that even when truckers are involved in a fatal crash, truck drivers often are not the ones to blame.

In March, FMCSA’s Bill Bannister presented the 2019 statistics as part of the agency’s Analysis, Research and Technology Forum. Bannister said 90.6% of the truck drivers involved in fatal crashes did not receive a moving violation. Even more, the truck drivers in these cases had no driver-related factors recorded 67.1% of the time.

“We should note that a little more than two-thirds of the truck fatal crashes have no driver-related factors cited to the truck driver,” Bannister said. “That’s compared to only 40% of passenger vehicle drivers having no factors cited to them.”

Need for a new approach?

Spencer said those statistics indicate that the U.S. Department of Transportation needs to take a different approach in order to meet its highway safety goals.

“When we look at current enforcement efforts, we don’t see a connection between enforcement and safety,” he said. “We measure inspections, we measure violations, but we don’t look at crashes, and crashes are what count.

“The other thing that needs to come in when there’s a truck involved in a crash … it often wasn’t the truck driver who did anything wrong. We need to acknowledge things like this, so we can have an understanding of corrective measures we can take. I mean, we have to face our reality. Highway safety should involve every mode of transportation. It should involve every vehicle on the road, and there has to be a shared responsibility. It’s a fallacy to just target trucks like this is the bad guy, because that’s generally not the case.” LL

Mark Schremmer, senior editor, 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 more than two decades of journalism experience to our staff.