Bold? Maybe …

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Large truck fatality and injury rates are already at their lowest point since the federal government began reporting the figures three decades ago. But we must continue to raise the bar for safety.” –Bill Graves, president and CEO, American Trucking Association

A few weeks ago the American Trucking Associations (ATA) took the wraps off what they called a “bold” highway safety agenda aimed at helping reduce the number of highway-related fatalities and injuries on U.S. highways.

The 18-point plan covers an awful lot of ground, backing a host of wide-ranging initiatives that affect not only truckers but every driver on the road:

1. Establish a policy on the use of “non-integrated technologies” while the vehicle is in motion (read as “talking on a cell phone while driving.”)

2. Support uniform commercial drivers license (CDL) testing standards

3. Support for a CDL graduated licensing study

4. Advocate for additional parking facilities for trucks

5. Advocate for a national maximum 65 mph speed limit

6. Pursue strategies to increase the use of seat belts

7. Support for a national car-truck driver behavior improvement program

8. Support for increased use of red light cameras and automated speed enforcement

9. Support for graduated licensing in all states for non-commercial teen drivers

10. Support for more stringent laws to reduce drinking and driving.

11. Support targeted electronic speed governing of certain non-commercial vehicles

12. Require electronic speed governing of all large trucks made since 1992

13. Advocate for new large truck crashworthiness standards

14. Advocate for a national employer notification system

15. Create a federal clearinghouse for positive drug and alcohol test results of CDL holders

16. Support a federal registry of certified medical examiners

17. Create a policy supporting access to the national Driver Information Resource (in other words, building a national database of commercial driver records)

18. Support for required safety training by new entrant motor carriers

“Safe driving and safe highways are a team effort,” noted Bill Graves, ATA’s president and CEO, in announcing this safety agenda. He said these new policies are designed to improve the performance of both commercial and non-commercial drivers, so as to make vehicles and motor carriers alike safer.

Some of this is indeed bold – such as support for a national speed limit, red light cameras, plus a national database for drug and alcohol tests, along with one for commercial driver records. Those efforts are already raising hackles among many truckers and are sure to lead to fiery debate – but that’s a good thing. All of the issues above are the hit lists of federal and state officials, along with many so-called safety groups, so it’s good for the industry to stake out clear positions on them.

Yet there are several things that could’ve really taken this to the next level – that would’ve really signaled the beginning of a bold change initiative within trucking. Agree or disagree with me as you see it, but I believe if trucking pushed on the issues below, we’d begin to see some big-time changes in this industry.

Change the labor classification: We want truck drivers to be safety-first professionals, understand computers for billing and record-keeping purposes, work a 14 hour day (drive for 11 with three for loading and unloading work) … yet the truck driver’s job still remains classified as “unskilled” by the U.S. Department of Labor. If we want to hire and put the best people behind the wheel – people that drive safe, display good interpersonal skills, and intimately understand technology – you cannot designate the truck driver’s job as “unskilled labor.” It doesn’t wash. The industry needs to change this designation, then deal smartly and fairly with the pay and benefit requirements that go with such a change. Driving an 80,000-pound tractor-trailer at 65 mph requires skill – pure and simple.

Waiting time penalties: Nothing causes more aggravation for driver and leads to more hours-of-service (HOS) violations than excessive wait times at shipper and receiver docks. I’ve seen wait time’s destructive impact up close – lines of trucks waiting to unload and load as an entire unionized warehouse workforce stops for lunch, or closes up at 5 p.m. on the dot. If the economy demands that trucking must be a 24/7 enterprise, everything that touches trucking must also share that 24/7 burden. Uncompensated wait time forces many drivers back on the road when tired or in violation of HOS rules simply so they can make a living. That is a direct threat to highway safety and so must be addressed.

EOBRS and EDRs for everyone: Nothing gets truckers more riled up that these two “Black Box” technologies – electronic onboard recorders (EOBRs) and electronic data recorders (EDRS) The first automatically records logbook data, while the second records information during a crash – how fast the truck is going, brake deployment, etc. The industry should fully support putting both of these technologies on commercial trucks … as long as they also get installed on passenger cars and light trucks as well. This caveat is critical, for 70% of all truck-car collisions are initiated by an error on the part of the car driver. The industry needs to throw this gauntlet down with no bluffing for the highway fatality numbers speak for themselves: how can you focus so much time and effort on 4,500 truck-car fatalities per year, when another 35,500 people die annually on our highways where no truck is involved? These technologies need to watch over ALL drivers, not just the ones in the big rigs. And if safety groups balk at this, then we’ll know for certain – once and for all – that they are not about safety, won’t we?

It’s a year of historic change as we’ve witnessed the first African American ever elected President of the United States of America. It would nice to see some historic change attempted in trucking as well.

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