In mid-September, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) released the findings and accompanying recommendations of its investigation into a “multiple event” truck/bus crash, which occurred nearly three years ago in Wisconsin, killing five.

The NTSB recommendations offer a conflicting view with the American Trucking Assns. (ATA) board of directors, who announced 18 initiatives designed to “…result in improved driver performance — both commercial and non-commercial drivers — [for] safer vehicles and safer motor carriers.”

NTSB investigators determined the probable cause of the crash was “…the truck driver falling asleep at the wheel, drifting from the roadway, and losing control of his vehicle…[and] the motor coach collided with the overturned truck because there were insufficient visual cues to permit the driver to identify the truck wreckage in time.”

Based on its findings, NTSB made recommendations to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA), and the company operating the tractor-trailer combination unit.

A recommendation directed to FMCSA states that they “develop and implement a plan to deploy technologies in commercial vehicles to reduce the occurrence of fatigue-related accidents.” Recommendations directed to NHTSA state that they “determine whether equipping commercial vehicles with collision warning systems with active braking and electronic stability control systems will reduce commercial vehicle accidents.”

In addition, four of the NTSB conclusions discussed how onboard technologies could have prevented or mitigated the severity of the fatigue-related crash.

The 18 ATA safety recommendations include such driver related areas as uniform CDL testing standards, national speed limits and increased use of red-light cameras, and automated speed enforcement devices. Their recommendations also include vehicle focus areas such as electronic speed governing and new crash worthiness standards. Motor carrier focus areas include national employer notification systems and access rights to the national Driver Information Resource.

Sources indicate that ATA recommendations are silent on the development/deployment of fatigue warning technologies, collision warning devices and electronic stability control systems because they are finalizing research on the topics.

These two recent developments may indicate that NTSB and ATA have different priorities in improving truck safety. The ATA focus is understandable. Their membership seems to be attempting to leverage safety improvements and maximize safety impact within the current economic and regulatory environment. Conversely, NTSB's goal is to investigate crash causation and recommend systems, technologies and regulations that will result in meaningful reductions in crash frequency and severity.

The difference in these two approaches may come down to a matter of economics. The trucking industry must evaluate the benefits and costs of safety and business improvements. The NTSB, by virtue of their Congressional charter, does not have an economic mandate.

I urge the trucking industry and NTSB to engage in talks to understand better each other's perspective regarding the roles technology, safety management systems, and infrastructure improvements and enforcement can play in reducing truck crashes. This improved understanding could yield a positive safety outcome.


Jim York is the ass't. vice president of technical services for Zurich Services Corp. Risk Engineering in Schaumburg, IL.