Any day now word will come down from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) about what changes they plan to make to truck driver hours of service regulations. Despite statistics that show that current truck driver hour rules are working to reduce truck-related accidents and a groundswell of congressional opposition to making changing to the regulations that could cost the trucking industry billions, it’s almost assured driver HOS rules will be made more stringent.
But when it comes to crashes between big trucks and cars, it’s clear the feds are focusing their attention and resources on the wrong drivers. The real culprits in truck accidents are the four-wheelers and the statistics make that quite clear.
Only one tenth of motor vehicle fatalities annually involve large trucks. Of the 40,000 or so highway fatalities each year, only about 4,000 involve big rigs. Statistics also prove that some 80% of truck/car crashes are the fault of the four-wheeler. That leaves approximately 800 motor vehicle fatalities that could potentially be due to trucker error.
It takes a wide stretch of the imagination to assume a significant number of those accidents are the sole result truck drivers not getting sufficient rest. Even if half the crashes were the result of trucker fatigue, that’s only 400 out of 40,000 traffic deaths that can be put on the backs of weary truckers.
Of course any traffic fatality is a tragedy and everything within reason should be done to improve highway safety. But clearly, based on the evidence, the focus of enforcement and education to prevent truck/car accidents should be more heavily geared toward car drivers, not truckers.
Ironically, FMCSA has a program available that would do exactly that. FMCSA began its Ticketing Aggressive Cars and Trucks (TACT) Program in the fall of 2004. The program is designed to educate motorists about the dangers of unsafe driving behaviors committed by cars around trucks.
A Ticketing Aggressive Cars and Trucks (TACT) program uses three key components — communications, enforcement, and evaluation — to build awareness and educate passenger and commercial motor vehicle drivers about safe driving behaviors around one another. “TACT uses a combination of high visibility messaging coupled with targeted enforcement activities in selected high-risk traffic areas to reduce fatalities and injuries from unsafe driving behaviors by cars and trucks such as cutting off, tailgating, and speeding,” according to FMCSA.
In TACT programs in around the country, state highway enforcement officers ride in the cab of a truck to watch for four-wheelers cutting off, tailgating or performing other unsafe maneuvers around big rigs on the highway. The troopers inside the truck will contact nearby patrolling officers who then swoop in and pull over the offending driver. States have regularly reported pulling over and ticketing 100 or more car drivers for unsafe driving around big rigs within a four-hour observation period.
The TACT programs get widespread media attention when they are in force. The best use of the program as a communication tool for motorists comes when a reporter is also invited to ride along in the observation rig with law enforcement for a first-hand look at unsafe driving practices around trucks.
Unfortunately, there are currently only 15 states participating in the TACT program nationwide; Washington, Kentucky, Georgia, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Alabama, Texas, Nevada, Oregon, Indiana, Montana, and New Jersey, South Dakota, Maine, Connecticut, and Rhode Island.
Funding and establishing these much needed safety training and enforcement programs is left to the states. FMCSA, however, provides guidelines for setting up and implementing the program.
To truly make an impact on truck/car fatalities TACT programs should be established in every state. And federal truck safety funding would be better spent helping states develop TACT programs to communicate and educate the real truck safety culprits, the four-wheelers.