Do you know that tractor-trailer and truck-related crashes are on the rise; there was a 17% increase from 2009-2013? The death rate from accidents involving large trucks has risen for each of the last four years, reaching 3,964 in 2013. Accidents related to trucks and buses are costing our economy about $99 billion a year according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
With statistics like that most of us (not in the trucking industry) might expect our Congress to take measures to implement stronger safety regulations for the tractor-trailer and commercial truck drivers. But, it is not acting. Congress has pushed back against safety improvements, or in some cases, rolled back existing regulations proposed by regulatory agencies.
Congress “has pushed to allow truck drivers to work 82 hours a week, up from the current 70 hours over eight days, by suspending a rule that drivers take a 34-hour rest break over two nights in order to restart their work week; discouraged the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration from investing in wireless technology designed to improve the monitoring of drivers and their vehicles; and signaled its willingness to allow longer and heavier trucks despite widespread public opposition.” Hmmm. One wonders why that is happening. . . might it have something to do with lobbying and making more money?
Congress is also pushing to lower the age for interstate truck drivers to age 18, down from 21. Another head-scratching proposal. What I would really like to see when I am driving on heavily-traveled interstates (I-81 and I-95 in Virginia, for example), are 18 year-olds behind the wheel of an 80,000 gross weight tractor-trailer. (Please add sarcasm to the last sentence).
All of this comes as we are learning about the increases in highway accidents relating to heavy trucks. Last year I wrote about the crash that injured comedian-actor Tracey Morgan and killed some of his team. That tragic accident showed the importance of safety regulations for the trucking industry. But that has not been enough to focus our elected officials on protecting Americans. Anyone who has driven on a major highway knows those massive tractor-trailer trucks present significant safety hazards. Some of them are bullies behind the wheel. But what you may not know is how the trucking industry has been resisting regulations and any attempts to bring the same safety standards to trucks that are required in automobiles. That is because the profit incentive is very easy to understand: the faster and more freight is moved, the more money that is made. It is that simple. And the way you move more freight more quickly is by de-regulating, e.g., increasing the amount of time drivers can drive without rest, increasing the amount of freight they can haul per load, decreasing the ages for drivers, not requiring safety technology on the tractors, and so on.
According to the New York Times, only 3 percent of Class 8 trucks — the heaviest ones, which include most tractor-trailers — are equipped with any version of collision-avoidance technology, according to safety advocates. These braking features could have prevented the tractor-trailer accident involving Morgan.
Heavy trucks represent less than 10% of the miles traveled by vehicles in the US in 2013. But according to the National Transportation Safety Board these trucks are involved in one in eight of all fatalities on American highways.
The cars we drive offer, or include, anti-lock brakes, electronic stability control, airbags and collision-avoidance devices. In Europe most heavy, commercial trucks offer the same features. But here in the United States the trucking industry has not begun implementing these features. Why? Profits. They use the excuse we so often hear when a corporation is concerned about profits: these changes would increase costs that would have to be passed down to the consumers. If the trucking industry generates $700 billion in revenue every year, is a relatively small increase in costs, that would save lives, going to bury the trucking industry? What about the costs of accidents, insurance claims, the unmeasured cost of loss of life – all of which should be the concern of Congress, but is not?
How do we push our legislators to demand safety devices be installed in trucks, to not roll-back existing safety regulations, and to protect the majority of drivers on our highways? By contacting your congressional representatives, and if they will not act, vote them out. The trucking industry, in general (not all companies are guilty), needs place more value on safety. There is always a balance in any business—but ultimately we have to hold human life as important. That could be said about the Congress as well as the trucking industry.
NOTE: This article originally appeared on the MichieHamlett Personal Injury Blog.