Talking safety on Capitol Hill

Despite major differences on specific tactics and technology, industry, government and enforcement groups are overall coming into more or less general agreement on the path trucking safety strategies should take

Despite major differences on specific tactics and technology, industry, government and enforcement groups are overall coming into more or less general agreement on the path trucking safety strategies should take.

On Capitol Hill this week, testimony from a variety of sources presented perspectives on the trucking industry that illustrated the growing commonality with which highway safety is increasingly being viewed.

“While recognizing that important safety work remains to be accomplished, I would like to point out … that the reduction in severe and fatal crashes involving commercial motor vehicles comes about through the dedication and hard work of many people represented by the stakeholders in this room,” said Anne Ferro, Administrator of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCA) before the U.S. Senate’s surface transportation and merchant marine infrastructure, safety, and security committee this week.

Ferro stressed that despite total miles traveled by large trucks and buses increasing 16% from 1998 to 2008, with the number of large trucks and buses registered during that time frame jumping 17%, the most recent data available shows that U.S. highways experienced their lowest number of fatalities from crashes involving large trucks and buses since fatal crash data collection began in 1975 – some 4,525 in 2008.

“Fatalities from large truck or bus crashes have dropped for three years in a row, a decline of 15% from 2006 to 2008,” she added. “Safety improvements have been realized not only in terms of fatal crashes, but also in injury crashes. In 2008, 113,000 people were injured in crashes involving large trucks and buses; a decline of 10% from 2006 to 2008 and the lowest number of persons injured in these crashes since 1988.”

David Osiecki, senior vp-policy & regulatory affairs for the American Trucking Assns. (ATA), said that the trucking industry’s effort as a whole to support a range of safety initiatives over the past decade – including new commercial driver license (CDL) requirements, mandatory alcohol and drug testing policies, and hours-of-service reform – contributed to the decline in crashes, fatalities and injuries.

Osiecki pointed out that support for greater emphasis on safety continues in trucking, in particular for the FMCSA’s new Comprehensive Safety Analysis (CSA) 2010 initiative since.

He said ATA generally supports this new program because: 1) it is primarily based on safety performance and behaviors rather than compliance with paperwork requirements; 2) focuses limited enforcement resources on specific areas of deficiency (rather than comprehensive on-site audits); and 3) will eventually provide real-time, updated safety performance measurements.

“In addition, FMCSA plans to employ root-cause analysis of safety problems during its interventions with carriers,” he said. “In concept, CSA 2010 is very good and could have a positive impact on truck safety.”

“We support CSA 2010 and give credit to FMCSA for moving it forward,” said Francis “Buzzy” France, president of the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance (CVSA).

“It offers significant promise to transform compliance and enforcement activities to be more ‘surgical’ in nature and to allow for more proactive safety interventions with motor carriers, which will ultimately save more lives,” France explained.

“It also is consistent with one of CVSA’s major reauthorization priorities — to streamline the compliance review process to make it more effective, as well as to establish a better safety rating process for motor carriers,” he said. “The CSA 2010 experience thus far through the nine pilot states shows that is it having a positive impact and is being received well by both enforcement and industry.”

“There’s a lot more commonality’in where the industry, regulators, and safety enforcement groups want to go in terms of trucking safety,” Stephen Keppler, CVSA’s interim executive director, told FleetOwner.

“This is really the first time we have all been in a position of general agreement on safety issues,” he added. “In my mind, the economy of the last few years helped spur this along. Motor carriers especially took a long hard look at their business and started getting back to basics on safety because of the economic impact it has upon them. They are realizing that, without a focus on safety, they can’t be profitable and they can’t deliver goods on time for their customers.”

Yet truck safety is about more than regulations, cautioned ATA’s Osiecki; it is also about understanding the factors that create crash risk and the behaviors and events that precipitate – i.e., cause – crashes. And that is where differences will arise over trucking safety in the future.

“It is about programs, countermeasures and preventive actions that truly address those risks and behaviors,” he stressed. “Future FMCSA rules and programs will only succeed to the degree to which they focus on and address crash risk and causation.”

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