Trucks at Work

Focus on drivers

Despite all the gizmos we‘re packing onto today‘s commercial on-highway trucks - roll stability control, air disc brakes, etc. - the fact remains that driver error is still the leading cause of car-truck crashes on our roads. And that means ALL drivers - truckers as well as four wheeler, with errors on the part of four wheelers still accounting for over half the reasons cars and trucks get involved in crashes.

That‘s why the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance (CVSA), in partnership with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), is going to keep expanding its Operation Safe Driver campaign. It‘s aimed at getting to root causes of driver errors, which, as we all know, involve speeding and aggressive driving behaviors. Both of those are “errors” in the broad sense of the word, though drivers have a significant amount of control they can exercise over them.

“The statistics tell the tale: nearly nine out of 10 crashes between cars and trucks are attributed to the driver, with 56% of those attributed to the passenger car driver,” said FMCSA Administrator John Hill in a press statement about the new effort. “Programs like Operation Safe Driver will help all drivers realize how their decisions behind the wheel affect safety.”

With approximately 43,000 people dying on U.S. highways each year - with 5,000 of those fatalities involving large trucks - something‘s got to be done. And what I like about this program is that it finally addresses the CAR driver‘s role in these deadly crashes, rather than just hammer on the truck driver alone. Again, the FMCSA‘s own crash analysis shows that 56% of crashes involving a large truck and a passenger vehicle are attributed to the passenger vehicle driver, with the remaining 44% (obviously) the fault of the truck driver.

“CVSA wants to make clear that driving defensively and in a cooperative manner makes for safer highways for all drivers and passengers on the road,” said CVSA Executive Director Stephen F. Campbell said. “This program part of a larger law enforcement effort and focus to reduce fatalities on the most dangerous, high crash corridors in North America.”

Now, this doesn‘t mean trucking gets to turn a blind eye to the problems festering on its side of the ledger. Look at the statistics the most recent statistics Operation Safe Driver collected between October 21 and 28 this year - and effort involving nearly 3,700 law enforcement personnel and more than 1,500 localities in 31 states and five Canadian provinces.

Out of 20,523 Commercial Motor vehicle (CMV) Driver/Credential Inspections, 2,090 (10.2%) resulted in the driver being placed out of service. Some 30 carriers (or 34% of the total reviews) receiving a Conditional Safety Rating - not good, as the national average of carriers rated “Conditional” is 25%. Another 10 carriers (or 11% of the total reviews) receiving an Unsatisfactory Safety Rating - again, not good, as the national average of carriers rated “Unsatisfactory” is 6%

But then look at these two sets of statistics. Out of 16,636 CMV Driver Traffic Enforcement Contacts, 4,229 resulted in moving violations, or 0.25 violations per contact. Then, out of 6,698 Non-CMV Driver Traffic Enforcement Contacts (that‘s a long-winded way of saying “car drivers”) resulted in 4,860 moving violations - or 0.73 violations per contact, almost TRIPLE the rate of truckers. That‘s pretty telling, I think.

Here‘s another series: out of 22,181 CMV Driver License checks and 6,205 Non-CMV Driver License checks, the program cited 53.8% of truckers for speeding, which rose to 68.2% for car drivers. Only 0.4% of the truckers got tickets for reckless driving, whereas that climbed to 3% of car drivers. Only 0.8% of truckers were cited for improper passing, which rose to 1.7% for car drivers.

But there are also plenty of areas where truckers need to improve. Failure to obey traffic lights and signs is one: 14.7% of those 22,181 truckers got cited for that; only 3.6% of car drivers did. Following too closely was a problem for 5.7% of truckers and 5% for car drivers - that‘s something both groups need to work on. Some 3.2% of truckers were cited for improper lane changes; only 2% of car drivers were.

One thing‘s for certain - the focus is going to be on drivers of ALL vehicles from here on out when it comes to highway safety improvement efforts. And that all-inclusive approach is definitely a good thing.