New program will train truck inspectors to gather crash data at the scene
How can you prevent truck crashes if you don't know what causes them? While anecdotal evidence exists about the causes of truck crashes, there's no large-scale, statistically accurate picture that shows why trucks crash. Without this data, government policymakers and fleets themselves have no idea where to spend their resources to prevent crashes and fatalities.
Now, for the first time, a systematic approach to gathering data about truck crashes is getting under way with a national program to train truck inspectors to collect information at the crash scene. Those involved are quick to point out that these inspectors are not accident re-constructionists in the typical sense (a function often performed by law enforcement officers), but rather certified Level I truck inspectors who can leverage their knowledge of truck equipment and drivers to determine the cause of crashes. "We're still in the pilot stage of a national program," says Gladys Cole, team leader, Office of Motor Carrier and Safety's National Training Center in Arlington, Va.
The current commercial vehicle crash course training program traces its roots back eight years to Minnesota. A newly enacted state law mandated that the State Patrol investigate crashes involving commercial vehicles. "But when we looked around, we didn't find any courses available," says Wes Pemble, a state commercial vehicle inspector involved in the training program. It wasn't until 1996 that the federal Office of Motor Carriers approved their program and gave the state a grant to train inspectors
So far, about 170 inspectors from almost every state have graduated from the 80-hour course, which includes hands-on instruction at a mock-up crash scene. The prerequisite for training is being a certified Level I inspector. The cost is around $1,100; this doesn't include the inspector's time.
"From the inspector's perspective, he can say: 'I can look at this one crash and appreciate what has occurred.' The big picture is that, one day, we may be able to learn what causes crashes on a national level," says Pemble. "We'll probably help the industry with liability issues, but that's a secondary concern for us."
Lieutenant David Harris, Florida Dept. of Motor Carrier Compliance, agrees. "We're trying to assist fleet owners by giving them a fair shake when it comes to finding out who causes truck crashes. Often, it's the passenger vehicle - but the truck is getting blamed."
Florida is the only other state that has a federal grant for commercial crash inspection training. The program, which is modeled after the one in Minnesota, just graduated its first class of 12 inspectors. They have already placed about 35 inspectors around the state (all trained in Minnesota) who investigate commercial crashes in which a fatality has occurred. Like Minnesota, the course includes hands-on training at mock-up crash sites that include motor coaches and tractor trailers, all of which were donated. "We drop clues in the cab; we change mechanical parameters; and we have missing parts," says Harris.
The National Training Center now has taken over both states' training in an effort to solidify nationwide training standards, and several more states have applied for grants to establish training facilities that meet federal standards.
It's unclear how long it will take before national data is accurate and broad enough to be useful on a national level, but the National Training Center is offering an incentive.
"We're not yet asking the roadside inspectors to give us the data," says Cole. "But when we do, our first goal is provide data to states that participate in the program." Cole adds: "The ultimate goal is to achieve a 50% drop in fatalities in 10 years."
This is the first step toward reaching that goal.