ATA takes NY Times to task

Sept. 30, 2009
An article in The New York Times for Monday, September 28, was swiftly rebuked by the American Trucking Assns. (ATA) as being erroneous regarding truck drivers’ use of in-cab electronic technologies

An article in The New York Times for Monday, September 28, was swiftly rebuked by the American Trucking Assns. (ATA) as being erroneous regarding truck drivers’ use of in-cab electronic technologies. As a result, the newspaper published a correction in today’s edition that retracted several factual errors in the piece.

The article, written by Matt Richtel and titled “Driven to distraction: Truckers insist on keeping computers in the cab,” ATA vp of public affairs Clayton Boyce told Fleet Owner is another in a series of pieces the paper has written critical of the trucking industry. He noted that it also followed an editorial that appeared last Wednesday that Boyce said still hasn’t been corrected.

The NY Times, according to Boyce, refused to correct the editorial, written about the nomination of Anne Ferro to head FMCSA, which stated that “With more than 5,000 fatal truck crashes a year, Americans cannot afford conflicts of interest in the running of their truck safety agency.” Boyce said he was told state his objections in a letter to the editor, which he did, but it has only appeared online and in a shortened version. In his letter, Boyce wrote that “The large-truck crash, fatality and injury rates are the lowest ever. In the last 20 years, the number of large trucks in fatal crashes declined 10%, and the crash rate declined 47%. Our 18-point safety agenda seeks additional strict regulations, including a mandate that large trucks have speed governors set at 65 miles per hour or below.”

While Boyce and ATA don’t dispute that texting inside moving vehicles is a problem, the characterization of the issue by the NY Times article, along with a series of what ATA said were factual errors, including comparing two separate data sets to reaffirm the conclusion, leads to the insinuation that the trucking industry does not care about safety.

“The truth is, a year ago, we were calling for restrictions on their use,” Boyce said, pointing to the ATA’s 18-point safety agenda, rolled out in June of this year, as offering possible solutions.

According to a statement released by ATA this morning, the organization’s stance on distracted driving was sent to the NY Times on Sept. 2, but not included nor referenced in any way in the article on Monday. The statement reads, in part, “ATA supports the safe use of technologies and encourages drivers and/or motor carriers to consider a range of policies and safeguards intended to reduce, minimize and/or eliminate driver distractions that may be caused by the increased use of electronic technologies (e.g., global positioning systems, cellular phones, etc.) during the operation of all types of motor vehicles.”

“I think they had a wrong focus on the whole thing,” Boyce said. “They had a story in mind.” Boyce also said that the single driver quoted in the piece was not representative of the industry as a whole,. He added that the impact of driver Kurt Long’s picture on the front page sitting inside his cab using a computer with both a keyboard and a dog on his lap implies this is common practice. In fact, Boyce said, he spoke with the organization’s safety director and was told that most companies have policies in place to limit, or even eliminate, driver distractions such as texting. “I think texting and similar devices are problems in cars and trucks, so I don’t blame [The Times] for taking a look at it, but ATA took a look at this two years ago” and that led to the safety agenda this year, Boyce said, adding that solutions may rest with the manufacturers of these devices as technology improves.

The correction, as it appeared on The New York Times web site on Wednesday is as follows:

“An article on Monday about the trucking industry’s concerns over proposals to ban texting while driving referred incorrectly to statistics regarding large trucks and fatal crashes. The statistics, from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, cover trucks that were involved in fatal crashes; they do not specify the number of crashes “caused” by the trucks. The article also misstated the change in numbers of fatal crashes involving large trucks from 1997 to 2007. According to N.H.T.S.A., that number declined to 4,808 in 2007, from 5,416 in 1997; it did not increase to 4,808 in 2007, from 4,777 in 1997. (In 1997, N.H.T.S.A. data differentiated between medium-weight and heavy trucks; in the 2007 data, they were counted together as large trucks.)”

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