Josh Fisher | FleetOwner
Trucks travel along Interstate 68 in western Maryland. The summertime brings out more passenger car drivers, which can make the jobs of professional drivers more difficult on highways.

Summertime reminder: Most drivers aren’t professionals

July 9, 2024
While the government continues to focus on making commercial vehicles safer, it should increase its focus on educating regular drivers, who are more distracted than ever. The trucking industry strives to be safe, but roadway deaths will remain a national problem without buy-in from amateurs.

Is anything more American than setting out on the open road in the summer? While the men and women who haul freight across this nation do it daily despite the season, for many of us desk jockeys, the sunny weather and green scenery make this time of year special. It’s a good reminder of the differences between professional and regular drivers.

I’ve had the chance to make several road trips lately around the Mid-Atlantic, where I’m based these days, and into the Midwest and New England, two regions where I used to live and work. On a recent drive along Interstate 68 through western Maryland, West Virginia, and the southern Ohio hills, I enjoyed the lush countryside and beautiful views as I shared the road with professional truck drivers. With my phone down and my four-wheeler on adaptive cruise control—and in no rush—it was a reasonably peaceful trip with little stress.

A week later, I found myself driving to the Northeast, where the tranquility of the countryside abruptly ends at the New Jersey state line. The American Transportation Research Institute’s Top 100 Trucking Bottlenecks come to life here. The New York Tri-State Area is home to 13 of the most congested traffic spots in the U.S. As you approach the city, the serene scenery is replaced by a sea of illuminated tail lights and trailers. The tension in the air is palpable, seeping from the steering wheel, up your arms, and into your mind.

See also: Distracted driving trends up despite awareness

For professional truck drivers, who all year long keep the U.S. economy moving from coast to coast, the summer months could feel like a gym on January 2, when all the regulars are faced with sharing equipment with new members determined to stick to a New Year’s resolution. Not only are commercial drivers dealing with more four-wheeled traffic at their workplace, but there are also more construction delays, longer waits for food and amenities at travel plazas, and hot weather. Very hot.

All of those are stress inducers. With all those passenger car drivers with one hand on the wheel and the other on their phone, it’s amazing there aren’t more crashes piling up along the interstates. The 2021 infrastructure law missed an excellent opportunity to focus on educating amateur drivers on how they can make the roads safer for themselves and the truck drivers hauling their goods. Instead, it continues to focus on making the safest drivers in the nation—the professional truck drivers—even safer.

The Department of Transportation is spending nearly $500 million from the infrastructure law to support large truck and bus safety inspections in every state. But where is the investment in educating passenger car operators—who statistically cause most truck crashes along our roads—on how to drive safely?

Motor Carrier Safety Assistance Program pays for more commercial vehicle safety inspections, investigations, and audits of new truck carriers and bus companies to ensure responsible operation. The funding also promotes outreach and education efforts that help combat human trafficking, distracted driving, and other roadway safety concerns.

See also: Operation Safe Driver Week targets the reckless and careless

Those are all good initiatives. But what about spending more money and time to educate the average driver on how their movements on our roadways affect the tractor-trailers they must share the highways with? Those of us who work in transportation understand that a semi-truck can’t brake as quickly as a Toyota Prius. And that tanker truck hauling fuel to the next service station can’t climb those Appalachian hills like the family minivan.

“Motor Carrier Safety Assistance Program grant funding is an important tool for reducing crashes and fatalities involving commercial motor vehicles,” Sue Lawless, acting deputy administrator of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, said in June. “The number of fatalities on our nation’s roadways involving commercial motor vehicles decreased by an estimated 8% from 2022 to 2023. We know the needle is moving in the right direction, but until we reach zero roadway deaths, there will always be more work to do. These grants help fund that work.”

Trucks are getting safer every year. And that’s good news because regular drivers aren’t. But while the feds continue to focus on ensuring commercial vehicles aren’t making the roads more dangerous, they should focus on the millions of road users who aren’t paid to arrive safely at their destinations. Without buy-in from consumers, we’ll never have a chance to reduce roadway deaths to zero.

About the Author

Josh Fisher | Editor-in-Chief

Editor-in-Chief Josh Fisher has been with FleetOwner since 2017, covering everything from modern fleet management to operational efficiency, artificial intelligence, autonomous trucking, regulations, and emerging transportation technology. He is based in Maryland. 

Voice your opinion!

To join the conversation, and become an exclusive member of FleetOwner, create an account today!

Sponsored Recommendations

Going Mobile: Guide To Starting A Heavy-Duty Repair Shop

Discover if starting a heavy-duty mobile repair business is right for you. Learn the ins and outs of licensing, building, and marketing your mobile repair shop.

Expert Answers to every fleet electrification question

Just ask ABM—the authority on reliable EV integration

Route Optimization Mastery: Unleash Your Fleet's Potential

Master the road ahead and discover key considerations to elevate your delivery performance

Leveraging telematics to get the most from insurance

Fleet owners are quickly adopting telematics as part of their risk mitigation strategy. Here’s why.