Pat Thomas talks truck safety at the 2016 Arkansas Trucking Assn. Annual Business Conference.

ATA chair: Truckers are the true ‘safety advocates’

May 19, 2016
Safety and profitability go together, Thomas tells state trucking meeting

LITTLE ROCK. Trucking needs to emphasize its contributions to highway safety and let federal policymakers know that the industry sees proactive investment in safety programs as good business, American Truck Assns. Chairman Pat Thomas told the annual meeting of the Arkansas Trucking Assn. here Wednesday.

“In Washington, we hear a lot that safety and profitability can’t go together—but I don’t believe that and I don’t think the people in this room believe that, either,” said Thomas, who is senior vice president, State Government Affairs for UPS. “The most profitable companies in this country are the safest companies in this country.”

Thomas backed his assertion with charts illustrating the steady improvement in truck safety on the nation’s highways, including a 74% decline in the fatal crash rate since 1980.

“We [in trucking] invest more than $7 billion a year in safety, trying to make the roadways safer—for not only us, but other motorists—and so we don’t have to take a backseat to anybody when it comes to safety,” he said. “And, frankly, I don’t buy this notion of naming these people in Washington who are always on the other side of the fence of everything we want to do as ‘safety advocates.’ The safety advocates are the folks sitting in this room. You’re the safety advocates; they’re the anti-truck groups.”

Still, “one fatality is too many,” Thomas emphasized, and he challenged truckers to continue to improve by focusing on the positives and looking more deeply into “what we did right.”

And that’s the message ATA has taken to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. Thomas reported that Acting Administrator Scott Darling had invited him to meet with the agency’s senior staff. But the idea that trucking companies want to be both more safe and more profitable seemed to take many by surprise.

“There isn’t a fleet owner or fleet manager in this country who wants to send a driver out and have something terrible happen,” Thomas said. He reported that his broader message was well received and he’d been invited to additional meetings this summer.

Thomas also tied highway safety to the condition of the nation’s infrastructure, and noted that congestion—along with costing trucking $50 billion in lost productivity—contributes significantly to traffic accidents.

“Congestion, for most people, makes life a little uncomfortable. For us it’s real money; it’s real time,” he said. “This is a big deal. If we don't fix this in the foreseeable future, instead of trucks driving the American economy, we’re going to become an anchor on the American economy.”

Of note, the presentation was interrupted once by audience applause, when Thomas discussed distracted driving.

“I think we’ve got pretty good control over our drivers—but we’ve got to worry now about the folks in cars who are cutting in front of us,” he said. “Every time I see a car doing silly things down the road, I can almost be assured they’ve got a phone up to their ear or they’re trying to text or do something else. I’m not a person to add laws to the books, but I think distracted driving is on a course to be the number one problem, and the number one reason we have accidents and fatalities in this country. If we don’t act, we’re going to be sorry.”

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