Safety

  • Safety

    Carriers object to proposed mandatory speed limiters

    - by Tom Sanderson

    Carriers object to proposed mandatory speed limiters

    FMCSA received more than 4,500 comments on its joint proposal with NHTSA for mandatory speed limiting devices, and motor carriers and drivers were unified in their opposition. A coalition of five organizations – AEMCA, AHFA, AHAA, TEANA and TLP&SA – filed in opposition to the NPRM for three reasons:

    1. NHTSA and FMCSA have failed to make a case for speed limiters producing safer highways;

    2. The agencies have failed to adequately consider the effect of speed limiters in permitting

    commercial motor vehicles to avoid accidents; and

    3. Imposition of speed limiters by the federal government is inconsistent with the preemption of

    state law exceptions found in 49 USC 14501.

    A copy of the coalition’s comments is available at https://www.regulations.gov/document?D=FMCSA-2014-0083-4494. Other comments and the NPRM are available at https://www.regulations.gov/docket?D=FMCSA-2014-0083

  • Safety

    Large truck fatalities up, fatality rate down in 2013

    - by Tom Sanderson

    According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, total fatalities in crashes involving large trucks (>10,000 pounds GVW) increased slightly in 2013 to 3,964, representing a 0.5% increase and 20 fatalities over 2012. Total fatalities had declined to a 40-year low of 3,380 in 2009, but have risen slightly in each of the last 4 years. Large truck fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles traveled (VMT) fell slightly to 1.44, after rising in each of the 3 previous years. That is a remarkable 30% lower than the 2000-2009 decade average of 2.07. It is critical to view these recent statistics over the long-run, as the numbers from the last few years in no way diminish the tremendous improvements in safety made by the trucking industry in the post-deregulation years. Despite a sharp increase in the number of VMT across this period, the absolute number of fatalities has significantly declined over the years. Fatalities per 100 million VMT have fallen from a 1979 peak of 6.15 to 1.44 in 2013, a stunning 77% decrease. We congratulate and thank the trucking industry for this remarkable achievement. Still, the increase in both fatalities and the fatality rate since the recessionary low of 2009 are concerning.

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    Despite a historical trend that exhibits a consistently higher fatal crash rate for large trucks than passenger vehicles, truck safety gains had erased this safety gap by 2009. We have seen that gap open back up since then. In 1979, the last year before trucking deregulation, the safety gap peaked at 2.4 fatal crashes per 100 million VMT. In 2009, the gap decreased to 0, but has since ticked back up to 0.5. Over the longer run, the prevalence of crashes has dramatically decreased for both types of vehicles, despite significant increases in total VMT for both large trucks and passenger vehicles.

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    Every highway fatality is a tragedy and all participants in the transportation industry should seek to reduce the frequency of fatal crashes. The current and historical data paints a picture of a trucking industry that has made great strides towards ensuring that America’s highways are continually made safer.

    The uptick in fatalities and the rate of fatalities per 100 million miles since 2009 is concerning, but unfortunately the DOT report does not explain the increase. I can think of a few plausible reasons, but do not have enough data to definitively explain the increase.

    1. Congestion: With the economic recovery since 2009 it seems like we may have greater highway congestion that would lead to more accidents. But, passenger miles traveled were only up 44 billion (1.7%) and truck miles were actually down 13 billion between 2009 and 2013, so that is not a likely explanation.

    2. Distracted Driving: In 2013, for 62.8% of fatal accidents involving large trucks, the “Critical Precrash Event” was  “Other Vehicles” either encroaching in the trucker’s lane or their actions within the trucker’s lane, while only 22.6% were due to the actions of the trucker, with the remaining 14.6% being due to some other reason such as pedestrian actions. There is no question that we have a distracted driving problem in America and with over three-fourths of all fatal truck crashes being caused by something other than the truck driver’s actions, we need to look beyond the trucking industry to find solutions.

    3, Hours of Service: The restart provisions of the the 2013 Hours of Service rules change pushed more trucks out on the road in the morning hours. In 2013, 65.5% of large truck-related fatalities occurred during the 6 AM to 6 PM time frame. While, given the timing, it is obvious that the HOS change did not cause the increase in fatalities between 2009 and 2013, the FMCSA admits it did not study the consequences of pushing trucks onto the highways in morning rush hour and an American Transportation Research Institute study showed that truck accidents are more frequent during congested daylight hours. The roll-back of the restart provisions should improve safety.

    4. CSA: Is it concerning that fatal accident frequency has increased since CSA/SMS was made public. The FMCSA has cut back on the number of carrier Compliance Reviews it conducts while increasing roadside inspections. Given that CSA scores bear no relationship to individual carrier accident frequency, perhaps the FMCSA should reconsider whether this highly flawed and much criticized system may be more of a problem than a solution for improving highway safety.

    One thing that is clear is that the American Trucking Associations and nearly all truckers are incredibly focused on safety and are leading the way on issues and initiatives such as electronic logging devices, speed limiters, hair follicle drug tests, collision avoidance systems, America’s Road Team, Share the Road, and many other actions and programs that are designed to make our highways safer for everyone.

  • Safety

    A very high profile crash

    - by Tom Sanderson

    The tragic loss of James McNair’s life, who performed under the name Jimmy Mack, and critical injuries in the New Jersey crash involving a Walmart truck and comedian Tracy Morgan’s limo bus will generate a tremendous amount of publicity and public comment in the coming weeks. There will be a great deal of misinformation about highway safety, Walmart, and hours-of-service regulations. I want to echo the words of Bill Graves, chairman of the American Trucking Associations, who said “First, as always, our thoughts are with the victims of this tragedy and their families. Every crash on our highways is a tragedy and that’s why the industry places safety as our highest priority."

    I also believe it is important that Walmart, the trucking industry, and professional truck drivers not get falsely denigrated as being dangerous or lacking a sufficient focus on highway safety and it is important to recognize that this accident had nothing to do with hours-of-service regulations.

    According to the FMCSA, Walmart operates 6,239 power units, has 7,222 drivers and ran 667 million miles in 2013. In the previous 24 months, Walmart’s fleet has been involved in 375 reportable crashes including 9 fatal crashes and 127 injury crashes. FMCSA chooses to not measure and report what percent of the accidents are the fault of Walmart, but one DOT study showed that in 60% of the highway accidents involving heavy duty trucks the truck driver was not at fault. Even without considering fault, Walmart’s safety record is exemplary. The crash rate is 0.28 per million miles. That means the companies drivers cover 3.6 million miles with only one crash – how many of us can claim anywhere near that level of safety in our personal lives? The fatal accident rate is 0.7 per 100 million miles driven. The national average for heavy-duty trucks in 2011 (the last year with published data) was 1.25 fatal accidents per 100 million miles driven. Walmart has a very strong focus on hours-of-service compliance. Based on 5,686 relevant inspections in the last 2 years, the FMCSA considers Walmart to be better than 99.5% of its peer group in in HOS compliance. Walmart’s fleet is equipped with electronic logging devices (ELD). There are reports that the driver had not slept in 24 hours, but the driver denies that. There is nothing Walmart can do to command a driver to sleep on his off-duty time. The company is responsible for ensuring that the driver not violate the 11 hours of driving time, 14 hours of on-duty time, and other HOS rules, but can not force the driver to sleep while off duty.

    Walmart has stepped up and said that they would take responsibility for the wreck, but also stated that "With regards to news reports that suggest Mr. Roper was working for 24 hours, it is our belief that Mr. Roper was operating within the federal hours of service regulations," 

    The trucking industry likewise has made remarkable improvements in its highway safety record. As recently as 2000, the fatal accident rate was 2.23 per 100 million miles and when the industry was deregulated in 1980 the rate was 4.65. It is true that the fatal accident rate increased in 2010 and 2011, which has led to criticism that the FMCSA is focusing on the wrong things (such as CSA/SMS and faulty HOS rules) in its goal to improve highway safety.

    Some groups are already coming out and urging Congress to hold off on its legislation to roll back the 34-hour restart provisions of the HOS rules as a result of this crash. The 34-hour restart rule is far more likely to cause accidents than to prevent them by pushing trucks onto the highways in morning rush hour, forcing drivers to rest when Washington bureaucrats want them to rather than when they are tired, and forcing the trucking industry to hire 100,000 new inexperienced drivers to make up for the 3-5% productivity loss from the new rule. This rule was not based on sound science, but on the FMCSA’s desire to be seen as tough on trucking and “doing something” about highway safety.

    Many media outlets will use this tragedy involving a celebrity to play up the notion of killer trucks and demand that Washington “do something”. That captures attention, viewers, and readers. The trucking industry, and private fleet operators like Walmart in particular, are doing far more and have a far better record of taking actions that do, in fact, reduce highway accidents even though those actions don’t draw the same level of media buzz.

  • Safety

    OOIDA calls for FMCSA Administrator’s resignation

    - by Tom Sanderson

    Jim Johnston, president of the 150,000 member Owner Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA), has written a letter to Anthony Foxx, Secretary of the Department of Transportation, calling for Anne Ferro’s resignation. In his concluding paragraph, Mr. Johnston writes, “It is the responsibility of FMCSA to promote highway safety with regard to all highway users, including
    truck drivers and other operators of commercial motor vehicles. Instead, Administrator Ferro has waded
    into the murky waters of demagoguery against truck drivers. Administrator Ferro’s failure to perform her
    duties impartially, her failure to lead her agency to fulfill Congressional mandates, and her failure to
    responsibly prioritize the agency’s tasks has left the OOIDA Board of Directors no choice but to
    unanimously vote in favor of a call for Administrator Ferro’s resignation, and for you to begin an
    immediate search for a new FMCSA Administrator who will approach professional truck drivers with the
    respect and fair treatment that their important work and commitment to safety demand.”

    In particular, Mr. Johnston referenced a June 3rd blog post by Administrator Ferro in which she was lobbying Congress to not roll back portions of the new hours-of-service (HOS) rules. In that post, Ms. Ferro highlighted the tragic loss of life in three particular truck accidents. This is the type of argument frequently offered by public-safety advocates in favor of any and all regulations that could have the slightest chance of saving a life, without any regard to scientific evidence that the regulation would in fact save lives, and without any regard to the cost that the regulation imposes on society. Ms. Ferro has direct access to Congress and as head of the agency responsible for motor carrier safety should not rely on social media to make her case to the nation’s lawmakers. On June 5, the Senate Appropriations Committee came down on the side of industry in the first round of this fight.

    I do not believe it would be proper for me to advocate for the Administrators removal, nor for her retention. I do agree with Mr. Johnston that the ongoing effort of the FMCSA to use their public web site, industry speeches, trade magazine interviews, PowerPoint presentations, and social media instead of formal rulemaking to advance the cause of highway safety needs to stop. The ongoing campaign of using shoddy research to justify their positions also has to stop. One of the most egregious examples is the study of 106 predominately local drivers to evaluate the 34-hour HOS restart rule that is only a factor for long-haul over the road drivers. FMCSA’s ongoing reliance on a correlations of averages to bolster their case for CSA/SMS even after the General Accounting Office took them to task for that approach is another example.

    Everyone in our industry is in favor of improving highway safety. Over burdensome regulation that is not based on sound science is not helping achieve that goal. Ms. Ferro acknowledges the lack of success in her blog post, “Since 2009, we’ve seen an 18 percent increase in large truck crash fatalities.”  Unfortunately, she does not acknowledge a need to change course and work more closely with the industry and rely more heavily on sound science and less heavily on demagoguery and social media to achieve the goal.

  • Safety

    New medical examiner rules implemented over industry protests

    - by Tom Sanderson

    With all the other high-profile regulatory actions taken by the FMCSA, this one slipped through without being noticed by a lot of shippers, but rest assured that carriers are very concerned about the impact on capacity.

    From FMCSA’s website: “Alert -  All commercial drivers whose current medical certificate expires on or after May 21, 2014, at expiration of that certificate must be examined by a medical professional listed on the National Registry of Certified Medical Examiners.”

    If a driver does not have a valid and current medical certificate, they can not drive.

    On the surface it sounds reasonable enough and the ATA supports the overall initiative. The problem is there are not nearly enough medical examiners spread around the country who are on the Registry at this time. The ATA and OOIDA requested a 6-month delay to allow time for more medical examiners to be certified, but the FMCSA plowed ahead without regard for the impact on the nation’s supply chain.

    “The American Trucking Associations supports the registry as a way to ensure medical examiners serving the industry have a broad understanding of the challenges truck drivers face every day,” said Dave Osiecki, Executive Vice President and Chief of National Advocacy. “It is unfortunate, however, that FMCSA declined to take a more pragmatic approach to ensuring the registry was sufficiently populated by granting ATA’s request for a reasonable, short delay.”

    In the final rulemaking establishing the National Registry of Certified Medical Examiners (NRCME), FMCSA estimated a need of 40,000 medical examiners nationally to be certified in order to meet the annual needs to perform over 4.6 million driver physicals. FMCSA spokesperson Duane DuBruyne said May 17 that the registry has 21,600 examiners in the registry and is set to approve 4,000 more this week.

    There will eventually be enough certified examiners, but over the next few weeks or perhaps months, as drivers’ medical certificates expire there may be another disruption in trucking capacity.

  • Safety

    Highway fatalities rise slightly, but remain well below historical levels

    - by Tom Sanderson

    Total fatalities in crashes involving large trucks (>10,000 pounds GVW) increased slightly in 2011 to 3,757, representing a 1.9% increase over 2010. Total fatalities declined to a record low of 3,380 in 2009. Large truck fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles traveled (VMT) rose to 1.41, the highest level since 2007, but still 38% lower than last decade’s average of 1.94. It is critical to view these recent statistics over the long-run, as the numbers from the last two years in no way diminish the tremendous improvements in safety made by the trucking industry over the last 35+ years. Despite a sharp increase in the number of VMT across this period, the absolute number of fatalities has significantly declined over the years. Fatalities per 100 million VMT have fallen from a 1979 peak of 6.15 to 1.41 in 2011, a stunning 77% decrease. We congratulate and thank the trucking industry for this remarkable achievement.

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    Despite a historical trend that exhibits a consistently higher fatal crash rate for large trucks than passenger vehicles, improvements over the last five years have nearly erased this safety gap. The prevalence of crashes has dramatically decreased for both types of vehicles, despite significant increases in total VMT for both large trucks and passenger vehicles. In 1979, the last year before trucking deregulation, the safety gap peaked at 2.4 fatal crashes per 100 million VMT. In 2009, the gap decreased to 0, but has since ticked back up to a still excellent 0.2.

    image

    Every highway fatality is a tragedy and all participants in the transportation industry should seek to reduce the frequency of fatal crashes. The current and historical data paints a picture of a trucking industry that has made great strides towards ensuring that America’s highways are continually made safer. The lack of science behind the new Hours-of-Service 34-hour restart rule and the clear lack of any correlation between CSA/SMS scores and accident frequency suggest that the current regulatory environment is focused more on the appearance of doing something to improve safety while ignoring the government’s own data which shows the substantial progress the industry is making on its own. Unfortunately, it will prove difficult to isolate the effects of these feel-good regulations from the safety improvements achieved by the competitive market. Regulators will undoubtedly claim responsibility for any future gains in highway safety, but the real heroes will continue to be the men and women of America’s trucking industry.

  • Safety

    Total fatalities are up, but accident frequency ratios show great improvement

    - by Tom Sanderson

    Total fatalities in large truck crashes (>10,000 pounds GVW) increased from an all-time low of 3,380 in 2009 to 3,675 in 2010, an increase of 8.7%. Vehicle miles travelled in 2010 will not be released until later in the year so it is too soon to say the exact change in fatalities per million miles, but that measure is also likely to have increased because while it is likely miles travelled increased over 2009 it is not likely that they increased by 8.7%. The 2010 number does not diminish in any way the tremendous improvements in safety made by the trucking industry over the last 35 years. The absolute number of fatalities have declined as the number of miles driven have increased. Fatalities per 100 million miles driven have fallen from 6 to 1. Congratulations and thank you to the trucking industry.

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    In comparison to passenger vehicles, the fatal accident frequency rate for large trucks and passenger vehicles are now identical at just over 1. This also represents a dramatic improvement in safety in the trucking industry. In 1979, the last year before trucking deregulation, the gap was 2.4 fatal crashes per 100 million miles.

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    Every highway fatality is a tragedy and we should all strive to reduce accident frequency. The data shows that the trucking industry has a fantastic track record in improving safety. The lack of science behind changing the hours-of-service restart rules and the clear lack of any correlation between CSA/SMS scores and accident frequency suggest that the current regulatory environment is focused more on the appearance of doing something to improve safety while ignoring the government’s own data which shows the progress the industry is making on its own.

  • Safety

    Trucking industry achieves substantial safety improvements

    - by Tom Sanderson

    Congratulations to the trucking industry for dramatically reducing highway fatalities and fatal accidents. Are Washington politicians and bureaucrats paying attention to what the free market is accomplishing on its own? Or are they too busy concocting burdensome new regulations (CSA 2010, hours of service changes) that may or may not improve safety but will surely increase transportation costs and harm the economy?

    Highway crash deaths involving large trucks plummeted 20% in 2009 to 3,380 a new all-time low. This data is courtesy of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) which began tracking fatal accidents in 1950. Nobody would deny that 3,380 deaths are a tragedy or that we should strive to reduce that number every year, but the fact of the matter is that our everyday tasks of driving, crossing the street, riding a bike, etc. all involve some element of deadly risk that we assume every day in the pursuit of happily living our lives. Despite the recession, all highway miles increased in 2009 although truck highway miles have yet to be determined for 2009. The recession can’t be credited for the improvement.

    Our first chart shows large truck fatalities and fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles travelled. The data shows that fatalities and the rate of fatalities were rising prior to trucking industry deregulation in 1980, but since then absolute fatalities have trended down while truck miles driven have increased substantially, driving the fatality rate from over 5.5 per 100 million miles driven to less than 2. Bill Graves, President of the ATA, rightly states that "These latest figures illustrate the trucking industry’s deep commitment to improving highway safety." The decline in both the number of accidents and the accident rate per mile is quite noticeable since the 2005 revision to the hours of service (HOS) regulation. Graves points to the 2005 HOS changes as a positive factor in improving the work-rest cycle. HOS rules are currently under attack with proposals to reduce driving hours from 11 to 10. There is no data to suggest that this would have any positive impact on safety for existing drivers, but if adopted the change would cut truck utilization meaning more trucks and more drivers on the road which would almost certainly increase accidents and would also increase costs.

    The gap between the accident rate for large trucks (10,000 pound GVW and higher) and passenger cars also continues to narrow. In 1979 the gap was 2.39 fatalities per 100 million miles travelled but in 2008 the gap narrowed to 0.56 per 100 million miles travelled. In 2009, passenger car fatal accidents and the fatality rate also declined.

    Our heartfelt thanks and congratulations to the trucking industry and to professional truck drivers for a stellar result. To the popular press, we encourage you to stop bashing the trucking industry with your distorted reporting on "killer" trucks. Do your homework and stop using isolated bad apples to paint the industry as dangerous. To the Washington crowd, we implore you to trust the free-market system to deliver better and faster results at a lower cost than you can deliver through legislation and regulation. The 30-year history of safety improvements following 1980 trucking industry deregulation should be all the proof you need.

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