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Trucking industry says 2009 was safest year on record for heavy trucks

By John D. Schulz, Contributing Editor
April 12, 2011

The trucking industry is giving itself a pat on the back after government figures show the rate of truck-involved fatalities on U.S. highways fell to 1.17 per 100 million miles in 2009—making it the trucking industry’s safest year since the federal government began keeping track in 1975.

That rate fell 14.1 percent from the revised fatality rate of 1.37 in 2008, according to an analysis of data released by the Federal Highway Administration and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
The recession had something to do with trucks logging fewer miles in 2009. But trucking industry advocates pointed out that the falling fatality rate is “mileage neutral,” and thus unaffected by fewer miles.

They say the combination of new safety technologies and old standbys such as increased drug and alcohol awareness, stricter speed limits and greater overall seat belt usage all combined

“This is great news, not just for the trucking industry but for the entire motoring public,” ATA President and CEO Bill Graves said in a conference call with reporters yesterday. “These improvements are a testament to the commitment to safety made by the trucking industry, the federal government, and trucking’s law enforcement partners.”
The decline in the truck fatality rate would seem to give more lobbying ammunition to ATA in its battle to retain the current 11-hour daily driving limit. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) is toying with the idea of reducing that to 10 hours, but it has been met with howls of protests from the industry, shipper groups, and others who say it is an unnecessary measure and would hurt industry productivity.
Graves was asked about the potential for lost productivity, but took the higher road, saying: “We want to give ourselves a minute to think that through. We’ve made a strong case to maintain current hours are appropriate You can factor these numbers into that. We’ll try to revisit that again in the near future, I’m certain.”

In addition to the fatality rate, the truck occupant fatality rate fell more than 17 percent to 0.17 per 100 million miles traveled. Top trucking executives chalked that up to a “culture” of safety permeating the industry.
“Dedication to safety is a core value of ATA and the trucking industry,” ATA Chairman Barbara Windsor, president and CEO of Hahn Transportation, New Market, Md., said.
In 2009, ATA unveiled its 18-point progressive safety agenda and programs like Share the Road and America’s Road Team.  “These figures are the fruits of those efforts,” Hahn said.
In a release issued by ATA, Kenny Lowry, a Wal-Mart driver with more than 3 million miles of accident-free driving in his 34-year career, is quoted as saying: “Because the highways are our workplace we want them to be as safe as possible. … these improved safety figures show we are making a difference.”

Looking forward, costly technology improvements may even make trucking safety, officials said.

Innovations such as electronic on-board recorders (EOBRs), already in use by some fleets, make it more difficult to cheat on log books. Some industry officials also are excited by new technologies that improve a truck’s resistance to rollovers, and other improvements such as electronic warnings when a truck is about to veer into other lanes.

ATA officials said they would prefer Washington not mandate those improvements. Rather, they say, a more effective carrot would be tax credits to fleets which employ them.

Dave Osiecki, a senior vice president with ATA, said typically truck safety mandates take longer to get through Washington’s bureaucracy. “ATA supports tax credits for safety technology that will allow more fleets in a shorter period of time to take advantage of new technologies. If Congress were to put in tax incentives, voluntary adaption will speed up rapidly.”

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About the Author

John D. Schulz
Contributing Editor

John D. Schulz has been a transportation journalist for more than 20 years, specializing in the trucking industry. He is known to own the fattest Rolodex in the business, and is on a first-name basis with scores of top-level trucking executives who are able to give shippers their latest insights on the industry on a regular basis. This wise Washington owl has performed and produced at some of the highest levels of journalism in his 40-year career, mostly as a Washington newsman.

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