By Debbie Hersman
America’s commercial trucking industry is so ingrained to the fabric of our daily lives that we risk overlooking it. According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, over 500,000 interstate companies, 3 million interstate commercial drivers, and more than 10 million large trucks keep our supermarkets stocked with fresh food, keep construction humming with materials and equipment, and transport the fuel that our cars need to keep us moving from home to work and everywhere in between. From the milk in our coffee in the morning to the television set showing the evening news, it is difficult to imagine a day in America without the goods moved by truck over our highways.
Most people don’t think about how the goods made it to their table, but even fewer think about the safety of the trucking industry unless they have been involved in a life-altering crash. The good news is that according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, deaths on our highways have decreased if you take a long view – in 2000, 5,211 were killed in crashes involving large trucks compared with 3,675 in 2010. Unfortunately, in recent years, fatalities, injuries, and crashes involving trucks are all on the rise: fatal crashes involving large trucks rose by 4% in the last 4 years, and in 2012 alone there were nearly 4,000 fatalities and more than 100,000 injuries as a result of these crashes.
On Tuesday I sat down with the Editorial Board of the American Trucking Association’s Transport Topics publication. We discussed past and on-going NTSB investigations that have resulted in recommendations regarding oversight, fatigue, technology and equipment; we also talked about the on-going challenges of distraction and occupant protection, which are on the NTSB’s Most Wanted List. The journalists of Transport Topics had a lot of questions about the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s oversight programs in light of harsh criticism from the NTSB last fall and a critical GAO report released this week. We also discussed the pending Congressional reauthorization of surface transportation safety programs – which may be a vehicle to implement the NTSB’s recommendations.
At the NTSB we do not accept that thousands must die, and tens of thousands must be injured in truck-related crashes each year. Yet to reverse trend, accountability in all sectors of the industry must go beyond the status quo. The lives of America’s truckers – and all of the rest of us on the roadways – depend on it.