ATA CEO: Safety colors Congress’ perception of trucking

by Steve Brawner ([email protected]) 189 views 

Safety colors the impression members of Congress have of the trucking industry, which is one reason the industry is supportive of safety-related efforts, the American Trucking Associations president and CEO, Bill Graves, said in Little Rock on Monday (Nov. 2).

Graves, who served two terms as Kansas governor starting in 1994, was the keynote speaker Monday at the ATA’s Safety, Security and Human Resources National Conference and Exhibition, which is being held Nov. 2-4 at the Marriott Little Rock. 

Graves said high-profile accidents, such as the 2014 crash involving a Wal-Mart truck that injured actor Tracy Morgan and killed a passenger in the vehicle, affect how Congress views the industry. He said Wal-Mart has a good safety record, but the perception of the industry was harmed by one driver who “made some very poor choices.” The driver had been awake more than 24 hours prior to the crash.

Another crash that affected the industry’s reputation was a March 2010 accident involving a truck that injured then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s wife and his daughter.

According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, fatalities involving truck accidents have declined since 1979. However, the trends have moved higher in recent years. There were 3,602 people killed in large truck crashes in 2013, up 14% compared to 2009. Of the 2013 fatalities, 16% were truck drivers or occupants, 67% were passengers in smaller vehicles and 15% were pedestrians, motorcyclists or bicyclists. The Department of Transportation has said previous rulemaking, of which the trucking industry has often opposed, helped reduce fatalities.

Graves said the trucking industry is proud to take the lead when it comes to safety-related issues. The ATA supports requiring speed limiters on its own trucks and reducing the speed limit for all motorists.

“Somehow or other, there’s got to be a will to get everybody to slow down, and I’m really proud of the fact that we’re leading with our chins,” he said.

A survey of 800 registered voters commissioned by the ATA indicates that 69% of Americans oppose reducing highway speeds to improve safety and reduce pollution, and 63% oppose the installation of speed limiting devices on passenger vehicles. However, 56% supported speed limiting devices on trucks. The poll, conducted Aug. 30 and Sept. 1, also suggests Americans believe truck drivers are safer than other drivers, with 91% of the respondents saying car drivers are more likely to engage in risky behavior than truck drivers and 70% believe they are more likely to be at fault when a car and truck collide.

“Our industry invests more than $7 billion each year in safety tools, technologies and practices, and this poll tells us those investments are working,” Graves said in a statement associated with announcement of the poll results. “Americans believe trucks move the most freight and that our drivers are safe and getting safer. Those facts beliefs are not just correct, they are important to keep in mind when debating important safety issues.”

Other safety-related issues include the ATA’s support for highway spending to relieve congestion, which Graves said leads to motorists driving unsafely. The trucking industry also is trying to give motor carriers the option of testing drivers for drugs using hair samples, which many say provide more accurate readings than urine samples. 

The trucking industry has long expressed concerns about the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s CSA accountability measurement system, saying it doesn’t accurately measure carrier safety and doesn’t take into account who’s at fault in an accident. Graves said safe carriers ultimately will be able to withstand the system’s inaccuracies.

“What I’m worried about is the carrier that’s somehow operating unsafely that the system doesn’t recognize, and instead of deploying resources to go intervene, they somehow are still out there operating,” he said.