Truck Safety: From Bad to Worse

Truck driver fatigue and inattention already are significant problems – and the influx of personal electronic equipment and gadgets can only make things worse. According to a recent article in The New York Times, “…5,870 people were killed and 515,000 injured in 2008 in crashes connected to driver distraction, often involving mobile devices or cell phones.”

To reduce these numbers, the Transportation Department is proposing that the current ban on text-messaging by drivers of commercial trucks and buses be made permanent. The article points to research by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA)  that shows that, “…drivers who send and receive text messages take their eyes off the road for an average of 4.6 seconds out of every 6 seconds while text-messaging. At 55 miles a hour, that means the driver is traveling the length of a football field without looking at the road.”

That’s enough to send chills down the spines of even the most egregious device-addicted drivers. So it’s not surprising that this permanent ban seems logical to us – especially as more states are adopting rules against driver texting.

However, widespread use of electronic equipment and gadgets in the trucking profession isn’t our only concern. Sadly, as we’ve seen many times, the culprit frequently isn’t technical. The Lexington Herald-Leader reported last week that Hester, Inc., the trucking company involved in the March 26 crash that killed 11 people in central Kentucky, had a “‘deficient’ rating of 88.4 in February based on Federal Motor Carrier Safety inspections of the company’s 30 drivers during the past 30 months. The agency uses a scale of 1 to 100, with 100 being the worst score. At least 13 of Hester’s drivers’ violations were for driving too many hours during that time period, according to the administration.”

If we’re lucky, Hester, Inc. will learn from past mistakes and work to improve its safety record. But unfortunately, there are other careless and dangerous operators waiting in the wings.

Banning truck drivers from using mobile devices, increasing onboard monitoring and enforcing driver hours-of-service rules are useful tactics, but it really comes down to the trucking company’s management and operation. If safety and quality are part of the company’s mission, and management does everything possible to properly train and monitor employees, our roads will be safer. – Mike Davis

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