The following is an oped column by American Trucking Association president and CEO Bill Graves that was submitted to and rejected by The New York Times in response to the latest in a series of editorials, letters, and columns published by the paper. This particular column—already the subject of a correction—was written by a former ATA employee.
Despite Fear Mongering, the Trucking Industry Is Safe and Getting Safer
It is unfortunate that the Times ran an opinion column [on August 21] titled "The Trucks are Killing Us," without properly vetting the statements contained in it. Despite the author's implied credentials, there are several falsehoods, both implied and intentional, in the text that deserve a response.
First, the author Mr. Abramson notes that "more people will be killed in traffic accidents involving large trucks this year than have died in all of the domestic commercial airline crashes over the past 45 years," implying the trucking industry is responsible for all these deaths. This simply isn't true.
Per the most recent federal data available, upwards of two-thirds of all serious crashes involving large trucks are caused by the actions of someone other than the professional driver. Speeding, impaired driving, and other aggressive behaviors by non-commercial drivers cause far more truck crashes than do fatigue or other issues cited by the author. This is why ATA supports highway safety programs like America's Road Team and Share the Road where our professional drivers educate the best ways for trucks and autos to interact on the roadways safely.
Second, Mr. Abramson says Congress has "eliminate[ed] the requirement that drivers take a two-day break each week." This isn't just an implied falsehood—it is simply and totally wrong. What Congress has done is almost exactly the opposite—it is allowing drivers to take more than one two-day break each week should they need or want to—and easing an onerous restriction that these breaks include two periods between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration admitted to Congress it never studied the potential consequences of these changes, consequences we now know—thanks to an American Transportation Research Institute analysis—include increased daytime truck traffic and likely increases in crashes as a result of more congested highways during daylight hours.
Mr. Abramson also cites an oft-debunked canard about Congress' change "allow[ing] truck drivers to work 82 hours a week, up from the current 70 hours over eight days." FMCSA itself has said such an extreme work schedule would only be possible in "an imaginary world of perfect logistics." In the real world the average driver works 52 hours in a week—a reasonable total when compared to the average American workweek in today's modern economy.
The column also warns of the alleged dangers of allowing younger drivers to operate commercial vehicles across state lines. This ignores that at 18, a young man or woman can obtain a commercial driver's license and drive a truck long distances within the borders of their state, the 300 miles from Pittsburgh to Philadelphia for example, but not a short interstate trip—like the three miles between Philadelphia to Camden, N.J.
The pilot program Congress is currently proposing would not only fix this illogical inconsistency and provide states the ability to restrict these younger drivers in many ways; it would take a huge step toward a graduated commercial licensing system—the same type of system that has long been heralded by safety minded organizations, including ATA.
Mr. Abramson also chastises the industry for opposing technologies like airbags, electronic stability control, and anti-lock brakes. Again, this is false. ATA has pushed for a review of truck crashworthiness standards and has supported mandates for both electronic stability control (finally enacted this June) and improved braking systems.
ATA has also been at the forefront of pushes to electronically limit truck speeds and better electronic monitoring of driver hours-of-service—a pair of regulations we hope will be issued soon.
This column also takes the position that trucks are disproportionally involved in crashes—which is patently false. NHTSA's most recent Traffic Safety Facts report (dated July 2015) contains the facts: 9% of miles were driven by large trucks in 2013; large trucks accounted for 9% of all vehicles involved in fatal crashes and 3% of all vehicles involved in injury and property-damage-only crashes in 2013. NHTSA's data makes it clear: Trucks are underrepresented in crashes.
Improving safety is also at the core of ATA's support for modest increases in trailer length for some trucks. With a simple increase in trailer size from 28 feet to 33 feet, studies have shown we can eliminate the 6.6 million trips to deliver the 69% of the American economy that trucks move, and that would reduce the number of truck miles traveled by 1.3 billion. Those trips not taken and miles not driven will result, based on crash rates, more than 900 crashes not had.
At the end of the day, there is no silver bullet, no magic gadget that will make roads entirely safe. But through education, by reducing crash risk through sound rules, safety technologies and tighter enforcement, we can continue the long-term improvements in truck and highway safety. Over the past decade, through the industry's diligence and professionalism, as well as improvements in vehicle technology and enforcement, the number of truck-involved fatal crashes has fallen by a third.
This is good news that some choose to ignore, but it is also a call for all of us—the industry, government regulators and motorists to look at the true roots of crashes and not use the politics of fear to impose counterproductive "solutions."