DOT leader unveils plan to cut truck-related fatalities by 50%

WASHINGTON, D.C. (May 26) — U.S. Transportation Secretary Rodney Slater yesterday announced a strategy to reduce truck-related highway fatalities by 50% over the next 10 years.

The goal, which relies on stiffer enforcement, is difficult but achievable, Slater said.

In 1997, there were 5398 people killed in accidents involving large trucks. The number of truck-related highway deaths in the United States has steadily increased during this decade, although fatality rates have remained steady relative to the number of miles trucks run.

Slater said he has added $55.8 million to DOT’s Fiscal Year 2000 budget to bolster the safety effort with more enforcement personnel and support to the states.

Absent from the plan, at least for now, was any move to take truck safety responsibility away from the Office of Motor Carriers (OMC) within the DOT’s Federal Highway Administration.

Instead, Slater pledged to build on an agenda of tougher enforcement and penalties put forth by OMC director Julie Cirillo in April.

The agency also said it will limit negotiated settlements of fines and will aggressively pursue legal action when a death occurs in a crash.

It also has committed to eliminate its current enforcement backlog of 1200 cases by the end of the year. Starting this summer, drivers who violate grade crossing warnings will lose their commercial licenses. And moves to improve data quality and timeliness are under way.

Also on DOT’s list is a national commission to study how pay affects a driver’s decision to stay behind the wheel — even if he is tired. Another study will look at requiring new trucking companies to show they understand the safety regulations. And a third will examine the idea of mandatory speed governors in all trucks.

Regarding hours-of-service reform, Slater indicated that the negotiated rulemaking appears deadlocked. “Unfortunately, a lot of parties are still grounded in their personal interests,” he said.

Still, Slater did not commit to the traditional rulemaking approach but indicated that he wants to pursue discussions, saying, “I would hope that we could bring the parties together.” One idea he broached is to combine electronic driver monitoring as an incentive to start talking.

Slater did report some positive news about truck safety to bolster his position. He reported that there were about 100 fewer fatalities in truck-related accidents in 1998, compared to 1997.

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