WASHINGTON — The number of truck-related fatalities on U.S. highways hasn’t budged in recent years, a group of long-time trucking critics stated at a press conference.
At the four-day “Sorrow to Strength” conference, the Truck Safety Coalition — a partnership between outspoken special interest groups Public Citizen, the Citizens for Reliable and Safe Highways (CRASH), and Parents Against Tired Truckers (P.A.T.T) — ranked each U.S. state in terms of truck fatalities and issued a “report card” that graded the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) on 10 key truck safety issues.
“Seven years after it opened its doors, the (FMCSA) is still not ready for prime time. In fact, it is a resounding failure,” said Joan Claybrook, President of Public Citizen.
“FMCSA’s record is embarrassing. It has never met any of its safety goals, even after cutting them back repeatedly. Nearly every one of its recent important safety regulations has been unanimously overturned by the courts.”
The groups, some of which have been accused in the past of making headlines with sensational tactics, gave the FMCSA an “F” grade on nine of the 10 listed subjects, including: Conducting safety compliance reviews of motor carriers; meeting deadlines and mandates to issue safety rules; issuing HOS rules that improve truck driver safety; keeping the southern U.S. border closed to Mexico-domiciled trucks “until it is safe”; and using technologies like Electronic On-Board Recorders to enforce driver HOS rules, among others.
The only action that did not get an “F” was “squandering public resources to fund research advancing the trucking industry’s economic priorities rather than public safety.” Of that subject, the coalition moved its scoring completely to other side of the grading spectrum, giving FMCSA an “A.”
As for individual states, Wyoming (6.09 deaths in heavy truck crashes per 100,000 residents) and Arkansas (4.17) ranked highest in truck-related fatalities, according to the coalition. They were followed by Oklahoma at 3.41, New Mexico at 3.27, Mississippi at 3.12, and West Virginia at 3.03.
The safest state, Rhode Island, had 0.09 fatalities per 100,000 residents, followed by Massachusetts at 0.38, Connecticut at 0.48, District of Columbia at 0.54, Hawaii at 0.71, Alaska at 0.75, New York at 0.76, New Hampshire at 0.84 and Delaware at 0.95.
However, the coalition does not distinguish the number of crashes that were the fault of the trucker, nor the percentage of truck-related fatalities in the total vehicle crash fatality rate. Government statistics repeatedly show that in car-truck crashes on North American highways, the car driver is far more likely to be at fault. In 73 percent of cases and no factors to the truck drivers in 73 percent of all the cases.
And in the U.S, only 10 percent of all roadway fatalities involve commercial trucks.
Furthermore, as Clayton Boyce, vice-president of public affairs at American Trucking Associations told Associate Press, a more accurate measurement would be to count truck crashes per mile, not per 100,000 populations.
Nonetheless, the coalition blasted the FMCSA for “abandoning” a previously stated goal of reducing fatalities by 50 percent by the close of 2008. There were 5,380 large truck-related fatalities in the U.S. when FMCSA was created in 1999. “That rate has barely budged,” says Claybrook standing at 5,212 deaths in 2005.
While fatalities have been close to par over the last few years, the trucking industry has improved the total truck fatal crash rate by 22 percent from 1993 to 2003.
The coalition also claims that FMCSA has “dramatically” increased commercial driver hours-of-service. Public Citizen successfully got a U.S. judge to throw out the agency’s new HOS rules in 2005, and is once challenging the revised version in court.
Finally, Claybrook touched on her group’s most recent dispute with the government and trucking industry — stopping a pilot program allowing Mexico-domiciled carriers to haul into the U.S.
“FMCSA simply is not ready or capable to provide the safety data, oversight or enforcement necessary to allow long-haul trucks from Mexico into the country,” she said.
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