Has the death toll from crashes involving large trucks finally become intolerable? Between 2007 and 2009, an average of over 4,000 people a year were killed in truck accidents. Nearly 90,000 more per year were injured during that time.
One respected safety advocate, Joan Claybrook of the Truck Safety Coalition, is blunt in assigning responsibility for the ongoing carnage. “Families and truck drivers are being slaughtered on our highways because of the trucking industry’s relentless push for bigger, overweight trucks operated by drivers who are exhausted and pressured to meet unreasonable delivery deadlines.”
Safety groups have been making this argument for years with little success. But the time for effective action to improve trucking safety may at last be at hand. It is no longer only safety groups calling for more effective regulation of the trucking industry; the Teamsters union, which represents many truck drivers, is now doing so as well.
Safe Highways Legislation
One significant step in improving truck safety would be for Congress to pass the Safe Highways and Infrastructure Protection Act. The proposed legislation calls for limitations on the size of trucks, which the industry seeks to make ever larger.
Research shows that so-called “longer combination vehicles” (LCVs) and triple-trailer trucks are considerably more dangerous than today’s single-trailer trucks. The Safe Highways legislation, sponsored by Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-NJ and Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass, would keep these over-sized trucks off the road in the interest of safety.
These limitations make sense. After all, motorists should not be put at unreasonable risk on the road from monster-size trucks. At 100,000 pounds, the larger trucks are, as Sen. Lautenberg puts it, “behemoths.” And the triple-trailers are almost absurdly elongated – their length is like the height of a 10-story building.
Both safety groups and the Teamsters union, which represents 600,000 drivers, support the legislation.
Federal Regulations on Trucking Safety
Another important element in making trucking safer involves tightening federal rules on hours of service (HOS) regulations for truck drivers and record-keeping aboard trucks. For years, many truck accidents have been caused by driver fatigue, and drivers have often felt under pressure to falsify their logbooks to conceal their excessive hours behind the wheel without proper rest.
A Texas police officer who investigated a terrible fatal crash caused by a sleepy trucker in 2004 put it this way. “The use of paper logbooks by truck drivers is like running a business with paper notebooks and no computers,” said Robert Mills, who became an outspoken supporter of trucking reform after responding to a grisly accident that killed 10 people.
The logbooks were supposed to be a way to enforce federal rules limiting truck drivers to 77 hours of driving a week, and no more than 11 hours consecutively at any one time. As Mills noted, however, speaking at a Truck Safety Coalition news conference, drivers sometimes refer to these easily-altered logs as “comic books.”
After so many personal injuries and wrongful deaths, that needs to change. Truck accidents are many things, but they are no joke.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is therefore working on finalizing two related rules. One rule would place a 10 consecutive hour limit on driving. The other rule would require a conversion to electronic on-board recorders (EOBRs) aboard trucks. At present, the trucking industry is supportive of the on-board recorders proposal but is resisting the stricter driving limits.
The Pain of Victims’ Family Members
As Congress and federal regulators make their decisions on truck safety proposals, it is important for the voices of victims of truck accidents to be heard. Fortunately, that is beginning to happen.
At a Senate hearing in May, a man named Ron Wood talked of losing five family members in the 2004 truck accident that Robert Mills responded to as a police officer. Mr. Wood lost his mother and sister, as well as three nephews, when an 18-wheeler came over the median and crashed into two cars. The SUV carrying Wood’s family went up in flames following the impact.
Wood was joined by many other victims at the hearing. They all told wrenching stories about losing loved ones to accidents caused by large trucks.
If you have been injured in a truck accident, or someone close to you has been killed, contact an experienced personal injury attorney in your area. A lawyer can assess your case and explain your legal options.