Four Ways the Trucking Industry Can Make Roads Safer
By and large, truck transport companies seem to view safety regulations as a burden to be resisted when possible, and grudgingly endured only when active resistance fails. Rather than leading in safety, trucking’s default position is to oppose new regulations, usually decrying economic harm if they are required to add new safety devices to their trucks or to alter work practices to reduce driver fatigue.
While European truck manufacturers have added advanced safety systems for decades, only recently have North American carriers lessened their resistance to implementing them. And the irony is, the Europeans continue proving that safety is good for business.
So we have found a few ways in which the North American trucking companies can make safety “good business” for them as well.
Make Air Bags (and Other Optional Safety Features) Standard
Even though air bags save the lives and health of thousands of passenger vehicle occupants every year, they are not standard equipment in medium- and heavy-duty trucks. No one knows why. But one manufacturer, Volvo Trucks North America, is about to install them in all their commercial U.S. vehicles. Freightliner has also offered them as an option for over 20 years.
The University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute says that around 340,000 medium and large trucks are in traffic wrecks in the U.S. annually, injuring 20,000 truckers and killing at least 600 – many by blunt-force trauma from being crushed by the steering column.
When asked why (and if) airbags should be standard equipment, Dan Blower, a University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute scientist, answered, “That question may need a more detailed cost-benefit analysis.” The co-author of the 2013 study adds that frontal air bags in trucks can have “incremental benefits” and offer an “effective” safety supplement.
Most heavy trucks don’t have automatic emergency braking systems which, according to safety advocates, could prevent thousands of crashes every year. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) highlights in-vehicle collision avoidance technologies as a most-wanted safety improvement for trucks. It also advocates the addition of safety features like adaptive cruise control, lane-departure warnings, blind-spot detection systems, and advanced lighting.
Stop Resisting Driver Sleep Apnea Screening
Sleep apnea causes people (primarily those who are overweight) to periodically stop breathing during sleep. Those who are afflicted aren’t getting very good rest, making them drowsy and less alert when awake. Sleep apnea is particularly challenging for truck drivers and, as a result, endangers other drivers who share the road with drowsy truck drivers.
A report released in late December 2016 by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety concludes that drivers who sleep only five or six hours in a 24-hour period are twice as likely to crash than those who get at least seven hours of sleep. And the less sleep the person behind the wheel gets, the higher the crash rate, according to the findings. AAA Foundation discovered that drivers in the study who only got four or five hours of sleep were four times more likely to be involved in a crash. That’s the same risk as a drunk driver.
But here’s the alarming part. In the late summer of 2017, the Department of Transportation (DOT) withdrew a well-intended proposal, which was advocated by most trucking companies, to require that drivers be tested for sleep apnea. Critics say the DOT was acting on President Trump’s influence in the interests of his overall “deregulation” strategy.
The quashing of mandatory testing for sleep apnea is just one example of a deregulatory trend that makes it difficult to protect not only truck drivers, but all drivers who could be targets of 75,000-pound mis-guided missiles under the control of a drowsy driver.
Improve Pay and Working Conditions for Drivers
Not long ago, over-the-road trucking drew the attention of the opinion editors of the New York Times. In an op-ed titled “Long-Haul Sweatshops,” Anne Balay and Mona Shattel argue that low driver wages and poor working conditions are creating a crisis in the trucking industry.
Based on a recent poll about detention, conducted by the trucking industry publication DAT, a lot of drivers feel undervalued by their employers. Many must wait around at the docks for their loads, which means they’re not earning. A couple of years ago, paying long-haul truckers by the hour was proposed in the U.S. Senate, but the proposal never got out of committee — possibly due to push-back from a strong transport lobby.
But we can go to Australia to find solid conclusions in the long-disputed question of what benefits truck drivers’ health better: being paid “by-the-job” or only for the hours they actually work (truck-driving activities)? This 2001 study concluded that the latter group fared better fatigue-wise and did not see the need to take stimulants nearly as often.
A 2015 research project by the National Center for Biotechnology for the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) focused on the detrimental effects of scheduling pressures, widespread unsafe driving practices, regulatory non-compliance and failure to report injuries. All had cumulative and negative effects on the quality of truckers’ driving and produced more accidents and other negative safety events.
Taken in toto, these and other studies comprise a growing body of evidence that the safer trucking companies encourage their drivers to do their jobs and place less emphasis on payment per loads transported. Hourly pay produces fewer wrecks in other industrial countries. With fewer wrecks, the traveling public, transport companies’ bottom lines, and the general public all benefit, with trickle-down savings – including lives – being the dividend.
Get Behind Installing Trailer “AngelWings” Like They Were “Mansfield Bars”
According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, around 4,000 people have been killed in underride collisions between 1994 and 2014. Of that number, around 1,500 of these deaths were from underride crashes.
An underride accident happens when a passenger vehicle crashes into a semi-tractor trailer or a straight truck – primarily from the side – and becomes wedged underneath. This flattens the passenger compartment and often peels the top off the car, severely injuring or killing the vehicle’s occupants. Pedestrians and cyclists can also be underride victims.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration continues investigating a new standard for truck side protective guards after the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) conducted a series of encouraging tests. These results, according to David Zuby, executive vice president and chief research officer for IIHS are “a mandate for side underride guards on large trucks.”
Some manufacturers (Great Dane, Manac, Stoughton Trailers, Vanguard National Trailer, and Wabash) are already installing these side crash safety devices – called “AngelWings” – to many of their vehicles.
This public AngelWing outcry closely parallels the 1967 movement after famous Hollywood actress Jayne Mansfield and her companions all died gruesomely when their car slammed into the rear of an 18-wheeler. Since there were no barriers like we see today to prevent a vehicle from sliding underneath the rig, the Electra was wedged underneath the trailer so violently that the car’s hard top was peeled away to the back seat.
Because of these shocking deaths, within months the NHTSA made it mandatory for all semi and single-axle truck trailers to be fitted with underride bars to curb such accidents; they’re now commonly called “Mansfield Bars.” It appears that requiring AngelWings will take much longer.
If you’ve been involved in a truck accident in Indiana and need legal representation, contact McNeely Stephenson to learn more about your options. Call us at 317-825-5200 or fill out our online contact form to schedule a free consultation.