Although tractor-trailers make up only a small percentage of the total vehicles on the road today, they cause a majority of fatalities. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, tractor-trailers have a substantially higher fatal crash rate per mile than passenger vehicles. This is very alarming, considering that most travel by tractor-trailers occurs on our interstates. Records reveal large tractor-trailers cause approximately 3,700 passenger deaths per year. This amounts to more than one-fifth of all passenger vehicle occupant deaths in multiple-vehicle crashes, according to the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety Fatality Facts Large Trucks 2002. With this knowledge, tractor-trailer companies should implement more stringent safety policies, procedures, and communication tracking systems to keep a better tab on its drivers and trucks.
One of the main reasons truckers are involved in wrecks is because drivers are often operating on the road with very little sleep. We have reported on this problem in several previous issues. The Federal Motor Safety Regulations did require that truck drivers not exceed eleven hours-of-service without ten hours-of-rest. With the high number of fatalities caused by tractor-trailers, it is amazing that this standard was recently decreased from ten hours to eight hours.
Many experts believe that the pay structure for truckers actually creates an incentive to violate the Federal Motor Vehicle Carrier Safety Regulations. The pay of most truck drivers’ is based on the miles traveled. As a result, an unacceptable number of truckers falsify their mileage logs to allow them to drive more miles. The more miles the truckers drive, the more money the trucker and trucking company make. However, the more miles driven, the more fatigued, tired, and less attentive the driver becomes. No matter how you slice it, it’s bad from a safety standpoint to tie workers’ wages directly to a factor that has a negative effect on safety.
The trucking industry is aware that the hours-of-service regulation is a common area of abuse. As a result, trucking companies should be made to have strict monitoring programs that identify violators. Even though many trucking companies attempt to shift blame to their drivers, it has become apparent to the regulating authorities that some trucking companies turn a blind-eye to the hours-of-service violation. It’s pretty easy to figure out why – the more loads the truck driver can delivery – the more money the company makes. That encourages a driver to drive more hours.
In the long run, this nearsighted view ultimately costs lives and the trucking company. Failure to enforce safety policies and procedures results in an increased number of accidents, injuries and deaths. Some safety leaders in the trucking industry have placed safety first and found that it reduces the number of wrecks, reduces litigation expenses, and reduces the cost of lost cargo. Most of these companies who place safety first have gone to Global Positioning Systems (GPS) in order to track its vehicles and drivers. The companies that use GPS can reduce their crash frequency by 20%, compared to those companies who do not have GPS tracking, according to the Institute. Since 1996, Liberty Mutual Insurance Company, one of the leading insurers in the trucking industry, conducted an annual survey examining the trucking industry’s best safety practices. In that survey, Liberty Mutual concluded that approximately 50% of all trucking companies use GPS as a means to reduce wrecks and track its drivers.
GPS tracking, not only reduces collisions, but it also provides the trucking company with a tool to increase customer satisfaction by more on-time deliveries. It also will reduce the number of lawsuits and thereby reduce claims. GPS can reduce litigation by supplying the company with instant real time information concerning a wreck such as speed, seatbelt usage, location, time and forces involved in the collision. This information can be obtained by a truck line from the vehicle through a computer printout and forwarded to investigating authorities to prove that its vehicle was not at fault in the wreck. However, many companies, which don’t put safety first, refuse to use GPS because it can also prove the opposite. The results can show that the trucker was speeding, driving recklessly, ran a stop light or violated hours-of-service rules at the time of the wreck.
The use of governors on vehicles by trucking companies is recommended. This is a safety mechanism used by safety conscious trucking companies is governors. A governor is a device that is attached to the engine that will not allow the truck to go over a predetermined maximum speed. The trucking companies that use governors and set the governors below 70 miles per hour have reduced crash frequency by 35%. Many drivers say they don’t mind having a governor on their tractor. I suspect it is the companies who are driven by the bottom line and the ones who don’t want them.
Last but not least, a simple communication plan, properly enforced has been shown to reduce crash frequency by 13%. Drivers who are required to communicate regularly with their company are less likely to drive drunk, sleepy, or fatigued. Furthermore, simple communication with drivers can also allow the company to avoid one of the most unthinkable potential uses of a truck – as a weapon of mass destruction. A company which implements and enforces a communication policy and uses GSP tracking is better equipped to avoid such a scenario. In fact, many authorities consider the use of a vehicle, such a tractor-trailer, a much more likely scenario than the use of airplanes in the 9/11 attack on New York City.
Trucking companies which implement and enforce safety policies and procedures can prevent thousand of deaths per year on our highways. They may also prevent or minimize the potential for one of these loaded 80,000 pound vehicles being used as a weapon for mass destruction.
Source: The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety