Kentucky Op-Ed: More dangerous highways? Give it (and drivers) a rest

In 2015, 4,067 people were killed in large truck crashes in the United States

Kentucky Op-Ed: More dangerous highways? Give it (and drivers) a rest

As Thanksgiving travelers hit the highways for home, consider that the trucking industry is so desperate for drivers that it’s pushing to lower the minimum driving age from 21 to 18 and is aggressively recruiting retirees.

The industry estimates that it will need to hire 89,000 new drivers each year over the next decade to replace retirees and meet growing freight demand. Here’s a recruiting tip: Start treating drivers like humans rather than automatons that don’t need to sleep.

Instead, with help from friends in Congress, the industry is out to kill rules aimed at protecting all of us, which guarantee that drivers of commercial vehicles, including buses, get reasonable rest. Congress must pass a spending plan by Dec. 9, so the plan is to attach repeal of Obama administration rest rules to it.

Kentuckians Mitch McConnell, the Senate’s majority leader, and House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers are in positions to stop the permanent repeal of science-based requirements for 34 hours of rest, including two periods between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m. when sleep is most restorative, after driving 60 hours in a week and a 30-minute rest break within the first eight hours of a shift to preserve alertness. The industry also is seeking to block state rest requirements.

At the very least, such critical safety decisions should be subject to public debate and not attached to measures that must pass to avert a government shutdown.

After years of study, the anti-fatigue rule took effect in 2013, but Congress suspended it — despite a 50 percent increase in the number of people injured in large truck crashes from 2009 to 2014. Truck crash deaths increased 20 percent from 2009 to last year when 4,067 people died in truck crashes, the most since 2008.

This won’t surprise: When tractor-trailer rigs tangle with passenger vehicles, 97 percent of the dead are occupants of the passenger vehicles. The lethality of truck crashes is evident in Kentucky where last year big trucks were involved in 4 percent of all vehicle collisions but in 9 percent of fatal collisions.

Driving a large truck is one of the most dangerous jobs; more than 700 commercial drivers died on the job in 2013, according to Bloomberg. Drivers are exempt from federal overtime rules and are usually paid by the mile.

A stunning 48 percent of truck drivers said they had fallen asleep while driving, according to a survey funded by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration .

Reducing fatigue-related accidents is one of the top priorities of the National Transportation Safety Board, which investigates transportation accidents and disasters and makes recommendations for averting them in the future. “Fatigue degrades a person’s ability to stay awake, alert, and attentive to the demands of controlling their vehicle safely. To make matters worse, fatigue actually impairs our ability to judge just how fatigued we really are,” says the NTSB. A fatigued driver can be as impaired as someone who is legally drunk.

Instead of rolling back rest requirements, Congress and federal transportation officials should be looking at requiring regular skills tests of commercial drivers. CBS News recently reported a 19 percent increase in accidents involving commercial truck and bus drivers in their 70s, 80s and 90s in the last three years. More than 6,636 crashes in just 12 states involved elderly commercial drivers from 2013 to 2015, according to CBS.

We all depend on products moved by truck. Fortunately, the trucking industry is not unanimous in its opposition to the rest rule. By saving the rule, Congress can ensure that a commitment to safety does not become a competitive disadvantage.
Read more here:

Underride Roundtable Articles

WLMT TV (Memphis)

WVIR TV (Charlottesville, VA)

The Virginian-Pilot (Norfolk, VA)


Business Wire

Automotive World

Rocky Mount Telegram (NC)

Underride Roundtable Pictures

Truck Safety Advocates Step Closer to Goal of Advancing Underride Protection

Contact: Beth Weaver



NHTSA Issues a Grant of Petition for Rulemaking to Improve the Safety of Rear Impact Guards on Trailers and Single-Unit Trucks – Evaluation of Side and Front Underride Guards Continues

WASHINGTON, D.C. (July 10, 2014)—Today, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) issued a grant of petition for rulemaking to evaluate options for increasing the safety of rear impact guards, or underride guards, on trailers and single-unit trucks. Underride guards are steel bars installed onto the back of truck trailers in order to help prevent passenger vehicles from sliding underneath a truck in the event of a crash. Truck safety advocates have long advocated for an improvement to the rear underride guard standard, as well as requirement for side and front guard protection systems. NHTSA’s decision to begin rulemaking is a victory for truck safety advocates who have been working toward improving the safety of underride guards for decades.

Marianne Karth, a Truck Safety Coalition (TSC) Volunteer, after losing her daughters AnnaLeah and Mary one year ago in an underride truck crash that also injured Marianne and her son, said, “It was a bittersweet moment as I realized full well that these were needed changes that we had advocated for—because we lost AnnaLeah and Mary—and which we hope will save other lives but will never bring them back to us.”

The Karth family’s “AnnaLeah and Mary Stand Up For Truck Safety” petition gained more than 11,000 supporters seeking to improve underride guard protections, as well as raise minimum insurance level requirements and expedite a final rule for electronic logging devices (ELDs). Marianne and her family members delivered the petition to the U.S. Department of Transportation in May 2014, and are named, along with TSC, in today’s Federal Notice for underride guards. Karth continued, “We are forever grateful to everyone that signed on to the petition, as well as the other TSC volunteers who have been working on this issue throughout the years.”

Jennifer Tierney, Board Member for Citizens for Reliable and Safe Highways (CRASH), TSC North Carolina Volunteer Coordinator, and Member, FMCSA, Motor Carrier Safety Advisory Committee (MCSAC) reacted to the notice, “Having advocated for underride protection improvements for over thirty years, I am so grateful that the decision has finally been made to start rulemaking to consider improving the rear guard standard and to evaluate side and front guard protection requirements. Underride crashes have always been particularly devastating to car passengers, and are now even more so as efforts to raise fuel efficiency produce smaller cars, lower to the ground.”

Tierney, a recipient of the Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety (Advocates) 2014 Highway Safety Hero Award, and whose advocacy began after losing her father, James Mooney, in an underride crash in North Carolina said, “Simple, common sense changes in underride guard requirements, to make them more energy absorbing and lower to the ground, will help to keep our families whole and prevent catastrophic injuries.”

During 2011, NHTSA reported that large truck rear impacts comprised 19 percent of the fatal two-vehicle collisions between large trucks and passenger vehicles, and that large truck side impacts comprised 15 percent of fatal two-vehicle collisions between large trucks and passenger vehicles. NHTSA plans on issuing two separate notices for underride guards. One is an advanced notice of proposed rulemaking focusing on single-unit trucks and the other is a notice of proposed rulemaking focusing on trailers and semitrailers.

Roy Crawford, TSC Kentucky Volunteer Coordinator, after his son Guy was killed in an underride crash with a single unit truck twenty years ago said, “As a board certified forensic engineer and a father who lost a son in a underride crash, I have a full understanding of the physical and emotional outcomes from these crashes, and both are completely devastating. I am grateful that NHTSA will move forward to improve underride protections, and I urge them to act expediently to proceed through rulemaking to implementation. Our families’ lives depend on it.”

Nancy Meuleners, TSC Minnesota Volunteer Coordinator, also a recipient of Advocates 2014 Highway Safety Hero Award for nearly 25 years of advocacy after surviving an underride crash said, “I am fortunate to be alive, but it has come at an unnecessary and significant cost. The crash that nearly decapitated me has left me permanently disfigured. After 40 surgeries, I will need more just to maintain my progress.” Meuleners added, “NHTSA has the power to greatly reduce the needless loss and suffering that result from underride crashes, and I hope that they will act quickly to do so.”