The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) release of the 2016 Motor Vehicle Crashes: Overview revealed that in 2016, there were 4,317 fatalities in crashes involving large trucks – a 5.5 percent increase from 2015 and a 28 percent increase since 2009. Unfortunately, this increase in deaths is not surprising given the troubling safety trends that the Truck Safety Coalition (TSC) has been highlighting since 2009.
Since 2009, TSC has been informing Congress of the worsening trends in truck safety as well as of the various commonsense solutions that they could implement to prevent truck crashes and reduce the resulting injuries and fatalities. Unfortunately, legislators lack a sense of urgency and regulators continue to delay data-driven technologies, like automatic emergency braking and heavy vehicle speed limiters. Those technologies have been implemented, with great results, throughout the world, but continue to stall here in the United States.
Unfortunately, the Department of Transportation has delayed or completely withdrawn other critical safety rules that would protect the public as well as the occupants of trucks. A rule requiring truck drivers to be screened for sleep apnea was scrapped. A rule requiring the minimum insurance for large trucks per incident be increased was withdrawn, even though it has not been raised once since the 1980s. And two rules requiring improvements to underride protections on trucks and trailers were delayed by at least a year.
Instead of passing bills stuffed with exemptions, delays, and regulatory rollbacks to appease special interests, like a weight exemption for North Dakota and a non-divisible exemption for milk, Congress must act now to stop preventable truck crash deaths and injuries on our nation’s highways. They can start by asking Secretary Chao why truck safety is trending in the wrong direction and how the actions the DOT has taken since January will reverse those trends.
Rolling back regulations that would ensure truck drivers are awake and alert, motor carriers are adequately insured, and trucks are crash compatible with cars to prevent underride, will do nothing to reduce the number truck crashes, prevent injuries, or save lives. The only thing DOT’s actions accomplish is protecting the bottom lines of some special interests and placating a small, loud group of unsafe truck drivers that see all regulation as bad.
If lawmakers and policymakers are serious about reducing the number deaths and injuries resulting from large truck crashes, they seriously need to readjust their strategy. This increase would not be tolerated if the mode of transportation were different. People would not fly if 83 people died on flights each week or if the number of fatalities went up by 28 percent since 2009.