The Truck Safety Coalition, Road Safe America, and the John Lindsay Foundation are pleased that the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) included several truck safety issues that pose a danger to all those who share the road as part of their Most Wanted List of Transportation Safety Improvements. Speeding, distraction, and fatigue are issues that our organizations have been educating the public and lawmakers about for years. We have succeeded on some fronts: heavy trucks must now use electronic logging devices, which helps reduce truck driver fatigue. But we have encountered roadblocks too:
- a rulemaking to implement sleep apnea screening requirements for truckers was withdrawn in August 2017,
- a rule requiring the use of existing heavy vehicle speed limiters has been delayed over 20 times,
- there has been no progress on a rulemaking to mandate automatic emergency braking in large trucks since the agency granted a petition to initiate rulemaking back in 2015, and
- the agencies have deemed rulemakings to improve rear underride guards as long-term action items, meaning they have been delayed by at least one year.
We are hopeful the NTSB’s Most Wanted List will motivate lawmakers to pass legislation to ensure that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) reintroduce and finalize several lifesaving regulations.
Implement a comprehensive strategy to reduce speeding-related crashes and increase implementation of collision avoidance systems in all highway vehicles
We agree with the NTSB that NHTSA and FMCSA should finalize a rule require use of speed limiters in our biggest trucks. However, considering this technology is already standard in most trucks, we support a rule requiring existing trucks to use speed limiters set at 65 mph – not just new trucks. With so many other countries having mandated this technology for decades and so many companies voluntarily setting the speed limiters in their trucks to great success, there is no reason to delay the heavy vehicle rulemaking any longer.
Likewise, the rulemaking for automatic emergency braking on large trucks has stalled at NHTSA, and the FMCSA has failed to produce reports on technology barriers and market research as well as a final report – all of which were due in 2018. This is unacceptable in light of the fact that a large truck rear-ends another vehicle every 15 minutes in this country. We need Members of Congress to act now on the NTSB’s recommendation and mandate automatic emergency braking on large trucks.
The public overwhelmingly supports Congressional action to require use of both of these proven technologies. In a nationwide survey conducted by McLaughlin Associates in September of 2018, 79 percent of respondents supported Congress requiring large trucks to have their speed limiters set at a maximum speed of 65 miles per hour and 82 percent supported Congress requiring large trucks to use automatic emergency braking.
Reduce fatigue-related crashes and require medical fitness and screen for and treat OSA:
The issue of truck driver fatigue is preventable but all too prevalent. Unfortunately, truck drivers do not have to be screened or treated for obstructive sleep apnea, which can cause them to fall asleep while driving if left undiagnosed and untreated. This is dangerous for all of us, and, sadly, deadly for others of us – like John Lindsay who was killed by a truck driver with undiagnosed OSA. That is why all three of our groups submitted comments in strong support of the now-withdrawn rulemaking for OSA screening. That is also why our groups are in strong agreement with the NTSB’s recommendations to the FMCSA to:
- implement a program to identify truckers with OSA,
- make the 2016 FMCSA Medical Review Board recommendations on screening for OSA easily accessible to medical examiners, and
- instruct the examiners to use the recommendations as guidance when evaluating for OSA risk.
We also agree with the agency that the FMCSA should establish an ongoing program to monitor, evaluate, report on and improve fatigue management programs implemented by fleets. Fatigue-management is not an event but rather a process; it should be continually revisited, review, and revamped.
Eliminate Distractions and Strength Occupant Protections
While a final rule already exists that bans the use of hand-held cell phones for truck drivers, we agree with the agency that more must be done to combat distracted driving as it relates crashes involving large trucks. There are two types of truck crashes where distraction can lead to deadly consequences due to the fact the U.S. has inadequate truck safety laws.
The first type occurs when a truck driver becomes distracted and fails to operate safely. Absent automatic emergency braking, the truck may not slow down or stop before impacting another vehicle thus making it more likely for injury or death to occur. Absent front underrun protection devices there is an increased likelihood that the truck will travel over and rest atop the other vehicle(s). As we noted above, we agree with the NTSB and a majority of the public that large trucks should be equipped with and be mandated to use AEB, both as it relates to implementing collision avoidance systems in all vehicles as well as reducing the effects of distraction. However, the NTSB did not include any recommendation for NHTSA to study or ultimately mandate large trucks to have front override guards. In the future, we hope the NTSB looks into the success of other countries that have required their trucks to have front override guards and includes it as a recommendation related to improving occupant protections.
The second type of crash, which also underscores a major vehicle design flaw that nullifies many passenger vehicle occupant protections, occurs when a passenger vehicle operator becomes distracted and fails to operate safely. Absent strong rear and side underride guards, the operator of a passenger vehicle becomes at risk of traveling underneath a trailer because occupant protections in most cars, like the crumple zone and the airbag deployment sensors, are bypassed, thus exposing the driver and/or passengers to severe neck and head trauma. Sadly, the public, lawmakers, and regulators have known about these crash compatibility issues for more than half a century. In that time, inaction on requiring side guards and improving inadequate standards for rear guards has led to thousands of unnecessary deaths and debilitating injuries. Moving forward, we urge the NTSB to include recommendations for mandating side underride guards and strengthening rear underrides on semi-trailers and single unit trucks as it relates to improving occupant protections.
We hope that lawmakers and regulators will heed the safety expertise of the NTSB and act expeditiously on the aforementioned recommendations in order to greatly reduce truck crashes and the resulting injuries and deaths.