OOIDA’s Johnston featured at engineers’ Blue Ribbon Safety Panel

by Paul Abelson, technical editor

Just as OOIDA is the primary source for information on operations, legal matters and equipment for its members, the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) is the information source for the mobility engineering community; those who design and influence all modes of transportation. And as OOIDA has great influence on legislation and regulation, so, too, does SAE. At the 2000 SAE Truck and Bus meeting held in Portland in early December, a blue-ribbon panel of truck safety experts gathered to publicly discuss courses that engineers, legislators, administrators, advocates and users could follow to achieve the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration's (FMCSA) goal of reducing heavy truck-related fatalities 50 percent by 2010.

Panelists included Jim Hall, chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, Julie Cirillo, acting chief safety officer of FMCSA and David Willis, president of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. Representing motor carriers was Richard Manfredi, president of Manfredi Motor Transit Co., recognized as one of the safest fleets in the U.S. Also on the panel, representing those most affected by any safety initiatives, the drivers, was Jim Johnston, president of OOIDA. Notable by his absence was Walter McCormick Jr. of the American Trucking Associations. The panel was moderated by Tom Donohue, president of the United States Chamber of Commerce and past president of ATA.

As expected, Jim Hall opened discussions with a call for more technology. He specifically mentioned crash avoidance systems, such as the Eaton VORAD EV-300, electronic braking systems and, of course, on-board recording devices to monitor hours of service. Julie Cirillo also mentioned the use of advanced technology, but would like to see "fatigue detection and management devices that can do away with the need for HOS regulations." Her statement was a challenge to the engineering community to further develop devices now in early stages of testing.

David Willis is also an advocate of black box technology, claiming recorders will "level the playing field by requiring all truck operators to play by the same set of safety rules." He also called for repeal of the truckdriver exemption from the Fair Labor Standards Act, and an end to driver abuses created by our "just-in-time" economy.

Jim Johnston reminded the panel and the audience that, according to studies by the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute, truckers are at fault in only about one-fourth of the truck-involved crashes. He went on to warn of ineffective regulations and diminishing returns from over-regulation, which have already contributed to driving people out of trucking during a time of driver shortages. Johnston continued, "While we support meaningful regulations, you have ignored or dismissed many of the most obvious solutions, merely because they have been politically unpopular." He said that "hair dressers and insurance agents must get mandatory training prior to being licensed, but you can get a license to drive an 80,000-pound gasoline tanker without any training whatsoever."

"Hairdressers and insurance agents must get mandatory training prior to being licensed, but you can get a license to drive an 80,000-pound gasoline tanker without any training whatsoever."

He made clear his (OOIDA's) position on black boxes. "While we definitely support R&D for systems that will contribute to meaningful improvements in vehicle and highway safety, we have (great) reservations (about recorders)." Among them are Constitutional issues. Is it right, Johnston asked, to subject law-abiding citizens to constant surveillance for purposes of law enforcement? Will recorders make meaningful contributions to safety? They may have "a reverse effect, forcing a driver to drive when he is fatigued, merely because some bureaucrat in Washington thinks he should be rested. The solution is to develop practical rules that make sense and give the driver . . . the flexibility to drive when he is rested and stop when he is tired, operating according to the dictates of his own body." As for black boxes being used for accident reconstruction, Jim said, "Event recorders in all vehicles would create a balance, but do not have truckers put them in first and hope that others will follow."

Rich Manfredi followed Johnston. He presented six worthwhile points.

  1. Hours of service must be based on common sense, science and the agreement of all parties.
  2. All drivers need good (better) training and education.
  3. Technology must be affordable.
  4. There should be reasonable speed limits (he favors one national limit) and it should be enforced.
  5. We must provide adequate rest areas.
  6. We must get bad drivers off the road.

Johnston agreed with several of Manfredi's points, calling for mandatory driver training to acceptable standards, and agreeing with the need for more parking spaces. He also had the final word on black boxes. "The government has no business deciding what hours I work or what I do during those hours. The government's interest should be in assuring that drivers have adequate time off available to get necessary rest to perform their jobs safely. We can't call it rest just because he's not behind the wheel. .And when the government fosters electronic surveillance, that's the time that everybody should be scared."

In his wrap up, moderator Donohue asked "How can government enforce any new HOS regulations when there aren't enough parking spaces?" He got agreement from all participants to work quickly on that pressing problem, and called for a meeting this spring to review progress and plan actions to increase available parking.