'Trucks killing us'? I don't think so

By Mark Reddig, "Land Line Now" host

Every once in a while, you read something that just sets you off. For me, it's when someone writes some piece of tripe full of misstatements and outright falsehoods about trucking. It drives me nuts.

So when I read the Aug. 21 column in The New York Times titled "The Trucks Are Killing Us," I built up a head of steam pretty quick.

The article built its case on the accident that injured comedian Tracy Morgan. However, the misinformation it used to build that case has no place in print.

Some examples:

The article, written by a former editor of Transport Topics, said Congress has "pushed to allow truck drivers to work 82 hours a week."

Nope. Sorry. Wrong.

The 82-hour figure exists nowhere in federal law or regulation. It is a faulty calculation by groups outside trucking based on a schedule that, in practicality, is impossible for any actual trucker to achieve.

The 70-hour/eight-day rule remains in effect - despite the column's claim to the contrary. No currently proposed law or regulation would change that.

It referred to the "requirement that drivers take a two-day rest break each week." Except, of course, such a rule does not exist, and never has. It is an option, an alternative to the 70-hour/eight-day rule.

What Congress rolled back was a requirement that the break - the voluntary 34-hour restart - could be taken only once a week, not a requirement that it must be taken once weekly. Now, and under the congressional proposal the writer decries, truckers can take it more than once in a week.

A simple reading of the current regulations would confirm any of those points.

The writer also suggests Congress should require such technologies as electronic logs, electronic stability control and collision avoidance.

In fact, the Walmart truck that hit Tracy Morgan's limousine had all of those technologies. None did anything to prevent that tragedy. And it's not the only accident where this technology didn't engage.

And while this writer didn't mention it, the Times has, in the past, called for required speed limiters in trucks.

Yet surveys of truckers have shown that the exact behavior in the Morgan incident is often motivated by the presence of such a device, not prevented. Additionally, most accidents in which a truck was the cause occur below 55 miles per hour, in which case limiting the vehicle to 62, 65 or 68 mph would have no effect whatsoever.

The writer points out fatalities involving trucks have risen recently, "reaching 3,964 in 2013."

Of course, left out is that the rise occurred primarily after FMCSA created the version of the rules that he says should have been kept in place.

What's more, he fails to note that in those fatalities, roughly 75 to 80 percent of the time - the truck is not at fault. It's another cause, like a car, a deer, the weather.

Other problems in the piece: The industry has not opposed air bags; OOIDA has pursued greater cab crashworthiness standards.

The claim that "a small increase in safety costs would not put a large financial strain on carriers" ignores the reality that most trucking is small businesses, and small business cannot afford what the big boys do. And small carriers crash far less than the largest carriers, despite federal statistics warped by mathematical formulas.

The claim that "the industry has consistently resisted safety improvements." Well, no, not really. People who drive the trucks have resisted regulations blindly based on belief and not science, and that do little to improve safety.

Finally, the writer misses the biggest safety fail of all - that to receive a CDL, the amount of time required for training behind the wheel is - drumroll, please - zero. How about requiring some training?

The Morgan accident incident is tragic. But the response should not be to simply react without careful research into the realities of the trucking industry. LL