Mainstream media gets and 'F' for truck safety stories

By Mark Schremmer, staff writer

Mainstream media simply does a terrible job covering the nation's truck safety issues. Last month, CBS Evening News covered the speed limiter proposal without citing any of the studies that show an increase in crash risk when split speeds occur.

Recently, mainstream media has missed the mark again regarding a story about truck drivers and crashes. Fox 28 in Spokane, Wash., reported on Sept. 1 that Washington State University has planned a $1.4 million study to see whether truck drivers are getting enough sleep. The story opens with a statistic from the Centers for Disease Control that says one out of every three truck drivers has reported being in a serious crash.

There are so many problems with that opening statement it's difficult to know where to begin.

First, let's start with the absurdity of the statistic. Does anyone really believe that 33 percent of the nation's truck drivers have been involved in a serious crash?

Not surprisingly, OOIDA has evidence to refute that claim.

"The statistic concerning 1 in 3 truck drivers experience a serious crash was taken from a study that surveyed drivers at 32 truck stops in 2010," OOIDA Foundation Researcher Andrew King said. "This is hardly a representative sample of the industry. The Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance, as well as other organizations, has continued to state that 70 percent of accidents involving a passenger vehicle and a truck were at the fault of the passenger vehicle."

Another issue is that the statistic has nothing to do with the study that Washington State University is conducting. Opening a story titled, "New study aims to curb crashes caused by sleepy truck drivers" with a statistic that 1 in 3 truck drivers are involved in a serious crash leads one to believe that truckers are dozing off and crashing into things at an astounding rate.

However, the facts tell us otherwise.

According to FMCSA's 2014 Large Truck and Bus Crash Facts, driver fatigue was involved in only 1.8 percent of fatal crashes.

Even though statistics indicate that driver fatigue accounts for a minuscule portion of fatality crashes, Washington State University will spend more than a million dollars on a study that will likely tell us very little. The study will follow the sleep patterns of 200 drivers in cities such as Spokane. The small sample size alone calls the study into question. The length of the study and how drivers are chosen will also play a role in how effective the study will be.

But many will likely try to use the findings to give credence to requiring such things as sleep apnea testing, speed limiters or electronic logs.

What's typically not mentioned in these stories, however, is that many of the large fleets already make these requirements. So if you followed the narrative by mainstream media, you'd assume that the large fleets with these strict rules would be much safer than owner-operators who are not required to have speed-limited trucks or on-board recorders.

But you'd be wrong.

"The owner-operator segment of the industry has consistently been among the safest drivers in the nation with a rate of 0.34 crashes per million vehicle miles traveled," King said. "In other words, the safety performance of owner-operators is four times greater than the national average."

That's not to say all of mainstream media's articles on trucking are bad, but good coverage seems to be the exception. LL