Wanting to make sure that the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Sub-Committee on Highways and Transit understood the concerns of the trucking industry, The Alliance for Driver Safety & Security (The Trucking Alliance), on June 12, submitted a statement for the hearing the committee was holding. The subject of the hearing is “Under Pressure – The State of Trucking in America.”
“There should be no greater pressure on the trucking industry than to reduce large truck crash fatalities and injuries,” the statement said.
To highlight the scope of the problem, The Alliance point out that in the last reportable year (2017), there were more than 415,000 large truck accidents on U.S. highways. These large truck crashes killed 4,761 people, including more than 600 truck drivers. Another 148,000 people were injured.
“The trucking industry is indispensable to the U.S. economy,” Steve Williams, CEO of Maverick USA in Little Rock, Arkansas, is a co-founder of the Trucking Alliance and y said. “But the industry has too many accidents. More truck drivers lost their lives in 2017 than in any year in the previous 10 years. We must aggressively address these tragic figures.”
Williams believes a first step is to reverse the industry priorities.
“Support progressive safety reforms that make sense for our country and citizens first, our industry second, and our companies third.”
Yet several trucking-specific bills before the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee would propose the opposite – legislation to benefit companies first, the trucking industry second, and our country and citizens, third. This committee must adopt safety reforms to reduce large truck crashes and reject legislation that would appease special interests but sacrifice public safety in the process.
The trucking industry should strive to achieve the same safety performance record as the US airline industry. For example, the Trucking Alliance fully supports the work of the Road to Zero Coalition. Announced in October 2016, this coalition has more than 900 cities, corporations, and government agencies. The Trucking Alliance serves as one of 21 organizations on the Road to Zero Steering Group, the only stakeholder from the trucking industry.
The Road to Zero Coalition plans to fully eliminate all highway accident fatalities within 30 years. If progressive safety reforms and emerging technologies are adopted, the trucking industry can eliminate all large truck crash fatalities much sooner. This sub-committee can have an integral role in achieving these objectives.
To address these issues The Alliance suggested the committee consider the following safety priorities, to reduce large truck crashes, injuries and fatalities:
1. No Industry Segment Should Be Exempt from Installing Electronic Logging Devices (ELDs)
In 2012, Congress required all interstate commercial trucks to install an ELD, as part of the “Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act.”
ELDs are recording devices. The devices are engaged to the truck’s engine. ELDs verify when and for how many hours a truck driver operates a commercial vehicle. ELDs verify if a truck driver exceeds the maximum number of on-duty hours allowed by law, thereby reducing truck driver fatigue, a major factor in large truck crashes.
Rather than embrace ELDs for the safety benefits, they will achieve, certain industry segments want an exemption from ELDs. H.R. 1673 and H.R. 1698 would allow thousands of truck drivers to operate ‘off the grid’ and without a reliable way to verify whether they are in compliance with on-duty regulations. These bills would compromise public safety. The T&I Sub-Committee should reject these two bills, outright.
Another bill, H.R. 1697, would allow any motor carrier that operates 10 or fewer trucks to operate without an ELD. Hundreds of thousands of truck drivers could operate their trucks without an ELD, and presumably, utilize the paper logs that ELDs replaced. Paper log books are easily falsified. H.R. 1697 should be rejected.
ELDs should be required in all large commercial trucks, regardless of how many trucks are owned, the commodity being hauled, length of trip, or whether the truck driver operates in interstate or intrastate commerce.
2. Thousands of Commercial Truck Drivers are Illicit Drug Users
The Omnibus Transportation Employee Testing Act of 1991 requires drug and alcohol testing of “safety-sensitive” transportation worker occupations. These occupations require performance in the public sector. Drug use is strictly prohibited. Truck driving is considered a safety-sensitive occupation, along with other transportation workers in aviation, rail, pipeline, transit, and other transportation modes.
The US Department of Transportation (USDOT) administers the 1991 law, incorporating drug test guidelines approved by the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). USDOT currently recognizes one drug test method – a urinalysis. USDOT allows employers to require additional drug test methods, as part of the employer’s hiring practices.
A growing number of trucking company employers, including Trucking Alliance carriers, require a second drug test, a hair analysis, as part of their pre-employment truck driver hiring policies. The Trucking Alliance recently submitted data to USDOT, showing compelling evidence that thousands of habitual drug users are manipulating federal drug test protocols and obtaining jobs as commercial truck drivers.
This survey data compared the pre-employment drug test results of 151,662 truck driver applicants, who were asked to submit to two drug tests – a urinalysis and a hair analysis. Almost all applicants held an active commercial driver license. Ninety-four percent (94%) of the truck driver applicants tested drug-free. However, thousands of applicants failed either or both drug tests.
Alarmingly, the urinalysis, the only method recognized by USDOT, and relied on by almost all trucking company employers, actually failed to identify most drug abusers. The urinalysis detected drugs in 949 applicants, about 1% of the population. However, 8.6%, or 8,878 truck driver applicants, either failed or refused the hair test. Put another way, the urinalysis missed 9 out of 10 actual illicit drug users. The most prevalent drug was cocaine, followed by opioids and marijuana. Applicants who failed or refused the hair test were disqualified for employment at these companies but likely obtained the same job elsewhere, at companies that administer only a urinalysis.
This survey is the first of its kind in the trucking industry. The results represent a statistically valid sample. According to the American Trucking Associations, there are 3.5 million commercial truck drivers. The survey can project with a 99% confidence level, and a margin of error of <1%, that 301,000 commercial truck drivers would fail or refuse a hair analysis today, for illegal drug use.
The survey results are compelling evidence that thousands of habitual drug users are skirting a system designed to prohibit drug use in transportation. Thousands of drug abusers are obtaining jobs as truck drivers, despite their drug use.
The T&I Sub-committee can intervene to mitigate this problem. Urge HHS to expeditiously complete its hair test guidelines, so USDOT can quickly recognize hair testing for DOT pre-employment and random drug test protocols. Further, until USDOT recognizes a hair analysis, no employer will be allowed to submit hair test failures into the pending USDOT Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse. This will make it virtually impossible for another employer to know if a person applying for a truck driver job has previously failed a drug test.
Drug use in the trucking industry is a public safety crisis. This survey can project as many as 301,000 commercial drivers would fail or refuse a hair test. These illicit drug users must be identified and taken out of commercial trucks and off the nation’s highways. The trucking industry has no greater safety issue than to aggressively address illegal drug use among commercial truck drivers.
3. Truck Drivers Should Be 21 Years or Older to Operate Commercial Trucks in Interstate Commerce
Federal regulations require a person to be at least 21 years of age before operating a commercial vehicle in interstate commerce. The Trucking Alliance supports this age restriction.
Most states allow teenagers between the ages of 18-21 to operate commercial trucks within their state boundary. While statistics are lacking, anecdotal evidence suggests these teenage truck drivers operate lighter weight, short trucks, such as delivery vans and straight or panel trucks.
Few teenagers actually operate Class 8 tractor-trailer combinations within their state. These big rigs carry a laden weight of 80,000 pounds. These are the tractor trailers used in interstate commerce. Operating these tractor-trailer combinations requires elevated skills, considerable experience, maturity and self-discipline.
State restrictions that allow teenagers to operate some types of trucks in intrastate commerce, can serve as the proper framework for gaining experience. These teenagers are essentially in an apprenticeship. They operate smaller trucks, make local deliveries, return to their place of work each day. They are always under close, constant, and daily supervision, unlike the working environment experienced by long-haul commercial drivers.
Supporters of teenage truck drivers in interstate commerce use the analogy that 18-21 years old kids are allowed to serve in the military. But teenagers serving in the military are also under daily, highly regulated, constant, and strict supervision. There are many job occupations, for which serving in the military doesn’t provide an automatic qualification. Current state restrictions offer teenagers an opportunity to gain a limited, highly supervised introduction to the trucking industry.
Statistics are lacking on the overall safety performance of local teenage truck drivers. But the industry’s property and liability insurance rates, for incurring the additional risk of teenage truck drivers in interstate commerce, would assuredly go up.
For these reasons, the House T&I Committee should reject H.R. 1374. This legislation would allow teenagers to operate Class 8 tractor-trailer combinations in an unsupervised environment and in interstate commerce, after only 10 weeks of training. The nation’s public highways should not be used as a proving ground to determine if teenagers can operate Class 8 tractor-trailer combinations safely. Current restrictive state provisions allow teenagers an apprenticeship to the industry. H.R.1374 could compromise public safety and should be rejected.
4. Large Trucks Should Adhere to a Reasonable Maximum Speed of 65-mph
The Trucking Alliance supports a new federal safety standard that would require all large commercial trucks to maintain a maximum speed limit of 65 mph on the nation’s highways.
According to NHTSA, in 2017, speeding was one of the factors for almost 27% of motor vehicle crash deaths. The World Health Organization’s “Report on Road Safety” estimates that for every 1% increase in mean speed, there is a 4% increase in the fatal crash risk and a 3% increase in the serious crash risk. The top speed of large tractor-trailer combinations should be limited.
The trucking industry has historically supported truck speed limiters. Most trucking companies already utilize truck speed limiters, usually setting the trucks to operate at maximum speeds between 62 and 68 mph. As far back as 2006, the American Trucking Associations submitted a petition to NHTSA, requesting that truck manufacturers install truck speed limiting devices. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) estimates that setting a truck speed limiter at 65 mph, could save as many as 214 lives and prevent approximately 4,500 injuries from large truck crashes each year.
Slowing the top speed of tractor trailers will greatly reduce the number of fatalities and the severity of injuries from large truck crashes. Congress should support legislation that would direct the Secretary of Transportation to issue a final rule requiring truck speed limiting devices and for those commercial vehicles currently equipped with the technology to engage the devices.
5. Collision Mitigation Systems Should Be Required on New Commercial Trucks
Collision mitigation systems installed in commercial trucks can reduce large truck crashes.
The Trucking Alliance supports the conclusions of a 2017 study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Study. The study, entitled “Leveraging Large Truck Technology and Engineering to Realize Safety Gains”, researched four truck safety technologies, all of which can greatly reduce injuries and fatalities in large truck crashes:
1. Lane Departure Warning Systems, which detect when the vehicle drifts out of its lane and warns the driver;
2. Video-based Onboard Safety Monitoring, which utilizes in-vehicle video cameras and sensors;
3. Automatic Emergency Braking Systems, which detect when the truck is in danger of striking the vehicle in front of it and brakes automatically if needed; and
4. Air Disc Brakes, which will eventually be superior to traditional drum brakes, as these systems are continually improved.
The Trucking Alliance supports the deployment of these Advanced Safety Technologies (ASTs) and other technologies in new commercial trucks. ASTs are not limited however, to the four technologies in the AAA Foundation report. In fact, the Trucking Alliance endorses a wide variety of ASTs that are now deployable or under development for large trucks.
These ASTs include, but are not limited to:
• Forward Collision Warning Systems
• Adaptive Cruise Controls
• Automatic Emergency Braking Systems
• Lane Departure Warning Systems
• “Blind Spot” Warning Systems
• Electronic Stability Control
• Roll Stability Control
• Speed Limiters
• Video-based Onboard Safety Monitoring systems
• Kinematic-based Onboard Safety Monitoring Systems
• Vehicle-to-vehicle Communication
• Air Disc Brakes (ADB)
• Brake Stroke Monitoring Systems; and others.
Some ASTs, such as Roll Stability Control Systems, have been in operation by fleets for a decade. Other technologies, such as video and kinematic-based onboard safety monitoring systems and “Blind Spot” mirror replacement systems are newer technologies that carriers are testing in the field.
For these reasons, the Trucking Alliance endorses ASTs and its member carriers have agreed to pursue the testing and deployment of these ASTs, as they are more fully developed, tested, and the safety benefits are confirmed through these field tests.
In the meantime, the Trucking Alliance urges Congress to require NHTSA to set a minimum performance standard and issue a final rule requiring that commercial motor vehicles are equipped with automatic emergency braking systems, as standard equipment.