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Are the trucking improvements as great as the ATA suggests?

The trucking industry has an interest in truck safety. After all, if a company’s trucks are involved in numerous crashes, it is likely that their insurance company will place them in a high-risk premium bracket and their negligence will cost them beyond any costs directly associated with a truck accident.

But there are differences of opinion between the American Trucking Associations (ATA) and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) over how to improve trucking safety and reduce the number of deaths caused by truck accidents.

The industry claims that truck accidents have declined in the last decade, and they have, but that needs to be placed in the context of the Great Recession and its effect on commerce. The total miles traveled by trucks during that economic slowdown meant there were fewer truck on the road to become involved in crashes and fatal accidents.

Only by examining the rate of crashes per vehicle mile traveled can one determine if trucks were actually involved in few accidents in a way that would suggest that truck safety has improved.

Arguments over the hours of service regulations likewise need to be apples-to-apples comparisons. Claiming there are more truck accidents because of the regulations requirement that drivers be allowed to sleep overnight can only be seen if the rate of crashes overnight is lower than the daytime rate.

Surprisingly, the ATA supports an increase in the gas tax, but this is less charitable than it appears. Certainly, their members would have to pay the tax, but they also know that the millions of non-commercial drivers would also be helping subsidize the roads that are absolutely essential to their business, and which by nature of their much larger vehicles, cause a disproportionate share of the damage.

Trucks, like all motor vehicles have become safer in recent years, but we must distinguish between actual statistical fact and advertising puffery.

Fleetowner.com, “Trucking touts safety investments, wants FMCSA to see data ‘without political lens’,” Kevin Jones, January 30, 2015

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