A recent op-ed in the New York Times has highlighted a problem trial lawyers and our clients have known for years- major reforms and updated regulation are needed in our nation’s trucking industry. According to this article, more people will die in 2015 from traffic wrecks involving large trucks than in all of the domestic commercial airline crashes over the past 45 years- an alarming statistic, especially when you stop to consider just how much emphasis is placed on airline safety when compared to tractor-trailers and other large trucks.
Congress has consistently resisted tougher restrictions on trucking companies, even in the face of disturbing data- (1) the death toll in truck crashes rose 17 percent from 2009 to 2013; (2) fatalities in truck crashes have risen four years in a row, reaching 3,964 in 2013; and (3) the CDC has estimated the cost of truck and bus crashes to have a $99 billion impact on the economy.
Furthermore, while trucks accounted for less than 10 percent of total miles traveled during 2013, the N.T.S.B. recently reported that they were involved in one in eight of all fatal accidents.
The trucking industry’s lobby insists that it needs longer work weeks for its drivers and bigger vehicles so that fewer trucks will be present on our roads. The trucking industry also bases its opposition to safety-rule changes on money, saying that increasing costs will hurt profits and raise rates for shippers and, ultimately, consumers. Higher safety standards and shorter work weeks may increase freight costs to some degree, but some of those standards would also save carriers money in the long run through lower insurance rates and fewer damage claims. To say that improvements in safety regulations would cause the $700 billion industry to take a huge hit seems a little disingenuous when compared to the benefits of ensuring the safety of drivers on our roads.
Of course, the trucking industry is crucial to our economic well-being, but Congress must act to make it clear that safety has to be the higher priority. If you have any doubt ask Tracey Morgan what he thinks about exhausted truck drivers. The driver who seriously injured him and killed his good friend had driven 800 miles from Georgia to START his trip in New England. He had been awake for over 20 hours at the time of the crash.