Saturday, January 19, 2019

Elephants In The Road

Transport Topics reports the following:

FMCSA Says Rate of Truck-Occupant Deaths and Fatal Crashes Continues to Climb

The percentage of all fatal crashes involving at least one large truck also rose to 12.4% in 2017 from 11.2% in 2016 and 11.1% in 2015.
Overall, the number of fatalities in large truck and/or bus crashes increased to 5,005 in 2017 from 4,629 in 2016, Van Steenburg said. The actual number of large truck and bus fatal crashes rose to 4,455 in 2017 from 4,116 the prior year.
The top five driver-related factors for large trucks and buses in fatal crashes were speeding, distractions such as cell phones, failure to yield right of way, impairment (fatigue) and careless driving.

So if we address speeding, cell phone usage, observing right of ways, get more rest and not being so careless; we could be well on our way to reducing the frequency of fatal crashes involving large trucks and buses. But what about the Elephants?

There are problems and there are symptoms of problems. Symptoms tend to be more visible and easily measured. It’s like the old joke:
Patient goes to the doctor, lifts his arm and says, “It hurts when I do this”.
The Doctor replies, “Stop doing that…” And we could probably add, "Here’s a prescription for the pain...come back in 30 days."

That’s sort where I see us when it comes to highway safety for the trucking industry. We can stop doing certain things, penalize bad behaviors and more closely monitor drivers and equipment. But, we haven’t addressed the biggest problems…the Elephants in the Road. If we really want to make it safer to travel the nation’s highways we should focus on getting the Elephants off the road. Just like the “Elephant in the room”, that obvious issue no one wants to talk about. When it comes to safety we tend to take a detour around the two biggest Elephants…driver quality and highway infrastructure.

We have way too many big trucks on the road being driven by folks who shouldn’t be driving big trucks on the road, at least not most of the roads. Maybe some place where there’s not much traffic, the road is flat and dry and the sun is shining. But not most places. But when you have a shortage of labor for tough jobs that don’t pay enough to attract and retain those individuals who can actually do the job and may even like doing the job; you end up with people who don’t do it very well. When those people end up working in a restaurant you get bad food or bad service and you don’t go back. Eventually the restaurant closes its doors. Worst case their food makes some one sick, maybe even sick to death. When those people work on an assembly line or in a highly controlled environment where there are multiple layers of quality control, their shoddy work adds costs and delays and ultimately just becomes part of the process…the cost of doing business. When such people drive trucks, some of them cause fatal accidents. And fatal accidents become part of the process…the cost of doing business.

The other big Elephant is highway infrastructure. We’re "only" 20-30 years behind on having our highway system where it needs to be to accommodate the volume of traffic. So we have highways that are just not safe for trucks and cars. And in the scramble to fix them we tend to do a really poor job of designing work zones with safety as a priority. As a result the number of fatal crashes in work zones continues to climb as we have more work zones and more cars and trucks trying to negotiate their way through them. And for truck drivers the delays and frustration associated with congested highways, bad roads and work zones has consequences. So even when they finally make their way to a decent highway, they try to make up for lost time or just relax a little too much and end up having fatal accidents in places where the road conditions are just fine.

You want to improve big truck highway safety? Better drivers, better roads…and no Elephants.

No comments: