Bulldog Hiway Express President Phil Byrd, speaking as First Vice Chair of the American Trucking Associations, delivered a salvo aimed at the national focus on roadside vehicle inspections during an April 23 General Session of the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance’s workshop in Louisville, Ky.
To really improve safety, Byrd said, “We must be guided by what the data tells us,” namely that “87 percent of the crashes are the result of driver error or driver behavior.” Only 10 percent of crashes, he said, can be attributed to vehicle malfunction, 3 percent to environmental factors. “Examining driver credentials is not he best way of enforcing driver behavior,” he added, calling on a shift in focus away from roadside inspections at the state level to “on-road enforcement of traffic laws.
“Coupled with some inspection activities, [such robust enforcement] is four times more effective than roadside inspections – it makes sense for us to place far more emphasis of traffic enforcement.”
Byrd presented FMCSA’s own data to show the decline in traffic enforcement actions and the rise in inspection activity over many years. “There will be some of those who say a shift will cause equipment condition to slip,” he said, “but to those I say that focusing on traffic enforcement is an appropriate direction of our resources toward improving driver behavior.”
FMCSA Administrator Anne Ferro, however, appeared unfazed in her talk, which directly followed Byrd’s. In some sense, she said, she agreed with Byrd that a combination of robust traffic enforcement and inspections as necessary for public highway safety. Referencing 2011 fatal crash data Overdrive reported on showing a 20 percent increase “in the number of deaths of occupants of trucks,” she said, “one third [of the dead drivers] weren’t wearing seatbelts, and more than one in four were speeding. Speeding, seat belts, fatigue, all of these continue to be big actors in crashes…. High-visibility enforcement is a critical component of influencing behavior. High-visibility enforcement and taking conviction action is important to everything we do.”
But so are roadside inspections, she added. Even the Driver Fitness Behavioral Analysis and Safety Improvement Category under the Compliance, Safety, Accountability regime, which has been shown not to correlate to carrier crash rates, can be utilized toward identifying unsafe carriers, Ferro said. “Three out of four [companies at alert status in that BASIC] also have an alert in another area. Compliance and accountability lead to safety, over and over again.”
Byrd also called on boosting education of and enforcement against the primary at-fault party in 70 percent of all truck-involved accidents. “Consider that 31 percent of traffic fatalities result from a driver impaired by alcohol,” Byrd said. “However, in only 2 percent of fatal truck crashes was the truck driver alcohol-impaired. Also, we know that younger drivers and older drivers have higher fatal crash rates than middle-agers. But they don’t drive trucks”as a general rule.
“Recognizing these statistics,” he added, “we must admit that focusing almost exclusively on the condition of trucks and the behavior of the truck driver will” be a mere drop in the safety bucket. “We must focus on the behavior of cars around trucks.”
Ferro updated CVSA attendees on the status of the electronic-log mandate Supplemental Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, the next step in FMCSA’s advancement of the mandate, codified into law with the MAP-21 highway bill last year. The SNPRM could be expected in September, she said, and the ultimate rule would do four things:
Medical certifications and the CDL
Ferro also detailed the three components of the agency’s ongoing “driver qualification loophole shutdown initiative,” as she dubbed agency efforts to crack down on fraudulent medical certifications.