Will Profit Impair Safety?

There’s one common theme running through the Shell Rotella Safety Crew Trucker of the Month profiles. While their individual philosophies and personalities differ, every one of them says they drive defensively around four-wheelers. Statistically it seems that’s a really good idea. It’s no surprise that the American Automobile Association is apparently infighting about some its own research that shows car drivers cause 70 percent of accidents involving big trucks.

For decades the AAA, as an advocate for motorists, has railed against truck drivers and supported laws to restrict their rights. The AAA has released dozens of studies critical of truckers.

At government safety forums, the AAA forms a triangle of safety authorities with CRASH and the insurance industry’s Institute of Highway Safety, groups that sometimes have biased motives. Now it seems, for all its millions poured into encouraging safe driving, the automobile association is – surprise – putting profit above public safety.

A recent article in USA Today detailed a deep rift between the AAA’s safety research arm and its business services units. According to officials inside the AAA and safety experts who have left it, the organization wants to squash the upcoming report about car drivers being the leading cause the car/truck accidents rather than offend its motoring members, the newspaper reported.

According to the article, tailgating, improper lane changes and fatigue – on the part of motorists – are leading contributors to wrecks with big trucks. But motorists, who make up the AAA membership, are afraid of big trucks, and former employees of the AAA said the group wants to avoid the troubling study.

The top brass at AAA deny the report of a rift and say the study on truck safety will be out this month. We hope so. It would go a long way to educating the public about safety. The AAA does a lot of good for safety and has for many years.

But the report is hardly surprising. Many public officials and safety groups target truckers in their safety campaigns – even though truckers are responsible for only 30 percent of the problem. They prey on the public fear of big trucks and put all their effort into passing laws that disrupt commerce but don’t reduce the number of wrecks between big rigs and cars.

If safety advocates and the U.S. government want to reach the goal of cutting fatal truck accidents in half by the year 2010, it’s clear they have to focus some – if not most – of their efforts on the cause of the majority of truck accidents – car drivers.

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