In the 1990s, the truck safety lobby was active, visible and in some cases well funded by the railroads. Most truck drivers were familiar with the small but vocal Parents Against Tired Truckers and Citizens for Reliable And Safe Highways. PATT founders Daphne and Steve Izer, whose teenage son was killed in a truck crash in 1994, often made news with their emotionally driven public appearances.
But truckers held little sympathy for what they perceived to be exaggerated, unfair attacks on drivers who statistically were proven to be far safer than four-wheelers.
Since then, other groups have appeared on the highway safety stage. The public visibility of all in some ways has dwindled with funding, and railroad groups appear to have gotten out of the business of anti-truck messaging except on size and weight issues. But safety groups have more than made up for that by forming alliances with regulators and sympathetic carrier interests. Their influence has helped lead to regulations requiring the use of speed limiters (officially proposed just a week and a half ago) and electronic logging devices.
Since 2002, PATT and CRASH have been united under the Truck Safety Coalition banner. They still use emotional appeals of injured victims or family members of those killed in truck-related crashes to influence policy. That can mean anything from speaking up whenever an hours of service change is in the offing to, most recently, leading a call for mandated active emergency-braking technology.
The coalition often is joined by the broader, well-funded Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, a membership-based organization founded by automobile insurance executives.
As for the fairness of attacks on trucking coming from these groups, nothing much has changed, says Rob Abbott, outgoing vice president of safety policy for the American Trucking Associations. Speaking specifically about Advocates, CRASH and PATT, Abbott says their statements and “irresponsible” use of data underscore this view: “We think there’s a lack of credibility there and would not want to associate with them.”
Road Safe America is a different story. Founded by Atlanta-area financial adviser Steve Owings after his son died during a crash with a tractor-trailer early this century, the group is funded by personal donations and run by volunteers exclusively.
Owings says he set off on his own, reasoning that “there’s bound to be some leaders in [trucking] who care about safety and try to do something about it. At the same time, I recognized that the organizations that already existed were sort of at loggerheads with the industry.” He chose to find common ground “rather than argue forever about things we’ll never agree with.”
Owings focused on speed governing technology, seeing that a portion of the industry endorsed it, and petitioned the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to require speed limiting on all new trucks. ATA followed his petition with their own, and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration subsequently was brought into the regulatory process to require virtually all truckers with electronic engines to use speed limiters. At press time, a notice of proposed rulemaking had been issued to require limiters, though no speed was identified.
Among those against speed limiters are most Overdrive readers and the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association. They have long picked a bone over the well-documented safety problems created by forcing trucks to drive slower than surrounding traffic and by removing the ability to accelerate beyond a governed speed in dangerous situations that may require it.
Another problem is the associated costs, which must be considered in any new rule of economic significance. The official estimated cost of speed limiter technology in the recently released proposed rule ranges from $200 million to $1.5 billion worth of productivity and other losses, based on a speed setting range between 68 and 60 mph. FMCSA says such costs are fully offset by fuel savings alone.
Todd Spencer, executive vice president of OOIDA, views groups’ advocacy for technological mandates as an economic power play to put an extra burden on trucking’s smaller entities. CRASH may not get its support from the railroad lobby anymore, but “they figured out a long time ago that there were entities within trucking that would create more economic issues for small truckers than the railroad ever could,” Spencer says. “Virtually all of the regs frustrating many drivers right now, you can point to big truckers as the proponents.”
Requiring ELDs is a prime example. Many larger carriers joined the call to mandate the devices, and large carriers were the first to invest in them. Owings also has been an advocate, echoed in his position by ATA again and other advocacy groups.
FMCSA estimated $1.84 billion in costs for the devices themselves and costs related to driver training and recruiting. That was partly offset by a crash-reduction benefit that the agency estimates to be $570 million. In its ongoing ELD lawsuit, OOIDA vigorously disputes that and other elements of the agency’s cost-benefit assessment.
PATT/CRASH seem to have learned from Owings the value of finding trucking partners. After establishing a “Distinguished Safety Leadership” Award in 2010, PATT/CRASH’s most recent award, announced in May, went to Senior Vice President Greer Woodruff of J.B. Hunt, in part for the carrier’s side-underride prevention on trailers. In its press release, the Truck Safety Coalition mentioned future awards to be delivered to Maverick Transportation Chairman and CEO Steve Williams and CEO Reggie Dupre of Dupre Logistics.
All three are members of a group of five carriers known as the Trucking Alliance, founded in 2010 and fashioning itself as “Trucking’s Safety Advocate.” The other two companies are Knight Transportation and Boyle Transportation.
The Alliance prominently has joined Advocates and CRASH/PATT in opposing further congressionally directed changes to the hours of service. Likewise, the Alliance joined Advocates recently in filing a brief with the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals to express support for FMCSA as it defends itself against OOIDA’s ELD challenge.
However, the Trucking Alliance did not join the petition to NHTSA by Advocates, the Truck Safety Coalition and Road Safe to require costly active-emergency-braking technology on new trucks. While systems commercially available today can do more than just apply the brakes in an emergency, such a premium system with a new-truck order would add around $5,000 to the sticker price, notes Overdrive Equipment Editor Jason Cannon.
Road Safe, Owings says, is gearing up for a push for automatic-braking regulation. In August, he was hopeful to have a redesigned website live before the end of the month to help put “virtually all of our horsepower – what little we’ve got – on automatic emergency braking,” he says.
As with most political issues, the key players do not always side with identical partners on each issue. Spencer notes that most safety groups are supportive of some driver-favored issues, such as better training, which OOIDA has long championed. Advocates and the Truck Safety Coalition both participated in the 2015 negotiated rulemaking around driver training.
Road Safe America prominently advocates against what Owings calls “piece-work” pay for drivers – the per-mile and percentage methods that he argues encourage hours of service violations. He and other supporters favor an hourly-pay standard for all driver compensation.
Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety and the Truck Safety Coalition did not respond to requests for interviews for this story.
Next in this series: MCSAC policy panel’s long shift toward safety advocates