Near the end of August, New York Times op-ed contributor Howard Abramson offered the world his editorial titled “The Trucks are Killing Us.” With a headline like that there’s little doubt what was on his agenda: Trucks are dangerous and scary because they’re big and kill people, truck drivers are hapless morons with a death wish and ethically challenged truck fleet owners with nothing more than profit motive driving them to exploit drivers regardless of safety. Suffice it to say Abramson selectively trotted out statistics and half-truths to prove his point and to slam it all home used the tragic collision between a class-8 rig driven by a sleep-deprived driver and Tracey Morgan’s van to provide an emotional hook to hang his factually deprived opinion on.
Trowelling out narrative Abramson called out the industry and its water carriers, and partners in crime, Congress: “In recent months, Congress has pursued a number of steps to roll back safety improvements ordered by federal regulators. It has pushed to allow truck drivers to work 82 hours a week, up from the current 70 hours over eight days; discouraged the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration from investing in wireless technology designed to improve the monitoring of drivers and their vehicles; and signaled its willingness to allow longer and heavier trucks despite widespread public opposition. Congress also wants to lower the minimum age for drivers of large trucks that are allowed to travel from state to state to 18, from 21.”
Abramson characterized lawmaker’s efforts it this way, noting “A number of changes that will inevitably make us all less safe are tucked into the pending highway bill.” What should be noted is Abramson is the former editor of the ATA’s membership publications, an executive position integral to the public pronouncements, policy edicts and political efforts of the trucking industry group. It is clear Abramson knows (because he is a professional communicator) the difference between fact, lie and obfuscated truth when it comes to the trucking industry.
Noting a more than 3 percent drop in car deaths during the period was largely accomplished by technological improvements like airbags and anti-lock brakes, the trucking industry “has resisted most of those safety devices.” Seriously? The entire trucking industry “resisted” buying safety technology? He doubles down offering another sweeping, fact-less assertion, with an obligatory nod to how (of course) wonderful Europe is: “Most automakers now include or offer anti-lock brakes, electronic stability control, airbags and collision-avoidance devices in their vehicles, and the technology is included in many of the heavy trucks sold in Europe. But the United States trucking industry has largely avoided using the safety technologies available for vehicles sold here, because of their cost.” His last assertion is propaganda at its best, a baseless vilification and demonization of the “Industry” clearly pure fabrication cut from whole cloth and he knows it.
It didn’t take long before the American Trucking Association (ATA) responded, but the group was not accorded the same media platform to opine as Abramson because the New York Times editorial board rejected it. Noting how unfortunate it was the New York Times chose to run the piece, Bill Graves, ATA’s president and CEO said, “Despite the author's implied credentials, there are several falsehoods, both implied and intentional in the text, that deserve a response.” No kidding.
Graves tackles this canard first: "more people will be killed in traffic accidents involving large trucks this year than have died in all of the domestic commercial airline crashes over the past 45 years," Graves says implying the trucking industry is responsible for all those deaths simply isn't true. “Per the most recent federal data available, upwards of two-thirds of all serious crashes involving large trucks are caused by the actions of someone other than the professional driver.” Second, notes Graves, Abramson says Congress has "eliminate[ed] the requirement that drivers take a two-day break each week. “This isn't just an implied falsehood – it is simply and totally wrong. What Congress has done is almost exactly the opposite – it is allowing drivers to take more than one two-day break each week should they need or want to – and easing an onerous restriction that these breaks include two periods between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration admitted to Congress it never studied the potential consequences of these changes, consequences we now know – thanks to an American Transportation Research Institute analysis – include increased daytime truck traffic and likely increases in crashes as a result of more congested highways during daylight hours.”
In his commentary, Graves moves from one obfuscation to the other and rebuts them with facts and the specific actions the “Industry” has taken to support safer operations and ever-safer trucks incorporating the latest in safety technologies. In case you need some facts, here’s what Graves has to say about the Abramson’s position that trucks are disproportionately involved in crashes – something thay is patently false. “NHTSA's most recent Traffic Safety Facts report (dated July 2015) contains the facts: 9 percent of miles were driven by large trucks in 2013; large trucks accounted for 9 percent of all vehicles involved in fatal crashes and 3 percent of all vehicles involved in injury and property-damage-only crashes in 2013. NHTSA's data makes it clear: trucks are underrepresented in crashes.”
There’s more and I encourage you to read both Abramson’s New York Times piece and the ATA’s response. Graves puts it this way: “At the end of the day, there is no silver bullet, no magic gadget that will make roads entirely safe. But through education, by reducing crash risk through sound rules, safety technologies and tighter enforcement, we can continue the long-term improvements in truck and highway safety.” For those of us who have been intimately involved in the trucking industry for the last several decades, we know that the trucking industry is committed to safety, every day, every mile, and no amount of scaremongering or propaganda is going to change that.
Get a group of trucking executives together and the next thing you know they’ll be talking about autonomous vehicles, and in particular autonomous trucks, Guess what? These guys say they are coming, like it or not, believe it or not. But hide the children? Uhm, make it more like the grandchildren; apparently autonomous trucks won’t dominate the market until mid-century which was the consensus after an hour of discussion by a panel of four at the Commercial Vehicle Outlook Conference.
At the Great American Trucking Show, Fleet Owner magazine reported that executives from three top U.S. truckload carriers – Covenant Transportation Group, Swift Transportation, and Werner Enterprises – said they believe the driver shortage is a far more acute problem than ever before that an “excessive” level of government regulation is not only “stifling” trucking’s economic performance it’s dragging down the nation’s economic health as well.
Many in the industry are skeptical about proposed EPA pollution rules; especially drivers who own their own rigs. OOIDA Director of Regulatory Affairs Scott Grenerth facilitated a panel at the Great American Trucking Show by urging the Environmental Protection Agency and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to attend the truck show and hear what truckers have to say about the agencies’ proposed “Phase 2” standards, which would affect trucks, trailers, engines, exhaust and tires.
This headline ought to stop you cold: “Chile Truck Drivers Block Highways Demanding End to Fire Bombs.” According to this Bloomberg report, truck drivers in Chile are blocking highways into Santiago to protest incendiary attacks on vehicles in southern Chile allegedly done by pro-indigenous groups. And you thought it was tough getting to the other side of Chicago in under three hours!
There’s a crackdown occurring against truckers on New Jersey’s roads and folks (truckers and fleet owners) are none too happy about it. The New Jersey Motor Truck Association believes government resources could be put to better use than to drive revenue on the backs of the state’s truckers. “Instead of coming after us,” said Gail Toth, the group’s executive director, “the state ought to concentrate on providing adequate rest areas for truckers and better training for drivers whose cars are causing two-thirds of the truck accidents.”
In case you were wondering, Lockheed Martin, famous for some of the most advance military aircraft in history, has taken a 20 percent position with Peloton Technology, the start-up developing the automated truck drafting technology that will manage truck positioning and other factors to facilitate multiple truck drafting lines on the road.