Niagara Gazette

Columns

June 17, 2014

CONFER: America has a trucking crisis

Niagara Gazette — Because a Hollywood star was critically injured in an accident caused by a tractor trailer, the public conversation has turned to road safety and how big trucks fit into that equation. Never mind that beyond Tracy Morgan’s high-profile crash there are 500,000 accidents with tractor trailers every year in which an average of 11 people die each day. 

Although those are incredibly high numbers, they don’t tell the whole story. A majority of the accidents are not the fault of the truck driver — 60 percent are caused by the drivers of the other vehicles and their bad judgment. My commute takes me through major trucking routes, so I see that in spades. From drivers tailgating trailers to many more who pull out in front of trucks under the foolish thinking that such a big vehicle really can’t be going 55, I often wonder why there aren’t more accidents.

But this doesn’t mean the industry is without fault. Forty percent of the accidents, 200,000 a year, are the direct result of truck driver error or faulty equipment. Of those, 13 percent (26,000) are attributed to fatigue, the cause du jour of the press as it was the reason behind the accident that nearly killed Morgan. The leading contributor to truck accidents is prescription drugs (twice as many as are fatigue-related crashes).

Now, combine both of those factors with a seemingly unrelated statistic – the average age of a commercial driver is 55 – and you can piece together a puzzle that highlights a safety and economic crisis in the trucking industry.

Fatigue is a result of overwork. Federal law allows for 70 hours of driving a week, which many drivers want to – or are forced to – take (the average workweek is 58 hours).

Prescription drug use is more common among older people, which is why that causal factor of collisions is so high. It’s a direct outcome of the older workforce in the industry.

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