All That's Trucking

When Goals Don’t Make Sense

February 28, 2014

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At our company, it’s annual review time. Part of the process involves setting goals for the coming year, which are supposed to be “attainable with a stretch” – challenging, but reachable.

Anything I’ve ever read or heard about goal-setting says goals need to be difficult, and specific, but attainable.

That last attribute seems to have been overlooked by the U.S. Department of Transportation, which insists on sticking to its goal of zero highway fatalities.

In a November hearing on the controversial 34-hour restart provision of the hours-of-service rule, Rep. Richard Hanna, R-N.Y., said that goal is an ideology that leads to poor regulation.

“If the goal is to reduce all deaths to zero, then we would close all our highways and park all our trucks,” he said. “[Zero deaths is] an unrealistic, impractical goal that burdens the industry and is philosophically based, not reality based,” he said.

Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s Anne Ferro continues to say it’s not unrealistic. Responding to critics last month during a forum on FMCSA research projects, she defended the goal as “a stretch goal and aspirational goal.”

Ferro noted the success aviation has achieved in reaching near-zero fatalities – but commercial pilots aren’t dealing with the average non-professional driver the way truckers do.

Rob Abbott, vice president of safety policy at American Trucking Associations, points out in response to the zero-fatalities goal that the majority of car-truck crashes begin with a mistake by the car driver.

“We have to evaluate if it’s…within [the agency’s] capability to impact every truck-related crash, knowing that 70% to 75% of crashes are the other motorist’s fault,” he says.

The fact is, it is impossible to eliminate all risk. Just think about the many decisions you make every day.

• Take a shower, and you’re risking slipping and falling. In fact, thousands of people die every year from falling in the tub or shower. Where are the regulations requiring grab bars in showers?
• Breakfast – you could choke on that muffin! Or more long term, balance the risks of that sugar and saturated fat laden breakfast or a healthier breakfast of oatmeal and fruit. Oh, and is that fruit organic? Add potential risks of cancer from chemical pesticides to the risk list.
• So then you climb in your car to head to work. Wait, more than 33,000 people died on the roadways in 2012.
• OK, so maybe you’ll bike to work. I have a friend who does that. He’s had two serious accidents, one with a vehicle, one involving a pothole.
• Walk to work! Hey, you might trip over a curb and sprain your ankle, or get hit in the crosswalk by an inattentive motorist running a red light.

Even if you decide you’re just not going to get out of bed, there’s a very small risk of a meteor falling from the sky and snuffing you out.

Obviously the smart thing to do is to do everything you can to minimize those risks, but it’s impossible to eliminate them altogether.

Does that mean we should throw up our hands and give up efforts to continually improve our fleets’ safety efforts? Of course not! No, goals should not be easy. Our country set a goal to go put a man on the moon and we did.

But Aubrey Daniels, in his book “Oops! 13 Management Practices That Waste Time and Money,” argues that “stretch” goals, as Ferro characterizes the zero-fatalities goal, are an ineffective practice. When individuals repeatedly fail to reach stretch goals, their performance actually declines.

While we’re talking about an entire industry here, not individuals, I believe similar principles apply. By setting unachievable goals, the FMCSA is not inspiring trucking to keep reaching for improvement, but setting the industry up for failure and frustration.

From the pages of HDT's February 2014 issue.


  1. 1. Joe Rajkovacz [ February 28, 2014 @ 09:13AM ]

    Excellent analysis Deborah! Believing that the top truck regulating agency can actually impact truck involved fatal crashes by solely focusing on trucking is the same as trying to mine for the rarest of elements – “unobtainum.”


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Author Bio

Deborah Lockridge

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All That's Trucking blog is just that – the editor's take on anything and everything related to trucking, with the help of guest posts from other HDT editors. Author Deborah Lockridge's career as an award-winning trucking journalist started in 1990.


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