All That's Trucking

CNBC Series Provides Lopsided Portrayal of Truck Safety

August 7, 2014

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A CNBC series called "Collision Course" has drawn a heated response from the American Trucking Associations, which called it "an outrageously inaccurate image" of the industry.

The four-part "investigative series" ran throughout CNBC's Business Day programming on July 30. With headlines such as "Death on the Highway," and "Truck Accidents Surge: Why No National Outcry?" you can tell it's going to be biased.

There are lots of images of horrific crash scenes like the Tracy Morgan and FedEx/bus crash earlier this year, burned-out and crushed shells of vehicles, and tragic stories of families torn apart by truck crashes. It focuses on the bad apples; a chameleon carrier who hired a driver who killed another while on meth.

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Nothing about how truckers suffer emotionally when there's no way to avoid hitting a vehicle that darts out in front of them. Nothing about the fact that the incidence of truck drivers being found under the influence after a wreck being a fraction of other vehicle drivers.

Every time someone in the industry tries to point out something positive to the interviewers, the segments then go to someone for a rebuttal, whether it's an association representing plaintiff's lawyers (who called trucks an "80,000-pound missile"), Parents Against Tired Truckers, or the Truck Safety Coalition. The implication always seems to be that the industry just isn't doing enough, that it's tolerant of the carnage. The Truck Safety Coalition representative flat out said, "This industry has too high a tolerance level for death and injuries."

One segment highlighted advanced safety technology such as advanced cruise control, automatic collision avoidance/mitigation, and lane departure warning systems. But then it goes on to say this technology could have saved one family, and points out that only about 10% of trucks on the road have some sort of active safety technology. PATT charged that the rulemaking process is too slow in mandating such technologies.

Outgoing FMCSA Administrator Anne Ferro acknowledged that fatal truck wrecks are "a a tragedy that happens almost 11 times a day."

When asked why fatal truck crashes are up 18% from 2009 to 2012, Ferro attributed it to a combination of economic growth and the increased traffic on our roadways. However, she also pointed out that while the numbers are up slightly in the past couple of years, that changes in the safety oversight of the industry have cut fatal crashes from about 5,000 a year to around 4,000.

In a letter to CNBC Associate Producer Jennifer Schlesinger, ATA head Bill Graves wrote, "The series portrayed our industry as egregiously unsafe, depicting the worst practices of some in our industry as endemic to how we do business. This paints an outrageously inaccurate image of an industry that moves the vast majority of the country's goods; spends more than $7.5 billion annually on safety-related technologies and has worked to cut truck-involved crashes by 22% over the past decade."

The letter points out that the majority of truck-involved fatalities are not caused by the truck driver's actions, and that the statistics cited lump highway tractor-trailers together with dump trucks, small delivery trucks, and large pickup trucks.

Graves invited CNBC to attend the National Truck Driving Championships next week in Pittsburgh, to ride along with an America's Road Team Captain, or talk to ATA's National Driver of the Year, National Safety Director of the Year or fleets that have won safety awards.

I hope they take him up on it.

In the meantime, I encourage you to add your comments to the story page. There are many in the trucking industry who have spoken up, some with great insights and their own personal stories that lend another face to this story.

You can watch the series, plus additional web-only features, at http://www.cnbc.com/id/10001293?__source=vty|investigationsinc|&par=vty

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Author Bio

Deborah Lockridge

Editor in Chief

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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