Safety & Compliance

Wrongly Accused

April 11, 2000

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"Wrongly Accused: Contrary to popular opinion, when cars and heavy trucks collide, the passenger vehicle is usually to blame, a U-M study shows."
This is not news to the trucking industry, but it was great to see this headline in a major newspaper like the Detroit Free Press earlier this month.
Reporter Christopher Walton starts the article talking about the number of truck-car fatalities. "The ferocity of these crashes and the fact that so many of those who die are driving or riding in the cars, not the big rigs, are why so many people assume that the heavy trucks are responsible for most of those wrecks and resulting deaths."
"But that's not true," he writes, according to "a controversial study" by the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute. The study found that passenger vehicle drivers committed an error in more than 80% of fatal collisions involving one truck and one passenger vehicle. Truck drivers were in error in 26.5% of such accidents. In some cases, both drivers were found to have committed an error.

However, the article goes on to explain why the study is "controversial": Citizens for Reliable and Safe Highways has attacked the Michigan study, alleging that its methods are flawed and that the trucking industry paid for the study.
Daniel Blower, the Michigan researcher who conducted the study, stands firmly by his research, telling the paper that the study was funded by the U.S. Department of Transportation. "While he acknowledges the trucking industry does contribute to UMTRI's general fund, so do other groups with interests in highway traffic and safety," says the article.
Blower contends that CRASH "either doesn't understand statistical sampling or is being deliberately misleading."
Blower tells the paper that the study wasn't intended to point fingers, but to figure out how to reduce these accidents. The newspaper talks about the most common mistakes committed by passenger vehicle drivers in these fatal crashes and the need for more education of passenger car drivers.
U.S. Secretary of Transportation Rodney Slater last year issued a bold goal of reducing truck fatalities by 50% in the next 10 years. It's obvious from this study that do to that is going to take more than just the trucking industry.
Since the UMTRI study was paid for by the U.S. DOT, you would think it would be more prominent on their radar screens. Yet as a reader pointed out to us earlier this week, it's conspicuously absent from a guest commentary we published by Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration acting head Julie Cirillo about what her agency is doing to improve truck safety.
Here's what our reader had to say: "After perusing your April issue of RoadStar, I was startled to read the article by Julie Cirillo…. On the one hand she goes on and on about truck safety and all the new rules being implemented for the trucking industry to prevent truck crashes, how trucks are unsafe, how technology will save truckers from ourselves, more inspections, more rules, more of the usual crap she dishes out. Then she goes on how it will take everyone's efforts that uses the roadways to reduce truck related fatalities. And asks if I will do my part. Nowhere does she mention anything about educating passenger vehicles...even though it's proven that they are responsible for the majority of truck related accidents! Why is this?"
Good question.

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