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Detroit News Tackles Truck Safety

July 17, 2000

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The Detroit News delved into truck safety Sunday and Monday in a two-day Special Report, which focused largely on technology as a way to reduce truck crashes.

On Sunday, the paper led off with a story headlined "Trucks Lack High-Tech Gear, Compromising Road Safety."
"Many of the simplest upgrades, including speed limiters and air bags, cost only a few hundred or a few thousand dollars," reads the story. "But powerful economic, political and legal forces stand in the way of regulations requiring even that kind of gear on trucks."
The paper says the government's efforts to govern big truck safety have been lax, and that with profit margins thinned to about 2 cents a mile, most trucking companies are not likely to invest in high-tech gadgets like rollover prevention systems or collision warning systems without government mandates.
In Monday's story, "Trucking Safety Snag: Handling Human Error," the paper points out that technology alone won't eliminate truck crashes. High-tech safety gear could heighten the potential for mistakes by overloading the driver with information or making them overconfident and therefore less attentive or even reckless.
The paper also reports that some trucking industry experts say the focus on technology is misguided and lures attention away from training and pay issues that will attract experienced and safer drivers.
Kristen Monaco, assistant professor of economics at the University of Wisconsin, told the paper that a 10-cent increase in pay would reduce crash probability by almost 2 percent, and that truckers paid by the hour are 10.2 percent less likely to have been involved in crashes than those paid by the mile.
A companion article, "Fed's Safety Plan May Hurt Hiring," looks at the federal government's proposal to require electronic on board recorders to enforce hours of service regulations and the fact that this rule actually might drive experienced, safe drivers out of an industry already plagued by a driver shortage.
"Most of [the report] is somewhat reasonable, but they jumped off with the usual truck crash photo (pictured, above right) -- even one of a fiery rollover for Monday's segment -- and the argument that we would save 100 lives per week if trucks adopted all of the safety technology on the market," says Mike Russell with the American Trucking Associations.
To read the complete report on line, go to http://detnews.com/specialreports/2000/trucks/

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