The American Trucking Associations has adopted a new safety agenda aimed at significantly expanding trucking's role in the national conversation about highway safety.

The 18-point program, which addresses policies regarding drivers, equipment and management, proposes tough new regulations on the industry itself but also calls for substantive changes in the national approach to highway safety for automobiles.

"While the trucking industry is now the safest it has been since the U.S. Department of Transportation began keeping crash statistics in 1975, we must continue to further the trend," ATA President and CEO Bill Graves said yesterday at the Washington, D.C., introduction of the agenda.

The idea is for the trucking industry to take the initiative on national safety issues. In an earlier interview, Don Osterberg, vice president of safety and driver training for Schneider National and the co-vice chairman of the ATA Task Force that wrote the new agenda, said that ATA and the industry need to be defined by what they support rather than what they oppose.

"We need to develop a proactive and comprehensive safety agenda and then advance that agenda with anyone who can help us, whether that be regulators or other safety groups," he said.

At the core of the new agenda is the recognition that with traffic congestion and driver distraction increasing, continuous improvement is no longer good enough, Osterberg said. The new agenda includes a number of initiatives that have been around for a while and some that are currently in the rulemaking process, but also some new ideas and an aggressive reach beyond traditional truck safety issues.

For example, ATA wants to tighten the proposal it made two years ago to require 68 mph speed limiters in all new heavy-duty trucks, a proposal now under consideration for rulemaking by federal safety agencies including the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
ATA is now recommending that trucks made after 1992 - which means virtually all highway trucks - have limiters set to 65 mph. Moreover, the association wants the national speed limit for all vehicles set at 65 mph, and while it does not take a position on speed limiters in cars it does suggest that states consider requiring limiters for drivers who have been convicted of certain traffic violations.

This idea drew quick negative reaction from the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, which said that a limiter mandate targets competition rather than safety. "Truck drivers need access to that power to keep up with the speed of traffic and to be able to maneuver around dangerous situations," said OOIDA Executive Vice President Todd Spencer in a statement.

ATA also wants NHTSA to come up with crashworthiness standards for heavy-duty trucks, the same as it has done for cars.

Another emphasis in the agenda has to do with giving carriers access to more and better information about drivers. ATA wants a mandatory national notification system that gives carriers access to state information about accidents, moving violations and convictions. The system should have a standard protocol for the type, format and frequency of information that would be posted by the states.

A related item pertains to the Driver Information Resource, a Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration data base that contains information about truck driver safety and compliance. Right now that data is available to enforcement personnel, but ATA wants carriers to be able to tap it as well.

ATA also wants federal regulators to tighten the safety barrier to entry into the trucking business.

Here's a rundown on the other agenda items.

* CDL Testing: Current standards for commercial driver testing are not adequate, ATA contends. All states should have to comply with a rigorous, national, performance-based standard, at the risk of losing federal highway funding. FMCSA is working on a rule that would toughen the knowledge and skills tests for the CDL, but ATA wants the agency to do more.

* Graduated Licensing: Research shows that the risk of an accident is higher with younger drivers in general, but not enough is known about how this affects younger truck drivers. ATA would like to see a study of the cognitive functioning and behavior of drivers between 18 and 25, as a possible prelude to establishing a graduated licensing program for commercial drivers.
Also, ATA supports graduated licensing for teenage car drivers. A complete program would include a minimum age for a learner's permit, a minimum age and mandatory waiting period for an interim license, minimum hours of supervised driving and nighttime and passenger restrictions, as well as a minimum age for a full license. No state has a full program but the 29 states that have some elements of this package have reduced crashes from 10 to 30 percent.

* Seat Belts: ATA is recommending a range of initiatives to increase seat belt use by car and truck drivers. Buckling reduces the risk of death by 45 percent, yet only 26 states have a "primary law" that allows police to ticket drivers for not buckling. Twenty three states have a "secondary" law that allows ticketing for being unbuckled while violating another traffic rule. ATA recommends that there be incentives and penalties to drive passage of primary laws in all states. ATA wants trucks to be equipped with audible seat belt reminders like cars have. Also, seat belts should come in contrasting colors so police can see them easily; states should adopt laws that limit the damages a person can collect if he was not wearing a seat belt; and drivers who were not buckled up should be denied workers' compensation.

* Aggressive Driving: The 2005 highway bill included a provision that ordered federal agencies to target problem behavior by both private and commercial drivers. Out of that came a pilot program in Washington state, Ticketing Aggressive Cars and Trucks, that combines outreach, education and an evaluation process to teach safe driving behavior. ATA believes that program has been successful and should be taken national.

* Electronic Technologies: The Task Force is waving a caution flag about technologies such as cell phones and positioning systems that can distract drivers. Research shows that a driver talking on a phone, for example, can be more impaired than a driver who is legally drunk. ATA supports use of these technologies but strongly encourages the entire transportation community to get involved in promoting awareness, training and safety policies.

* Truck Parking: The shortage of parking space for truck drivers to rest is not getting the attention it needs from state transportation agencies, ATA said. The last highway bill created a four-year, $25 million parking pilot program - a good start - but the issue needs more money and a higher priority, ATA said.

* Automated Enforcement: In keeping with its observation that driver behavior is the key safety issue, ATA wants to see broader use of cameras for traffic violations and speeding, particularly in high risk areas such as work or school zones. The technology works, ATA said. Research shows that Red Light Cameras and Automated Speed Enforcement are effective deterrents that save lives and money. The association wants an enhancement to the systems, however. It wants the photo to identify the driver as well as the vehicle, so there will be no doubt about who's behind the wheel. Without positive ID, the carrier has no recourse if a driver says someone else was in that truck. The association also cautioned against use of these systems to raise revenue.

* National Clearinghouse: ATA reiterated its support for a database containing positive drug and alcohol test results that employers have to consult before hiring a driver applicant.

* Medical Examiner Registry: a regulation that would create a National Registry of Certified Medica