John McQuaid, president and CEO of the National Private Truck Council, said trucking’s safety performance should be judged by the actual number of fatalities rather than by the rate of fatal crashes per million miles of travel.
The crash rate is improving because mileage is growing – but the number of deaths is on the rise. “Excusing the rise in fatalities due to ‘more miles traveled’ is absolutely inappropriate,” McQuaid told members of the House Ground Transportation Subcommittee, which held a hearing last Thursday, March 25. Changing the Office of Motor Carriers and Highway Safety’s focus from the crash rate to actual fatalities will challenge the agency and the trucking industry to constantly raise their safety performance, he said.
McQuaid was on a panel testifying on truck safety enforcement by the Office of Motor Carrier and Highway Safety. In calling for this change, he was endorsing a recommendation made at an earlier hearing by DOT Inspector General Kenneth Mead.
To improve safety, McQuaid suggested increasing enforcement focus on the drivers most likely to get into accidents – a selection that can to some extent be predicted by company crash rates – and better communication among law enforcement and employers on driver performance.
Another suggestion came from Rita Bontz, president of the Independent Truckers and Drivers Assn. She said that applicants for operating authority should be required to submit a detailed safety plan along with their request for authority. “The lack of a pre-qualification program is one of the most conspicuous limitations in ensuring carrier safety fitness,” she said.
Witnesses at the hearing sounded a recurring theme: OMCHS needs to put more emphasis on enforcement, but it should not abandon its role as safety educator.
Timothy Lynch, president and CEO of the Motor Freight Carriers Assn., representing the unionized LTL sector, stressed the need for tougher enforcement.
Inspector General Mead’s audit of OMCHS shows that the agency is not enforcing the rules, said Lynch. Fleets that obey the rules take offense when scofflaws go free. “It is incomprehensible that a motor carrier is permitted to operate in defiance of the federal mandate for a drug and alcohol testing program. If carriers are operating without complying with drug and alcohol testing programs or repeatedly falsifying driver logbooks, they should be shut down.”
Lynch and others stressed, though, that OMCHS should continue providing guidance and support to fleets that want to learn how to improve their safety.