Congress should be commended for its work on the Airline Safety and Pilot Training Improvement Act of 2009 in the U.S. House, and the Federal Aviation Administration Air Transportation Modernization and Safety Improvement Act in the Senate.
The two pilot safety bills were introduced in reaction to the Feb. 12 crash of a commuter airliner near Buffalo, N.Y., in which 50 people tragically perished. The new laws will enhance pilot training requirements, strengthen background checks, upgrade pilot records databases and take other important steps — including measures to reduce pilot fatigue and provide better pay.
Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood also deserves kudos for convening a conference in Washington to address safety lapses inherent in texting by drivers of heavy commercial vehicles.
But while pilot safety and anti-texting initiatives are getting all the headlines, the facts show that 100 people every week lose their lives in highway crashes involving heavy commercial vehicles.
So, we ask, what about them?
Their deaths don’t make national headlines, but shouldn’t Congress be taking action to save the lives of those 100 people killed each week?
The deaths of 400 people each month in highway wrecks involving heavy commercial vehicles is equal to two Boeing 757 airliners crashing and killing all aboard month after month after month — an unbelievable, intolerable nightmare scenario. Fatal crashes between cars and heavy trucks on our highways have been at critically high levels for decades, yet there is no government or media outcry to reduce the death and suffering. Why?
Steve and Susan Owings of Atlanta founded Road Safe America after their son, Cullum, was killed in 2002 when his car — stopped in an interstate traffic jam — was crushed from behind by a speeding tractor-trailer truck on cruise control going 7 mph above the posted speed limit.
Since its founding, Road Safe America has been joined by the American Trucking Associations, all national safety advocacy organizations, numerous trucking firms, business executives, insurance companies and thousands of citizens in seeking a national regulation requiring activation of electronic speed-limiting governors set at 65 mph on all trucks 13 tons and up built after 1992. That’s the year electronic speed limiters became standard on all large trucks.
Unfortunately, the Bush administration did not act on this regulatory request. Road Safe America and its supporters are working with the Obama administration to have the speed governors activated on heavy commercial trucks.
Georgia’s two U.S. senators, Johnny Isakson and Saxby Chambliss, are pro-highway safety, and Road Safe America recommends citizens contact them with comments in support of speed limiters on heavy commercial vehicles.
All trucks 13 tons and up built since 1992 already come with the speed governors installed, but drivers are not required to use them. It would be a simple task to activate the governors and initiate a common sense, inexpensive regulation that would save the lives of many of the approximately 4,000 motorists and 1,000 truckers killed each year in crashes involving big trucks.
If saving lives is not motivation enough to support this cause, in this era of dependency on foreign sources of oil, consider the fact that activation of speed-governing technology is already being applied by many trucking firms as a way to cut fuel use as well as improve safety.
With a reduction of only 5 mph, millions of gallons of fuel can be saved annually in the nation’s trucking fleet.
The European Union, Australia, Japan and the Canadian provinces of Ontario and Quebec already have regulations requiring speed-limiting devices set at 65 mph or slower on all large trucks.
Sadly, instead of showing international leadership, the U.S. is behind the rest of the world in this area.
Australia experienced a reduction of 26.5 percent in heavy truck fatalities between 2002 and 2004 through speed governor requirements, aggressive fatigue management programs, random drug testing and seat belt promotion within the trucking industry, according to Australian government statistics.
No one at Road Safe America is anti-trucking or anti-trucker. In fact, the opposite is the case. In terms of annual deaths and injuries, trucking is one of the most dangerous professions in America, and we want to change that.
We are trying to educate drivers of passenger autos and other vehicles about the need to operate more safely around large trucks because of the dangers present. Trucking is an absolutely vital industry to the economic health and prosperity of our nation.
However, by limiting the maximum speeds of heavy commercial vehicles, we know that many more drivers will make it home to their families at the end of a long run, and more motorists will live to see their loved ones again as well.
Tom Hodgson is executive director of Road Safe America, which sponsors its annual Road Safer Sunday on Nov. 29.