Commentary: Industry, Not Government, Drives Truck Safety

Anne Ferro, administrator of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, in early August shared with the audience at the PeopleNet User Conference that fatalities in truck- and bus-related crashes fell nearly 5 percent in 2011. This is great news, but Ms. Ferro proceeded to attribute the reduction to the Compliance Safety Accountability program, which took effect in December 2010.

“This (crash reduction) is a very solid demonstration of success in our efforts,” she said. “CSA is a strong enforcement program. The good news is that CSA is working. We are seeing the results from the process change we are all undertaking.”

But I’d like to pose this question to Ms. Ferro: If the federal government’s CSA program is to be credited with a 5 percent reduction in fatalities in 2011, who gets the credit for the 12 percent decline in 2008 and 20 percent decline in 2009 before CSA’s implementation? One may be tempted to credit the recession, but although miles traveled declined 7.3 percent in 2009, miles were actually up 2.2 percent in 2008. Fatalities per million miles, which is a better measure of safety, declined 14 percent in 2008 and 15 percent in 2009.

The government isn’t responsible for the decline in truck-related fatalities. The credit rightfully belongs to the trucking industry and professional truck drivers who are responsible for the tremendous safety improvements going back to the beginning of deregulation of the trucking industry. The difference is evident, as noted in the following statistics drawn from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System, Federal Highway Administration and the FMCSA:

The trucking industry, despite operating 83 percent more trucks running 163 percent more miles, was involved in 43 percent fewer fatalities claiming 45 percent fewer lives and an astounding 79 percent fewer fatalities per million miles. Fatalities per 100 million miles declined by a 4.8 percent compound annual rate between 1979 and 2010.

Neither Ms. Ferro nor CSA saved those lives. The trucking industry and professional truck drivers saved those lives, and they will continue to improve highway safety with or without CSA. Falsely claiming credit for safety improvements to justify a highly flawed and criticized program is undignified, inappropriate and easily disqualified as incorrect information.

The fact is there is no correlation between CSA-Safety Measurement System scores and individual carrier accident frequency. CSA’s flawed methodology and data unfairly labels more than half of measured carriers as less-than-safe, and the publication of the SMS scores is hurting many safe truckers and increasing confusion and liability for shippers. SMS scores should not be published. They should be used as originally intended: an internal tool of the agency for deciding how to allocate its enforcement resources.

Tom Sanderson is CEO of Dallas-based logistics and technology provider Transplace.
 

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