Profits Trump Safety Measures for Truckers, Companies

Since big trucks are a crucial part of the commercial, industrial and consumer transportation in the United States, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)'s mission has been to promote safer public roadways. While new national safety initiatives for commercial trucks could reduce crashes and fatalities, the real issue may not be standards, but drivers and their companies' "race" for profit.

In Cleveland, Con-Way Truckload and one of its drivers found themselves in the middle of a high profile wrongful death action. In January 2009, a Con-Way truck struck and killed community leader community leader Vijayi Emani while she was walking. Con-Way attributed the tragedy to a malfunctioned windshield wiper fluid dispenser. But the driver told the Ohio Highway Patrol that he continued to drive the truck for about five miles even though the dispenser failed to operate and salt continued to build up on his windshield. Records reveal that the company had other safety violations-nearly 550 in just 2009 alone.

Millions of commercial trucks travel this nation's roadways every year. While accounting for less than four percent of registered vehicles on the road, commercial trucks are linked to a higher percentage of traffic accidents-about 12 percent. In 2008, there were more than 120,000 commercial truck-related accidents that resulted in nearly 73,000 injuries and almost 4,000 deaths.

The Drive for Profits

The weather and other Acts of God do play a role in some truck accidents, but most are due to human and mechanical errors. Drivers suffering from fatigue or substance use/abuse, drivers with inadequate training, drivers exhibiting risky driving behaviors, and drivers operating with unsafe loads and faulty operating equipment are factors that contribute significantly to accidents involving commercial vehicles.

In spite of state and federal regulations enacted to increase safety, statistics show that some of these measures haven't resulted in safer roads. Experts think the lack of progress is due to drivers and companies disregarding the established rules and standards. An Insurance Institute of Highway Safety survey, for instance, revealed drivers and their companies are disregarding work hour mandates. As a result, more drivers, as many as 21 percent in one state, are falling asleep behind the wheel.

Regulation and oversight can only improve safety if companies and drivers are willing to abide by the very laws that are created to protect them and others. Some argue that laws with extremely stringent penalties will be the only real deterrent. With Congress implementing newer highway safety standards in the coming year, truckers and their companies just may find themselves facing stiffer penalties and possible company shutdowns if they continue to fail inspections, operate with faulty equipment, or disregard driver mandates.