Two high-profile commercial truck crashes this year have re-ignited calls for new rules that would enhance highway safety for tractor trailers, but federal regulators have been slow to act, Bloomberg reports.
On June 17, 30 Rock star and Saturday Night Live veteran Tracy Morgan was critically injured when an allegedly fatigued Walmart driver plowed his tractor trailer into Mr. Morgan’s limo van. In addition to injuring Mr. Morgan, the collision killed comedian James McNair and critically injured three others.
Then on Sept. 26, a tractor trailer driving north on Interstate 35 in Oklahoma ran across the median into the southbound lanes, smashing into the side of a bus carrying the North Central Texas College women’s softball team. That crash killed four young women and injured a dozen others.
Those crashes, however, were just two of the more publicized crashes involving commercial tractor trailers. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the number of large-truck crashes resulting in fatalities increased nearly 20 percent in 2012 to 3,802 from 3,211 in 2009. There were an additional 77,000 large-truck crashes resulting in injuries in 2012, up 45 percent from 2009.
In 2005, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) recommended that federal regulators require a few crash-avoidance technologies in commercial trucks, including eye monitors that sound an alarm when drivers become sleepy. NTSB investigators advocated the measures after finding that the driver of a Whole Foods truck that crashed into a bus carrying a high school marching band was fatigued from a lack of sleep. That crash killed five people and injured several others.
Since then, however, the government has done little to improve trucking safety, even though an improving economy has come with an increase in highway commerce and, subsequently, crashes.
“They’ll research everything to death, even though manufacturers have started to put this stuff in because their customers want it,” Henry Jasny, vice president and general counsel of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, a watchdog group funded partly by the insurance industry, told Bloomberg. “We don’t know why it’s not happening, other than a lack of political will.”
The American Trucking Association says it also supports the implementation of safety technologies in commercial trucks as long as the benefits are proven and the costs are “reasonable.” The Association has petitioned the government to require speed-limiting devices in trucks and that is one change in the early stages of rulemaking.
Systems that monitor driver fatigue, automatically adjust speed or brake to avoid collisions with other vehicles or road debris, or add stability are still not required in commercial trucks even though these safety technologies are being introduced in more and more passenger vehicles.