Remarks of Jim Hall, Chairman
National Transportation Safety Board
before the Parents Against Tired Truckers National Symposium
San Diego, California, February 26, 1999


Good morning. I am pleased to be here today at the first national event held by Parents Against Tired Truckers. I want to thank the P-A-T-T co-chairs - Daphne Izer and Russ Swift - for inviting me to give this keynote address.

Before I begin, let me introduce the other Safety Board employees who are with me today: Barry Sweedler, Director of the Office of Safety Recommendations, Meg Sweeney of our Safety Studies Division, Burt Simon and Dave Rayburn of our Office of Highway Safety, and my staff assistant Romney Philpott.

I want to compliment P-A-T-T for holding this conference. When I talk to people around the country, they tell me that the two areas of highway safety that concern them the most are children and trucks. Those two issues are why P-A-T-T was founded, and those are the issues that the Board is focusing on this year.

We're here today because of two people who decided to make a difference. Daphne Izer's 17-year-old son Jeff and three of his friends aged 14, 15 and 16 died on October 10, 1993, when a truck driver fell asleep at the wheel and his 80,000-pound semi crashed into their vehicle. The truck driver had falsified his logbook.

We're also here today because of Russ Swift, whose 22-year-old son Jasen and his 23-year-old friend were killed by a tired truck driver just four days later.

As a result of their experiences, Daphne and Russ formed Parents Against Tired Truckers in May 1994 and have dedicated the organization to raising awareness about commercial motor carrier and highway safety issues. Since that time, you can be proud of your work with legislatures for fair and effective regulations and enforceable laws, and for providing support and assistance to victims and families of motor carrier crashes. I commend Daphne and Russ and all of you who have committed so much of yourselves to this organization.

I don't want to imply from these two incidents that all truck drivers are irresponsible. In fact, most are very conscientious and take their jobs seriously and professionally, and I am pleased that this conference includes the views of the drivers, operators and shippers, and the industry that insures them.

There is more at play here than some truckers overextending themselves. Our society has become highly dependent on trucks to transport goods. The chairs you are sitting on were probably delivered by truck. The food you eat was transported by truck. The gasoline in your car was trucked to the gas station. In fact, most of the products we purchase were probably conveyed by truck at some point.

As our demand for consumer goods increases, so does the number of trucks on the road. Ten years ago, the motor vehicle industry manufactured about 130,000 heavy trucks annually; next year that number is expected to exceed 220,000. What's more, trucks are even bigger and more powerful. In the mid-1960s, typical semi-trailers were 35 feet long. Today, they are 45 to 53 feet long - and a foot wider than they used to be.

We have all helped to create this demand and we all share the road; therefore, all of us share in the responsibility for ensuring that the trucks are mechanically safe and that drivers safely operate them.

This is an enormous challenge. The cost to our society of highway accidents is staggering, both in human lives and in dollars. Every year:

Trucks are over-represented in these numbers. In 1997:

· Large trucks accounted for about 3 percent of all registered vehicles and 8 percent of total vehicle miles traveled.

· Yet 13 percent of all traffic fatalities occurred in crashes involving large trucks.

· Of the 5,355 people killed in crashes involving large trucks, 78 percent were occupants of another vehicle.

· And of the 133,000 people injured in these crashes, 75 percent were in another vehicle.

These statistics should come as no surprise. When an 80,000-pound truck collides with a 3,000-pound car, there is no doubt who will be on the short end of the encounter, particularly when high speeds are involved. Add to this the fact that many of our interstate highways - which serve as major truck corridors - are over capacity and often are not designed for the heavy vehicular traffic of today.

Statistics do show that there have been improvements in truck safety, but we also know that statistics aren't human lives. Although the rate of fatal crashes per vehicle mile traveled by large trucks fell by nearly 41 percent between 1982 and 1996, the number of fatal accidents involving large trucks has actually increased in the last few years, as more trucks were registered and traveled more miles.

So, despite a statistical drop in the fatal accident rate, it is clear that more needs to be done if we are to reduce the actual number of fatal accidents.

That is why I have made truck safety one of our top priorities at the National Transportation Safety Board in 1999.

You often hear from the trucking industry that most of the problems that occur when trucks interact with cars are caused by the cars. If the trucking industry believes this, as I told the ATA in a speech last November, then the industry has an obligation to become involved in all aspects of highway safety - including:

But truck safety also must be addressed directly, and there are some things that can be done right now to make an improvement.

The Safety Board believes that the public has the right to expect professional drivers who use our highways to be unimpaired by fatigue when operating their 80,000-pound rigs. We believe that a good place to start improving truck safety is to update the 62-year-old hours-of-service regulations so they more accurately reflect what we've learned about fatigue and sleep over the years.

In 1989, ten years ago, the Safety Board made three recommendations to the Department of Transportation:

We are now coming up on the 10th anniversary of those recommendations. While millions of tax dollars have been spent for research and education, there have been no changes to the hours-of-service regulations, as you are well aware.

Updating these regulations has been on the Board's "Most Wanted" list of safety improvements since the list was created in 1990. This list highlights safety recommendations that the Board believes should be acted upon as soon as possible because they have the most potential to improve safety, save lives, and reduce accidents and injuries.

Making these changes is so important because the required eight-hour off-duty period is insufficient for truck drivers. It does not give a human being the necessary time to get enough sleep. What the research tells us is that there is no substitute for sleep. The average person needs seven or eight hours of sleep every day and the only way to recover from sleep deficit is to sleep.

We also need to address the sleeper berth exemption that allows truck drivers to split their eight hours of sleep into two separate periods.

The trucking industry, of course, doesn't have to wait for new regulations to ensure that drivers are provided with an opportunity to get sleep. Trucking companies should take the lead in developing schedules that fit within the current hours of service rules, and allow drivers enough time to sleep, eat, exercise, complete paperwork, or do whatever business they have.

Simple things such as giving drivers time to get eight continuous hours of sleep and trying to keep them on a fixed schedule - rather than one that has them on days for one trip and nights the next - can go a long way to prevent fatigue.

Companies, drivers, shippers, brokers, and regulators all share the responsibility that truck operators be provided the opportunity to obtain sleep.

On a recent trip to Australia, I learned that they have instituted rules which make shippers, brokers and schedulers just as responsible as drivers for violations of the hours of service regulations.

Holding everyone accountable is only part of the solution. Drivers also need safe places to pull off and park when they have to sleep, and there is a critical shortage of rest areas in this country. I hope this issue will be addressed by others at this conference, as it needs focus and attention.

Another one of the NTSB's long-standing recommendations is to require trucks to be equipped with automatic information recording devices, which many people refer to as black boxes. We believe it long past the time that FHWA should have and could have acted to require recorders. Their use should be mandatory here in the United States as it is in most of Europe.

Recorders have been used in the commercial aviation, rail, and marine industries for many years, and they are indispensable tools. Recorders on trucks can provide a tamper-proof mechanism that can be used for accident investigation and to enforce the hours-of-service regulations, rather than relying on the driver's handwritten logs. The NTSB issued recommendations to FHWA regarding recorders for trucks in 1990 and 1995.

Although last year, the Federal Highway Administration completed a research project analyzing the costs and benefits of recorders in large trucks, the agency has not released its findings, and this research comes nine years after our first recommendation was issued.

Last August, after another accident, the Board issued the recorder recommendation directly to the American Trucking Associations, the Motor Freight Carrier Association, and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. I am disappointed to report that we have not even received a response from these organizations.

There is no legitimate reason for the trucking industry to object to recorders. The trucking industry is looking for more flexibility in the hours of service regulations, but that step should not be taken without recorder verification.

Recorder technology exists today. No invention is required. Recorders are available now. Truck drivers and motor carriers who abide by the rules have no reason to oppose recorders.

Beyond the improvements designed specifically to combat fatigue, there are technological innovations that can be applied today to reduce the death toll brought about by large trucks. Collision avoidance systems already in use in large trucks, and systems that are under development, will provide measurable crash reduction benefits.

This technology gives a truck driver audible and visual warnings of vehicles ahead and helps the driver maintain a safer following distance. U.S. Xpress Enterprises, one of the Nation's largest trucking companies -- in my hometown of Chattanooga, Tennessee -- is equipping every new truck with this important safety device. Since installing this technology on 80 percent of its trucks, the company's accident costs have decreased by two-thirds. I think the rest of the industry should take notice. The widespread use of this safety device would prevent injuries, save lives and, as demonstrated by U.S. Xpress's experience, save millions of dollars each year.

The DOT has yet to act on our 1995 recommendation to evaluate this technology, which was developed, at taxpayer expense, by the Department of Defense. The U.S. Army is installing it as standard equipment on all of its heavy trucks. In my opinion, it should be mandated for all new trucks.

There are other technologies that are available today that can significantly improve truck safety. Global positioning satellite tracking, maximum speed governors, better highway designs, reflective tape and rumble strips can all be applied today.

Much of the technology was developed at taxpayer expense, yet it is being used primarily for the economic benefit of private industry - not for the safety of the travelling public. It is time to put safety first in heavy truck transportation.

I said before that 1999 will be the year that the Safety Board focuses on trucking safety, and we are moving on several fronts to accomplish this goal. On April 15 and 16, the Board will hold the first of two public hearings on truck and bus safety. The first hearing will be at the Georgetown University conference center in Washington, D.C. The dates and location of the second hearing have not yet been determined, but you can check the Safety Board's web site at www.ntsb.gov for more information. The purpose of the hearings is to review in detail the conditions and factors that relate to truck and bus crashes and evaluate the effectiveness of federal, state and industry oversight of truck and bus safety. We will then hold a recorder symposium in May to look at the potential benefits of recording devices in all modes of transportation, including trucking.

Our highway environment is changing every day:

Improving highway transportation safety and keeping it safe are jobs we can all share. And they are jobs we must do for ourselves, our sons, our daughters, and our grandchildren.

We sometimes hear government officials and the industry tell us how much safer our highways are today compared with 30 years ago. They may be right, in the sense that there was a time when more people were killed in motor vehicle crashes in this country. It's true that there are millions more vehicles traveling billions more miles than 30 years ago.

Everyone notices when a plane goes down and kills 200 people. But where is that concern when more than 100 people die every day in traffic crashes -- unless, of course, one of those people is your child or some other loved one? And highway accidents are the Number One killer of American children. Since 1990, more young people 20 and under have died in highway accidents than were killed during a similar period in the Vietnam War.

It's hard to take solace in declining rates of death when we continue to kill enough people to populate a small city every year.

We -- government, industry and the public at large - must remember that every statistic we cite has a human face and that every person who died was someone's child, or sibling, or parent.

If we are to measure our success in making highways safer, we should not look to the past but to the future. We succeed when we prevent another family from feeling the sorrow that so many people in this room have experienced.

That is what we strive for at the National Transportation Safety Board. You are to be commended for your selfless work in preventing future highway crashes - it will not bring your loved one back, but it might ensure that someone's son or daughter will live to grow to maturity and have children of their own, all because of the work you have done to get tired truck drivers off the road.

Thank you for allowing me to join you and for the privilege of sharing these thoughts with you today. Concrete Solutions for Reducing Driver Fatigue - they are there. We all need the guts to work together to get the job done.

 

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