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Opening Statement at the Public Hearing for Advanced Safety Technology Applications for Commercial Vehicles, Nashville, Tennessee
Jim Hall
Public Hearing for Advanced Safety Technology Applications for Commercial Vehicles, Nashville, Tennessee

Good morning and welcome.

I am Jim Hall, Chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board and Chairman of this Public Hearing. On the Board of Inquiry with me are: Dr. Vern Ellingstad, Director, Office of Research and Engineering; Mr. Barry Sweedler, Director, Office of Safety Recommendations and Accomplishments; Mr. Joseph Osterman, Director, Office of Highway Safety; and Ms. Jeanmarie Poole, Hearing Officer with the Office of Highway Safety.

The Board of Inquiry will be assisted by a Technical Panel from the Safety Board's Offices of Highway Safety and Research and Engineering. They are:

Ms. Jennifer Hopkins
Mr. Mark Bagnard
Dr. Kristen Bolte
Mr. Shane Lack
Mr. Rafael Marshall
Mr. Chris Voeglie
Ms. Sarah McComb
Dr. Robert Molloy
Mr. Vern Roberts
Dr. Meg Sweeney

Also here to assist me are my Special Assistant, Ms. Deborah Smith, and from the Office of Public Affairs, Ms. Lauren Peduzzi and Mr. Phil Frame. Mrs. Mary Jones from the Office of Research and Engineering and Ms. Carolyn Dargan from the Managing Director's Office are here to assist with administrative matters.

Today we begin a 3-day hearing on Advanced Safety Technology Applications for Commercial Vehicles. In particular, we want to focus on those technologies that, if used, may to reduce the number of accidents involving trucks and buses. We will discuss what the government and industry are doing to promote the development and use of these new systems, the increased safety to be gained from these systems, and the precautions that need to be taken to ensure that these systems do not cause further distractions to the driver.

The Safety Board has long been interested in truck and bus safety. Since 1986, we have has released 6 safety studies and 5 special investigations on this topic and investigated 29 major accidents involving trucks and buses. We have also issued more than 370 recommendations, over 85% of which have been adopted by the Federal and State governments, as well as the truck and bus industries.1 Last year, Congress directed the Safety Board to again focus its attention on truck and bus issues. As a result, we have scheduled four hearings on this matter and published the Selective Motorcoach Issues Special Investigation Report last January. The Board will also consider a major report on bus crashworthiness later in September.

This hearing is the second of four Safety Board hearings on truck and bus issues. The first one, held last April in Washington, D.C., covered a broad range of safety issues, including government oversight, the validity of crash data, and the changing nature of roadway transport. Our third hearing will be held in Los Angeles in October and will focus on regulatory issues related to the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA. The fourth and final hearing will focus on the Commercial Driver's License (CDL) process and medical qualifications for drivers.

Recent accidents show the need to continue the development of advanced safety technologies for trucks and buses. Let me tell you about two accidents that we are currently investigating, which could have been prevented by the use of advanced technologies. The first occurred between Chattanooga and Knoxville, in Sweetwater, Tennessee, and the second occurred in Trenton, Georgia, just south of the Tennessee border.

Three months ago, at about 4:30 p.m., a tractor semi-trailer collided with a mini-van that was slowing to a stop at a construction zone on southbound I-75 in Sweetwater, Tennessee. The mini-van was propelled into the back of another tractor semi-trailer carrying a cargo of steel, killing all four passengers inside.

Two months later, at about 2 p.m., a tractor semi-trailer collided with slow-moving traffic on I-59 outside Trenton. Traffic had slowed due to construction near the interchange between I-59 and I-24. The tractor semi-trailer first crashed into the back of a minivan, killing three people and injuring two. The tractor semi-trailer then crashed into a second tractor-semi-trailer. The impact killed the driver of the first tractor semi-trailer and injured the other truck driver.

Rear-end collisions such as these, comprise roughly 28 percent of all highway accidents reported annually,2 and the Trenton collision was the ninth accident at this interchange in one month. We are still investigating these accidents. However, we do know that advanced technologies available today may have prevented them from happening. If the trucks had been equipped with collision warning technology, the drivers would have received audible and visual warnings that the headway between their trucks and the vehicles in front of them was closing quickly, giving the drivers more time to react and perhaps avoid the accidents.

Or, if these trucks had been equipped with electronic braking systems, the brakes would have adjusted automatically and activated more quickly than air brakes, allowing the alerted drivers to stop their trucks in a fraction of the distance it would have taken to stop without this technology.

In an accident where driver fatigue is a factor, a truck equipped with monitoring devices that assess hours of service and fitness for duty could have detected the problem and alerted the drivers to their condition. If the drivers continued to drive after being warned, the monitors would have report the situation to the carrier, who then could take corrective action.

Even if the truck or bus drivers could not have avoided the collisions, the presence of data recorders inside the trucks would have aided in the reconstruction of the events that led to the accidents, so that truck drivers, motor carriers, manufacturers, maintenance personnel, and highway engineers could learn valuable information that could prevent similar accidents.

These are only a few of the advanced systems that we will be exploring during this 3-day hearing. Others include rollover warning systems, vehicle stability and control, and vehicle inspection systems.

The Safety Board has long promoted the use of highway safety technology. In 1990, we made the first of many recommendations regarding the need for on-board recording devices in trucks and buses. This recommendation was the result of a Board safety study that examined the role of fatigue, drugs, and medical factors in heavy truck crashes. In 1995, we issued a recommendation to the Department of Transportation and the Intelligent Transportation Society of America, to sponsor fleet testing of collision warning technology through partnership projects with the commercial carrier industry, and to incorporate test results into demonstration and training programs for drivers and other end-users. This recommendation was a product of our investigation into a multi-vehicle accident that resulted in 5 fatalities in Menifee, Arkansas. We were disappointed in DOT's April 10, 1997, response, that stated that they had no plans for conducting an operational test of rear end collision avoidance systems for heavy trucks. Their position has not changed since that time.

I recently visited the manufacturer of a collision warning system and learned that several heavy truck fleets have made this equipment standard on newly purchased trucks, and the company estimates that they will sell more than 10,000 units this calendar year. In addition, they stated that a collision warning system is also standard equipment on newly purchased U.S. Army medium and heavy vehicles. The Army has at least 2,300 currently in its trucks, and has purchased 2,000 retrofit kits.

I also visited U.S. Xpress Enterprises, Inc. in Chattanooga, Tennessee. In 1996, this trucking company began installing a collision warning system in its vehicles. Eighty-five percent of their fleet, that's over 4,000 trucks, currently has this important safety device, and the company is placing it in all newly purchased vehicles. I was pleased to learn that since installing this technology, the company's rear-end accident rate has decreased by 75 percent, and costs due to accidents have decreased by two-thirds. The rest of the industry and DOT should take notice. The widespread use of this safety device would prevent injuries, save countless lives and, as demonstrated by U.S. Xpress' experience, some millions of dollars each year.

You would think that the government would encourage proactive companies to install safety features in their vehicles. That's not the case. Currently, there are no mechanisms that allow for the expeditious introduction of new safety features - instead manufacturers and operators must endure years of rule making. In addition, there are few incentives for carriers to adopt unmandated technologies and existing rules frequently hamper the use of new technologies. For example, the industry is ready to implement the use of electronic braking, which could give truck drivers an additional three seconds to respond. However, they must wait for DOT to revise its current pneumatic brake requirements before they can do so. We need to have the capability to respond quickly to changing technologies, provide incentives for the trucking industry to apply new technologies, and remove any potential roadblocks. Hopefully, this hearing will move the federal government in that direction.

The importance of using technological solutions to solve our highway system problems will increase as the number of vehicles and vehicle miles driven continue to grow. During the past few years, traffic congestion has steadily increased, becoming a national problem that is not restricted to our largest cities. From 1986 to 1996, the number of passenger vehicles on our highways increased by 16 percent.3 What's more, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) estimates that 70 percent of urban freeways are congested during rush hour, compared to only 55 percent in 1983.4 In the 1980s, about 130,000 heavy trucks were manufactured annually. In 1999, this number will exceed 220,000. In addition, the maximum length of semi-trailers has increased from 35 feet 30 years ago to 53 feet today; and, today's semi-trailers are also a foot wider.

The traditional methods of alleviating congestion and increasing safety have been to build more highways and modify the existing roadways to include safety features such as break-away lampposts, wide shoulders, and energy-absorbing barriers. However, building new highways is a costly and time-consuming undertaking, and as available real estate for new roads is decreasing, it's obvious that new solutions must be found. Advanced transportation technologies can offer a more cost-effective method of alleviating congestion by enabling us to use the existing infrastructure more safely and efficiently.

Advanced technologies also present an attractive solution for problems that have been of long-standing concern to the Safety Board, such as hours-of-service violations, out-of-service vehicles, and driver fatigue. On-board monitoring or recording devices, for example, would make it more difficult for drivers to accidentally or purposefully exceed the legal limits of operation without the knowledge of motor carriers or vehicle inspectors.

However, technology is not a panacea. Each new product must be critically evaluated not only on its own merits, but also as part of an integrated driver information system. We must ensure that advanced technologies do not further distraction drivers and that the information provided by such technologies is as accurate as possible and promotes appropriate driver responses. In addition, industry and union concerns regarding the invasion of privacy, liability, and incentive issues need to be addressed.

We will explore all of these issues over the next 3 days. We are all here because we want to find the best technological solutions for today and tomorrow's problems. I appreciate all of you taking the time to participate in what should be an interesting and informative hearing.

Before we proceed further, let me mention that in addition to this hearing, there is a product exhibit area that showcases some of the most advanced safety products currently available. In addition, three trucks parked on Seventh Avenue that have several advanced technologies already installed. I invite all of you to spend some time visiting these displays. They are the future of the trucking industry.

A Safety Board public hearing is a fact-gathering exercise. It is not an adversarial proceeding. We will not debate or analyze the facts and conclusions presented. Rather, we will spend our time examining current safety problems and studying possible solutions. The Safety Board will use information from this public hearing to develop possible recommendations and other material as part of our initiative on truck and bus safety.

The Safety Board has designated as "parties to the public hearing" those government agencies, companies, associations, and individuals whose special knowledge will help us develop the pertinent facts for this initiative.

I would like to introduce the parties for the record. They are: the Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety and Parents Against Tired Truckers at the Advocacy table; the American Trucking Associations, the Engine Manufacturers Association, the National Private Truck Council, the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, Inc., and the Truck Manufacturers Association at the Truck table; Department of Transportation and the Intelligent Transportation Society of America at the Government table; the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, the American Automobile Association, and the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance at the State table; the American Bus Association, Greyhound Lines, Inc., Motor Coach Industries, and the United Motorcoach Association at the Bus table; and, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, and the International Transport Workers Union.

The procedures for the hearing are as follows:

As Chairman of the Board of Inquiry, I will be responsible for the conduct of the public hearing. I will make all rulings on the admissibility of questions, documents, or information as factual evidence, and all such rulings will be final.

Witnesses will serve on panels devoted to specific topic areas. The technical panel will question the witnesses first. I will then call upon each party spokesperson to question the witnesses. We will conclude with questions from each member of the Board of Inquiry.

A transcript of the public hearing and all exhibits entered into the record will become part of the public record in the Safety Board's Washington, D.C., office. Anyone desiring to purchase the transcript should contact the court reporter; the Safety Board does not provide copies of the transcript. In addition, the Safety Board's highway reports are published on our website:

Mrs. Poole, will you please introduce the first panel of witnesses.


1National Transportation Safety Board, Office of Safety Recommendations.

2National Highway Traffic Safety Administration National Center for Statistics and Analysis (1999). Traffic Safety Facts 1997 (DOT HS 808 806).

3Chairman's opening speech at the National Transportation Safety Board's Truck and Bus Safety Hearing, April 14-17, 1999.

4J. Vest, W. Cohen, M. Tharp (1997). Road rage: Tailgating, giving the finger, outright violence -- Americans grow more likely to take out their frustrations on other drivers. U.S. News and World Report, June 2, 1997.