Good morning, Chairman McCain and Members of the Committee. I appreciate the opportunity to appear before you today, on behalf of the National Transportation Safety Board, to discuss an issue of concern to us all -- heavy truck and bus safety.
Between 1986 and 1996, the number of vehicles on our highways grew by 16%. During the same period, the mass of those vehicles increased by 20%. Many of our interstate roads - which also serve as major truck corridors - are over capacity and ill-suited for heavy vehicle traffic. Safety on our highways is challenged by more volume, more mass, and more pressure.
As "just in time" delivery has helped grow our economy, it has increased pressure on operators, shippers, brokers, and drivers to keep vehicles moving to meet demanding production schedules. The impact of this change in doing business has almost doubled the production of heavy trucks in the past 10 years and resulted in many trucks being used as mobile warehouses for products.
This change in the nature and use of our highway system is the reason that I am focusing Safety Board resources on two important highway safety issues this year. One is the subject of this hearing, "heavy truck and bus safety," and the other is "putting child safety first" in the design of motor vehicles.
The NTSB plans to conduct three major hearings on truck and bus safety this year. The first, a three-day hearing focusing on oversight issues, was held two weeks ago. I will discuss the results of that hearing in more detail in a moment. The Board will convene a second three-day hearing this summer on the subject of technology applications for heavy vehicle safety. The third hearing will be held in the fall on issues related to NAFTA and heavy vehicle safety.
Testimony at our first public hearing reinforced the NTSB's concern that neither the government nor the truck and bus industries have a focused safety agenda. The hearing testimony identified four specific areas of concern. While these four items are discussed in detail in my long testimony, I will only briefly review them now.
The first area is better data collection.Currently, there is little uniformity in the data collected by the 50 states following highway accidents. As a result, even though the states transmit their data to the federal government agencies, comparative analysis of the causes of accidents between states or nationwide is impossible because there are few common data points upon which to base that analysis.
However, the problems with data go far beyond crash reporting. It is evident from everything we heard during the hearing that any effort to improve heavy truck and bus safety should begin with better data. Long-term solutions cannot be developed based on the data currently used.
The second area is better oversight of all stakeholders, including drivers, companies, shippers, brokers, consignors, freight forwarders, and tour operators. DOT currently directs its oversight and enforcement activities on motor carriers and drivers. These programs need to be extended to ensure that all stakeholders are held accountable for public safety. In addition, testimony indicated that current programs must be improved if they are to be effective.
Currently, the Office of Motor Carrier and Highway Safety (OMCHS) does not have an effective program for removing the worst motor carriers from our roads. In addition, the current Commercial Drivers License (CDL) system hinders everyone's ability to identify deficient drivers of heavy vehicles because it often does not reflect all driving convictions. As drivers move from state to state, their convictions frequently do not transfer with them. Many of our witnesses indicated that a national registry for CDL holders would enable motor carriers and government agencies to verify driver records and provide a mechanism for identifying and targeting the really "bad apples".
The third area is better use of technology both on the roads and in vehicles. Technology such as on-board recorders, collision avoidance systems, electronic braking systems, and intelligent transportation systems are available today and can be used to prevent crashes and save lives.
The fourth area is better countermeasures. These efforts can range from educational opportunities for all drivers on better ways to share the roads, to more rest areas for drivers, to different pay systems for drivers so that they are paid by the hour rather than by the mile. Updating the 62-year-old hours-of-service regulations - a recommendation NTSB made 10 years ago - would also be included.
In closing, Mr. Chairman, what is needed is a Safer Highways initiative, similar to the Safer Skies initiative undertaken by the Federal Aviation Administration last year. As this Committee knows, Safer Skies is an effort by the FAA and the aviation industry to take a more proactive approach to improving aviation safety and lowering the accident rate. Key to this initiative is the FAA's program to improve the quality, collection, and analysis of the data being used and then using it to target resources to prevent aviation accidents.
If we are to improve highway and heavy vehicle safety, it is clear that effective leadership is needed along with a desire to be more proactive and a willingness to be innovative - to try new approaches to solve not only the problems at hand, but those we know loom in the future as our nation and its economy grow and expand.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman, that concludes my testimony. I would be happy to take the Committee's questions.
Testimony provided for the record:
Good morning, Chairman McCain, and Members of the Committee. I appreciate the opportunity to appear before you today, on behalf of the National Transportation Safety Board, to discuss an issue of concern to us all - heavy truck and bus safety.
In 1997, there were 5,355 fatal - and countless other serious injury - crashes involving heavy trucks. That was 218 more deaths than the previous year. Although large trucks accounted for only three percent of all registered vehicles, collisions involving large trucks accounted for nine percent of the 1997 traffic fatalities. And while many may tout that the accident rate, accidents per million vehicle miles, has declined since 1991, in actuality, the number of fatalities has increased. It is small wonder that concern about the safety of trucks and buses on our road by the public, the Congress, and the industry continues to grow.
It is for this reason that I am focusing Safety Board resources on this issue this year. Throughout the year, we are addressing the complex safety issues related to heavy vehicle transportation through several venues. In March, the Board issued a Highway Special Investigation Report on Selective Motorcoach Issues, and early this summer, we will issue a Special Investigation Report on Bus Crashworthiness. Two weeks ago, we convened a hearing on oversight issues. I will discuss that meeting in more detail in a moment. In July, the Board will convene a second public hearing to explore technology applications for heavy vehicle safety. In the fall, we will have a hearing on issues related to NAFTA and heavy truck safety.
However, this is not to suggest that highway safety is a new issue for the Safety Board. Since 1986, the Board has published nine safety studies and 34 major accident reports, held 14 public hearings/forums, and issued scores of safety recommendations to improve heavy truck and motorcoach safety. As a result of Safety Board recommendations in this area, we have seen numerous improvements in commercial vehicle safety. Among those are requirements for a commercial driver's license (CDL) for most truck and bus drivers, tougher heavy vehicle brake regulations, and alcohol and drug testing.
During our recent three-day hearing, we examined how well regulators and the industry ensure the safe transport of passengers and goods by trucks and buses over our nation's highways. We also explored whether the oversight performed by the various governmental agencies and the industry is adequate to meet the changing needs of this vital transportation industry. A wide range of witnesses participated, including truck and bus drivers, members of advocacy groups, federal and state government officials, and industry representatives. What we learned from them was both enlightening and troublesome.
We heard a great deal about how the dynamics on our nation's highways are changing and how they will continue to change well into the future, causing those who use the roadways to encounter more volume, more mass, and more pressure. Indeed, our highways are already reaching critical mass. Many of our interstate roads - which also serve as major truck corridors - are over capacity and ill-suited for heavy vehicle traffic. Yet, the number of trucks and the amount of freight they transport continue to increase. In the 1980s, about 130,000 heavy trucks were manufactured annually. In 1999, that number will exceed 220,000. Not only are more heavy trucks being produced each year, so are more light trucks, vans, and sport utility vehicles.
According to the American Trucking Associations (ATA), the trucking industry employs 9.5 million individuals and includes more than 442,000 companies which operate more than 4 million medium and heavy trucks and haul about 6.5 billion tons of freight. Those same trucks travel more than 166 billion miles a year, and are driven by over 8 million CDL holders.
The heavy trucks on our roadways are also becoming bigger and more powerful. Thirty years ago, semi-trailers were about 35 feet long. Now, they average between 45 to 53 feet and are about a foot wider. Between 1986 and 1996, the number of vehicles on the highways grew by 16%, however, the mass of those vehicles increased by 20%.
The addition of motorcoach traffic only compounds the situation. In an average year, more than 360 million bus passengers travel 28 billion passenger miles in North America. About 945 million of those miles are by motorcoach. The American Bus Association estimates that about 4,000 companies operate about 26,000 to 28,000 commercial buses for charters, tours, regular route services, and special operations. The greatest users of those motorcoaches are some of our most vulnerable citizens, our children and senior citizens. As these segments of our population increase, as they are projected to do, so will their reliance on this mode of transportation with a corresponding increase in traffic.
As you are aware, the Safety Board is investigating the tragic accident that occurred December 24, 1998, on the Garden State Parkway in New Jersey that resulted in the death of eight passengers. Although this investigation is on-going and conclusions have not been determined, issues being examined include: driver licensing, speed, passenger ejections, and bus crashworthiness.
The latter two issues are of continuous concern to the Board. We are currently conducting a special investigation to examine them more closely. Unlike automobiles, there are no crash protection or body joint strength standards applicable to motorcoaches. In addition, there are currently no bus rollover standards.
As part of this on-going study, staff has reviewed 40 prior Safety Board motorcoach accidents that resulted in full or partial ejections. With the advent of the modern touring bus with its large windshield and passenger window areas, we are concerned that the glazing material on the window frequently fails during crashes and rollovers, permitting occupant ejection. Although, as I said, the investigation of the Garden State Parkway accident is ongoing, it appears that some windows did fail and a number of passengers were ejected. This raises questions concerning the effectiveness of several Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards as they are applicable to motorcoaches. We will keep the Committee advised as information is developed on this investigation and our study.
Not only are traffic volume and mass increasing on our highways, so are the pressures exerted on the individuals traveling on the roads. The nature of truck transportation has moved to time sensitive or "just in time" delivery. As companies shrink inventory to save storage costs and space, they use trucks as mobile warehouses for their products. The ramifications are clear - ever more pressure on operators, shippers, brokers, and drivers to keep vehicles moving to meet demanding production schedules.
It is obvious that the heavy truck and bus industries in our country have changed. However, the government agencies charged with the responsibility of ensuring the safety of these industries have not. During our hearing, we found that they:
- do not know the scope of the problem;
- cannot identify the worst carriers or drivers;
- concentrate their efforts on enforcing compliance with obsolete rules that often do not impact safety;
- expend significant resources and time on inconclusive studies and research and not enough time taking action to improve safety;
- neglect an entire component of the industry; and
- do not embrace advanced technology applications for the industry.
Based on testimony given during our hearing, there are four specific areas that the highway safety community should focus its efforts on: better data collection, better oversight and enforcement, better use of technology, and better countermeasures.
First, better data collection. We heard a great deal of testimony on the lack of valid, accurate data. There was general consensus that we need a single accident information reporting form to be used in every state and a formalized reporting system to ensure that the data is transmitted in a timely manner. Currently, there is little uniformity in the data elements collected by the 50 states following highway accidents. As a result, even though the states transmit data to the federal government agencies, comparative analysis of the causes of accidents between states or nationwide is impossible because there are few common data points upon which to base the analysis. In addition, although the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NTHSA) does compile fatal accident data, the one set of common data elements, we know that fatal information alone, is not representative of all the accidents that occur. To address this issue, NHTSA also compiles data from 17 States on all of their reportable accidents. However, since most of those data elements are not uniform, NHTSA only uses those data sets that are comparable, and then extrapolates general estimates on selected accident-related issues. This is the data that we are using today as a basis of many of our highway safety decisions.
The Safety Board in its Cargo Tank Rollover Protection Special Investigation Report dated February 4, 1992, concluded that the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) accident database was not adequate to identify important trends or potential problems related to the design and construction of cargo tanks. The Board recommended that the FHWA (H-92-9) "Implement, in cooperation with Research and Special Programs Administration, a program to collect information necessary to identify pattern failures, including the reporting of all accidents involving DOT specification cargo tanks." However, the FHWA has failed to address this issue, even after the Safety Board urged it to expedite action on the recommendation in 1998 following a deadly cargo tank accident and fire in Yonkers, New York. Safety Recommendation H-92-9 is classified "Open-Unacceptable Action."
The problems with data go far beyond accident reporting. It is evident, from everything we heard during the hearing, that any efforts undertaken to improve safety must begin with better data. We cannot base any long-term solutions on the data currently available. This will become even more apparent as I discuss the other three areas.
The second area that needs more focus is better oversight of all stakeholders, including drivers, companies, shippers, brokers, consignors, freight forwarders, and tour operators. DOT currently directs its oversight and enforcement activities on motor carriers and drivers. These programs need to be extended to ensure that all stakeholders are held accountable.
However, even those programs currently in place need to be improved if they are to be effective. The Office of Motor Carrier and Highway Safety (OMCHS) program calls for them to target the worst motor carriers for enforcement action. But, inaccurate data affects their ability to identify those carriers or to ensure that corrective action has been taken. In fact, OMCHS cannot even be sure that they know how many or which motor carriers are operating on our highways.
The identification of motor carriers can be accomplished in at least two ways: through vehicle registrations and through the Motor Carrier Information Management System operated by the OMCHS. However, these systems cannot communicate with one another. Additionally, once a motor carrier has been given operating authority, there is little incentive for that carrier to notify the DOT of any changes in their status. In addition, those carriers with the worst operating practices are the least likely to provide needed information to the government. Under the current system, therefore, OMCHS only focuses on those carriers they know about, while all the others escape their oversight. Obviously, better mechanisms of identifying and monitoring the most ineffective motor carrier operations are needed, so that OMCHS' efforts are directed where they are needed.
As you know, the Surface Transportation Assistance Act of 1982 established the Motor Carrier Safety Assistance Program (MCSAP), which formed a partnership between the DOT and the States. According to DOT testimony presented February 11, 1999, before the Ground Transportation Subcommittee, the Federal government funds 33,000 individual bus inspections a year through the MCSAP program. Although the OMCHS is beginning to delegate some safety fitness evaluations of bus companies to their State partners, this function remains primarily an OMCHS responsibility. To inspect the over 400,000 trucking companies and 4,000 bus companies, the OMCHS employs 225 safety inspectors who inspect truck and bus companies. In 1997, there were 4,087 Federally-conducted compliance reviews of interstate carriers.
Motorcoach safety oversight was further enhanced in the Motor Carrier Safety Act of 1984. That legislation directed the Secretary of Transportation to establish a procedure to determine the safety fitness of owners and operators of commercial motor vehicles operating in interstate and foreign commerce. Subsequently, the FHWA promulgated a set of safety fitness standards and established a methodology to determine whether a carrier has adequate safety management controls in place to ensure acceptable compliance with the safety requirements.
Current Federal regulations contain two tools for preventing unsafe motor carriers from operating on the roadway. The first tool is part of the current safety rating methodology. When any motor carrier receives an unsatisfactory rating in two of six rating factors, the carrier receives a proposed unsatisfactory rating which becomes effective after 45 days. Those rating factors are: general; driver; operations; vehicle; hazardous materials; and accident. If the passenger carrier corrects the noncompliance to the satisfaction of the OMCHS, it receives a satisfactory or conditional rating. If the passenger carrier does not correct the noncompliance within 45 days, it receives an out-of-service order and is prohibited from operation.
The second tool for removing an unsafe carrier from the road is the imminent hazard rule which allows any driver, vehicle, or carrier posing an imminent hazard to safety to be placed out of service. Imminent hazard means any condition of vehicle, employee, or commercial motor vehicle operation that is likely to result in serious injury or death if not discontinued immediately. Despite the availability of these tools for removing unsafe carriers from the road, OMCHS records indicate that they are used infrequently. In 1994, eight carriers received out-of-service orders; in 1995, 29 carriers received out-of-service orders; and in 1996, 17 carriers received out-of-service orders.
The tools mentioned above, however, do not necessarily provide the oversight that would ensure unsafe motor carriers are not operating on the roadways. An accident that occurred October 13, 1995, in Indianapolis, Indiana, was discussed at length in the Board's special investigation. The bus overturned on its left side and slid about 590 feet when it failed to negotiate an exit curve. It was noted in the report that an inoperative speedometer on the bus contributed to the driver's lack of speed control, the condition of the vehicle brakes probably contributed to the bus driver's inability to slow down on an exit ramp, and a faulty air conditioner may have contributed to the driver's fatigue and resulted in the passengers opening the windows, which may have contributed to the partial ejection and fatal injury of two occupants.
Eleven of the company's buses were inspected by the Indiana State Police on September 14, 1994. While the State Police were conducting that inspection, the OMCHS conducted a follow-up compliance review using police inspection results in determining the rating for its compliance review. The company was rated satisfactory even though 63 percent of its vehicles were placed out-of-service. Had the OMCHS given the company an unsatisfactory rating based on the high percentage of vehicle defects, the brakes, speedometer, and air conditioner on the accident vehicle might have been repaired and the accident may have been avoided. It is our belief that if a passenger carrier does not meet the vehicle factor rating due to out-of-service vehicles, that determination should be serious enough to rate the carrier unsatisfactory overall. The Board has approved a recommendation that the safety rating methodology should also be changed so that driver performance-based data will independently result in an overall unsatisfactory rating for the carrier.
Mr. Chairman, we are all aware that motorcoaches are one of the safest modes of transportation, and that they account for only a small proportion of all vehicles involved in fatal accidents - an average of 0.6 percent. We applaud the Federal and State programs which have brought about this level of safety for commercial buses. However, we believe this record can improve. A change in the safety rating methodology would be a step in the right direction.
Similar problems affect OMCHS's ability to identify deficient drivers. Two of the most accurate predictors of future accidents are drivers' involvement in prior accidents and their record of traffic violations. However, targeting the worst drivers based on this criteria is difficult. Frequently, the CDL system does not reflect all of a driver's convictions. As drivers move from state to state, their convictions frequently do not transfer with them. As a result, motor carriers must depend on their drivers to accurately report their driving records. Many of our witnesses indicated that a National Driver Registry for CDL holders would permit motor carriers and government agencies to verify drivers' records and provide a mechanism for identifying and targeting the truly "bad apples".
The Federal government primarily focuses its oversight on interstate trucking and leaves intrastate trucking oversight to the states. However, only about half of the states effectively oversee these carriers - that represents about 40 % of the total trucking fleet. This segment of the trucking industry is expected to grow over the next 10 years, but there are no plans to expand Federal oversight to cover them. There would appear to be no justification for making a distinction between interstate and intrastate operations - a heavy truck is a heavy truck and it should not matter which is involved in an accident.
Third, there needs to be more focus on the better use of technology on the roads and in vehicles, such as data recorders, collision avoidance systems, and intelligent transportation systems. Such systems would provide inestimable benefits to our safety programs through the information that they would provide and the accidents they could prevent.
There are no compelling arguments why heavy vehicles should not be equipped with recorders now. We have made significant progress in other modes - commercial aviation, rail and marine - however, we have seen little movement in the truck and bus industries. This issue has been on our Most Wanted List of Safety Improvements since its inception in 1990. In May, the Safety Board will hold a symposium to promote the development and use of recorders in all transportation modes. The topic areas for this symposium will include:
- Overview of transportation recording capabilities (including regulatory requirements and industry standards;
- Proactive use of recorded data for accident prevention and to improve operational efficiency;
- Access to data issues: privacy, proprietary, union contracts, etc.; and
- Future recording requirements and capabilities.
We believe that adequate on-board recording devices are necessary in all modes of transportation because the information can be used to identify safety trends, develop corrective actions, and conduct more efficient accident investigations. Cockpit voice recorders and flight data recorders have been in commercial aircraft for many years, and we have found them to be indispensable investigative tools. The same is true of trains which have required event recorders since 1993.
We issued our first recommendation (H-90-28) regarding recorders for highway trucking transport to the FHWA in April 1990 as a result of the Board's safety study on fatigue, alcohol, and other drugs, and medical factors in fatal-to-the driver heavy truck crashes. That recommendation stated:
Require automated/tamper-proof on-board recording devices, such as tachographs or computerized logs, to identify commercial truckdrivers who exceed hours-of-service (HOS) regulations.
This safety recommendation was reiterated in 1995 in a Board study on truck driver fatigue. The Board concluded that these devices can provide a tamper-proof mechanism that could be used to enforce the HOS regulations, rather than relying on drivers' handwritten logs.
In a February 1997 response to our 1995 recommendation, the FHWA acknowledged that on-board recording devices could eventually be an important tool for monitoring the HOS of commercial motor vehicle drivers. However, they went on to say that "The FHWA position is that the benefits and practicality of on-board recorders must be firmly established before rulemaking ensues."
Not only are recorders an important tool in accident investigation reconstruction and in HOS regulatory compliance, but the Board believes that they can also be used in the trucking industry as management tools to identify information concerning both driver and vehicle operating characteristics. As a result of FHWA's 1997 response, in the report of an accident that occurred February 12, 1997, in Slinger, Wisconsin, the Board, in August 1998, issued a recommendation (H-98-23) directly to the industry and asked the ATA, the Motor Freight Carrier Association, and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, to advise their members to equip their commercial vehicle fleets with automated and tamper-proof on-board recording devices.
The trucking industry in the United States has already installed tens of thousands of these recorders. We believe it is past time to act, and that their use should be mandatory throughout the industry, as it is in most of Europe. This technology is already required in the 15 countries of the European Economic Union.
The DOT has also yet to act on our 1995 recommendation to evaluate collision avoidance 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. Despite DOT's inactivity, small segments of the industry have installed this technology voluntarily. In my opinion, it should be mandated for all new trucks. We plan to examine this issue further during our July hearing.
The Board has had a long-standing interest in technology to mitigate collisions in all modes of our transportation system. In recent years, the Safety Board has investigated several highway accidents in which collision warning technology could have avoided the accident.
· Menifee, Arkansas. On January 9, 1995, at 1:50 a.m., eight loaded tractor semi-trailers and a telephone company van were involved in a series of rear end collisions on I-40 northwest of Little Rock. The accident began when the lead truck slowed in heavy localized fog from the speed limit of 65 miles per hour (mph) to between 35-40 mph. The other trucks also slowed, but to differing speeds varying from 15 mph to 60 mph. During the next few minutes, multiple rear end collisions occurred that resulted in a fire and five fatalities.
· Weatherford, Texas. On July 3, 1994, at 9:20 a.m., a private passenger van in a partially disabled condition was traveling about 15 mph in the slow lane of I-20 west of Fort Worth, Texas. A tractor semi-trailer with a fatigued driver approached from behind at about 55 mph, struck and overrode the van, pushing it into a guard rail, then into the median. A fire ensued. The van had 18 passengers, 17 from the same extended family, on their way to a family reunion. Fourteen received fatal injuries, including 12 children. The roadway was straight; the sun was shining; and, after cresting a small hill, the truck driver could have seen the van for at least 1/2 mile before he hit it. However, his level of fatigue reduced his level of awareness.
· Alexandria, Minnesota. On February 8, 1994, at 8:30 a.m., a 15-passenger van with 13 cosmetology students and 2 staff members was traveling at about 65 mph on I-94 in central Minnesota. It was windy and snowing; however, the roadway had been cleared of snow and the surface was dry. The van driver approached and entered a snow cloud produced by a snow plow that was cleaning the left shoulder of the roadway. The plow was traveling at 20-25 mph and was not visible to the van driver because it was completely engulfed by the snow cloud. Once the van driver was inside the cloud, she saw the plow and tried to swerve into the other lane. In the process, she struck the right rear of the plow, spun sideways into the other lane, and was struck broadside by a passing motorcoach. Seven passengers in the van were killed and the other eight were seriously injured.
Following the Menifee, Arkansas accident, the Safety Board issued Safety Recommendation H-95-44 to the DOT, with a similar recommendation issued to the Intelligent Transportation Society of America, that stated: In cooperation with the Intelligent Transportation Society of America, sponsor fleet testing of collision warning technology through partnership projects with the commercial carrier industry. Incorporate testing results into demonstration and training programs to educate the potential end-users of the systems.
We were disappointed in DOT's April 10, 1997, response, that stated they had no plans for conducting an operational test of rear end collision avoidance systems for heavy trucks.
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 recently visited U.S. Xpress Enterprises, Inc. in Chattanooga, Tennessee. In 1996, this trucking company began installing a collision warning system in its vehicles. Eighty percent of their fleet, between 3,700 and 3,800 trucks, currently have 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 accident costs have decreased by two-thirds. Mr. Chairman, the rest of the industry should take notice. The wide-spread use of this safety device would prevent injuries, save countless lives and, as demonstrated by U.S. Xpress' experience, millions of dollars each year.
DOT has to find ways to be more responsive to new safety improvements. There must be a mechanism that allows for the expeditious introduction of new safety features - rather than forcing manufacturers and operators to endure years of rule-making. Currently, 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. The DOT needs to develop the capability to respond quickly to changing technologies, provide incentives for the trucking industry to apply new technologies, and remove any potential roadblocks.
Fourth, more attention needs to be paid to providing better countermeasures. These efforts can range from educational opportunities for all drivers on better ways to share the roads, to more rest areas for drivers, to different pay systems for drivers so that they are paid by the hour rather than by the mile. They would also include improving the HOS regulations. Almost five years ago, the Safety Board recommended that DOT develop new HOS rules that reflect the current research on truck and bus driver fatigue. Specifically, the rules need to provide the opportunity for drivers to obtain eight hours of continuous sleep after driving for 10 hours. As I know you are aware, Mr. Chairman, DOT has yet to make any changes to this 62-year-old regulation.
The issue of operator fatigue has been addressed by the Board for nearly a quarter of a century, and has been on the Board's "Most Wanted" list of safety issues since its inception in 1990. The Board's "Most Wanted" list highlights safety recommendations the Board believes should be acted on as soon as possible because they have the most potential to improve safety, save lives, and reduce accidents and injuries. Truck driver fatigue was also the focus of a 1990 and a 1995 safety study conducted by the Safety Board.
On May 12, 1989, the Safety Board issued recommendations to DOT regarding fatigue in all modes of transportation. One of those recommendations asked the DOT to review and upgrade regulations governing HOS for all transportation modes to assure that they are consistent and that they incorporate the results of the latest research on fatigue and sleep issues.
In November 1995, the Safety Board, in conjunction with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's Ames Research Center, sponsored a fatigue symposium attended by nearly 600 people from 16 countries representing the private sector, academia, and government. When addressing the symposium attendees, the DOT Secretary stated that operator error is probably the most important single factor in truck and bus accidents. He went on to say "It's up to us ... to figure out how ... we can keep improving the safety record." We agree with the former Secretary and believe the traveling public has the right to expect professional drivers traveling our highways to be unimpaired by fatigue.
At that same symposium, the Secretary announced DOT's Fatigue Program Overview, which summarized the research and technology development, public education, outreach, and operational strategies being used by the department. However, little has been done in the nearly 10 years since our safety recommendations were first issued or the three years since our fatigue symposium was held. Although the FHWA issued an advanced notice of proposed rulemaking in November 1996, no subsequent regulatory action has taken place. At our hearing, the OMCHS Program Manager indicated that we may soon see action on the HOS either through negotiated rule-making or regulatory action. We hope she is correct and that action will be taken quickly.
Obviously, unless we take immediate action, the situation on our highways will only worsen. However, our hearing made it clear that there are no easy solutions to these problems. What worked in the past, isn't working now, and certainly won't work in the future. It is time for a wholesale change in the way the government and the industry do business if we are to ensure heavy vehicle safety on our highways.
We need to stop looking for new solutions to old problems. Rather, we must be prepared to find innovative solutions to new, more complex, problems. And, those solutions must be targeted and integrated to ensure that every stakeholder has a role to play and is held accountable. We must stop thinking of highway safety as just a public sector responsibility. The private sector has to share in the responsibility for making the highways safer - as does everyone who uses the system.
If we are to improve highway safety, Mr. Chairman, it is clear that effective leadership, at all levels, is needed along with a desire to be more proactive and a willingness to be innovative - to try new approaches to solving not only the problems at hand, but those we know loom in the future.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman, that concludes my testimony. I would be happy to take the Committee's questions.
| Chairman Hall's Speeches