Bill ignites war of words over trucking safety

Bill ignites war of words over trucking safety

May 4th, 2011 by Ellis Smith in Business Around the Region

Ringgold, Ga., widow Cindy Whitaker lost her husband, brother and niece in 2009 when a bucket truck hit their vehicle head-on.

Now she's pushing for tighter federal regulations for truckers, even as the trucking industry points to federal statistics indicating that America's roads are safer than ever.

Whitaker, in conjunction with the Truck Safety Coalition, threw her support Tuesday behind the newly reintroduced Safe Highways and Infrastructure Protection Act during a press conference in Washington, D.C.

The bill would freeze current federal truck size and weight limits, disallow the operation of overweight trucks and establish an enforcement program, the organization said.

The coalition released poll results that said 74 percent of Americans oppose heavier trucks and 79 percent favor lowering the maximum number of hours truckers may drive daily.

But a spokesman for the American Trucking Associations slammed the Truck Safety Coalition's poll results, calling them slanted and misleading.

The questions begin with a sentence or statistic from a safety advocate point of view before getting to the questions, according to the methodology posted on

"This is a push poll of the worst kind, and proves that while figures don't lie, liars can figure," said ATA spokesman Sean McNally.

Bill Graves, president of the American Trucking Associations, accused the bill's backers of co-opting the grief of Americans who have lost family members in accidents "to advance an agenda designed to hurt our economy and our industry, and benefit trucking's competitors and well-heeled union interests."

Trucking has improved its fatality and injury crash rate by 30 percent since the current rules were implemented in 2004, Graves said.

The rate of trucking accident fatalities fell to 1.17 per 100 million miles in 2009, the safest year since the government began tracking the statistics in 1975, according to data from the Federal Highway Administration and National Highway Safety Administration.

However, the Truck Safety Coalition released statistics showing that 4,000 people are still killed each year and 100,000 more are injured in truck crashes, according to Joan Claybrook, chairwoman of the Citizens for Reliable and Safe Highways.

"Families and truck drivers are being slaughtered on our highways because of the trucking industry's relentless push for bigger, overweight trucks operated by drivers who are exhausted and pressured to meet unreasonable delivery deadlines," Claybrook said.

Morgan Adams, a Chattanooga-based lawyer who specializes in truck accident cases, called for restructuring driver pay to an hourly rate instead of by the mile as an incentive toward safety.

"Truck drivers are the last sweatshop industry in America," Adams said.

"Almost 20 percent of the trucks and drivers have a safety violation every year," he said. "Two percent of the drivers have alcohol and drug safety violations."