We are in an era of major reductions in truck-related highway deaths. These fatalities have dropped more than 25 percent in just a two-year period.
Nevertheless, we will soon see a series of sweeping new truck industry safety and operating regulations enacted into law. These are in addition to some that have already been enacted.
This may seem like odd timing, but things tend to happen this way in our nation’s capitol.
I am not opposed to government regulations where they make sense. But most of us in the supplier, fleet and service industry prefer voluntary guidelines and industry recommended safety practices. That’s because these are always written by the companies affected and give consideration to economics as well as safety.
In most cases, sound business practices and the free market will drive suppliers and vehicle OEMs to build safer products. Fleet operators, service providers and truck drivers can take as much credit for the major drop in truck-accident related highway deaths as suppliers and OEMs.
For them, it makes huge moral and financial sense to operate as safely as possible. This is the real reason behind the great improvement in truck-related deaths statistics. The fleet, driver, supplier, truck and trailer OEM, parts professional and the fleet service industry have continued to work effectively on equipment and highway safety for many years.
Our industry has a very strong track record in doing its part for highway safety. Despite the hyperbolic rhetoric of certain special interests in past headlines about so-called “killer trucks” and other ridiculous statements, this industry has always focused on equipment and operational safety.
The major fleets track the number of days they have gone without an accident, and many will record 10 to 15 months, and in some cases several years in their accident-free records.
Whether or not additional safety regulations are needed is a matter for great debate, although little will occur due to the structure of our government and its ability to legislate or regulate at will.
When any regulation begins forming, there are announcements in the Federal Register and through press releases, etc. The government agencies involved are required to allow for public comments for a period of time, and actually do consider all as valid input.
The double-edged part is that both sides of an issue are given equal treatment, both pro and con.
Some of the new regulations deal with:
- Reduced stopping distances: The regulations call for stopping up to 30 percent faster than previously required, which will most likely require the use of disc brakes on all new trucks. Supplier and truck OEMs have worked together to achieve the new standards with air-drum brakes, although modified.
- Hours of service (HOS): The regulations set a maximum amount of time a driver can work in a given period of time. Although this one sounds reasonable, the purposed regulations could worsen the already tight market for available drivers. It is highly unlikely that HOS will reduce accidents and highway deaths, but only increase the number of truck drivers and related support staff. This regulation has strong special interest support and resistance. I will leave it to the readers to determine which is which.
- Compliance, Safety & Accountability (CSA): This is a complex system whereby truck companies and drivers are subjected to significant new recordkeeping, maintenance conditions and a dictionary-sized set of requirements that will have a massive impact on trucking. Maintenance will be a key factor for the parts and service industry to support.
- Medium and heavy duty fuel economy and greenhouse gas emissions standards: I get too upset to discuss greenhouse gas standards, but with regard to fuel economy standards, telling a truck fleet or OEM they are required by law to get better fuel mileage is like requiring a 16-year-old boy to look at girls. Do we really need a law to tell us that trucks need to get better fuel economy?
If it seems that the trucking industry is under assault by the various parts of our government, I believe it actually is. Most of this is driven by special interests of one form or another.
Clamping down on the part of the transportation industry that provides freight service to 100 percent of the cities in our country and is the only form of freight transportation to 80 percent of all cities could be viewed as an anti-monopoly type of exercise. It is more than likely that industries providing other forms of transportation have a strong lobby working on these issues.
My point in all of this is: Our form of government is such that we need strong representation in place to counter those who would seek to weaken the truck transportation segment. If you are an independent driver, there is a fairly strong association of owner operators that you should support. Fleets have one of the strongest D.C. lobbies on their side, as well as segment associations.
There are several industry associations representing suppliers (my own included), truck and engine manufacturers, maintenance professionals and others that support strong-working offices in Washington.
Get involved if you are a member. Join one if you are not.
This is the only way to defend against other special interests when they are assaulting your industry.
Tim Kraus is the president and chief operating officer of the Heavy Duty Manufacturers Association (HDMA). Prior to joining HDMA, Kraus served in various executive positions with heavy duty industry parts manufacturers. HDMA exclusively serves as the industry voice of the commercial vehicle product manufacturers. It is a market segment affiliate of the Motor & Equipment Manufacturers Association (MEMA).