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Cars & Trucks - An Unsafe Mix



Field Hearing of the Subcommittee on Highways, Transit and Pipelines “Truck Safety and Freight Mobility”

March 24, 2003


Mr. Chairman, I am honored to be here today representing AAA on an issue of significant importance to our membership: that is truck safety. My name is Kevin Bakewell, and I am the Senior Vice President of Public and Government Relations for AAA Auto Club South – the local AAA motor club for the states of Florida, Georgia, and Western and Middle Tennessee. Our club represents 3.6 million members; AAA’s total membership is almost 46 million.

On behalf of our entire association, I want to thank you for visiting the great state of Florida. We applaud your interest in getting outside Washington, D.C. to learn about the transportation challenges that affect our state and region. Permit me to offer a special thank you to Congressman Mica, one of our state’s foremost champions of improving safety on Florida’s highways. AAA’s National Office is based in Heathrow, so we regard Congressman Mica as our AAA Congressman!

According to the Department of Transportation’s Freight Analysis Framework, every state in this country will experience heavy and growing freight volume over the next 20 years, creating the potential for increased congestion and greater inefficiencies throughout the nation’s transportation system. In Florida, DOT estimates that much of the growth will occur in urban areas and on the Interstate highway system. The impact of millions of visiting drivers to the Sunshine State and other top tourist destinations is cause for even greater concern.

We at AAA recognize that this growth in freight is related to a strong and growing economy, which we all desire. But, more cars and more trucks on our crowded roadways do not paint a pretty picture. Congestion will become much more than an irritant in many parts of the country. And, our roadways may become even more dangerous than they are today. As an organization representing travelers as motorists, we are committed to educating our members to the realities that loom ahead. As lawmakers, you are looking for ways to alleviate a situation that both irritates and frightens your constituents.

Cars and Trucks: An Unsafe Mix

There are few issues that resonate with AAA members more than those relating to truck safety; year after year, our member surveys validate this concern. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) most recent statistics, 5082 people were killed in crashes involving cars and large trucks in 2001. Another 131,000 were injured.

In collisions between cars and large trucks, the structural properties and greater mass of the truck place the occupants of cars at greater risk. A study released last year by AAA’s Foundation for Traffic Safety found that in 98% of these crashes, it’s the driver of the automobile who is most likely to be killed.

AAA’s long-standing interest in truck safety stems directly from our members. In polls, letters, and contacts with our branch offices, they tell us of their fears about driving next to large trucks on our increasingly congested highways. They are not anti-truck. They are motorists, and they are consumers. They recognize that trucks are absolutely vital to our economy. It’s trucks that deliver the bulk of commodities that reach our stores and places of business. We cannot function as a society without a vibrant and safe trucking industry.

But, we must find a better way to co-exist on our nation’s highways. It’s a goal that drivers of commercial vehicles and motorists share.

Stop the Blame Game!

Finger-pointing contributes little to resolving this problem. Car drivers and truck drivers have a responsibility to share the road safely. While professional commercial drivers bear a significant burden of responsibility for driving safely, AAA recognizes our responsibility to better educate motorists on what to expect when driving along side big trucks. In July, 2002, AAA’s Foundation for Traffic Safety released a study identifying unsafe driver actions that lead to fatal car-truck crashes. This analysis confirmed earlier studies that the actions of car drivers contribute more to car-truck crashes than do the actions of truck drivers. Why? Because car drivers behave the same way around trucks as they behave around cars with serious, and too often deadly, consequences.

Driving around a big truck is different from driving near a passenger car, but motorists don’t change their driving behavior to adjust for the difference. They fail to recognize that trucks behave differently from cars, so they think trucks can stop on a dime and change lanes quickly. You cannot drive the same way around a Honda sedan as you do an 18-wheeler. One may bend your fender if you cut them off—the other can crush you.

The most common actions that get drivers of both cars and large trucks in trouble include: failure to keep in lane or running off the road; failure to yield the right of way; driving too fast for conditions or above speed limit; failure to obey signs and signals; and driver inattention.

AAA is committed to providing drivers with the knowledge and skills they need to help them reduce the chances of becoming a victim in a car/truck crash. That is the essence of our “Share with Care” public information campaign, which we launched in 2001 to provide safe driving tips to both automobile and truck drivers. With more knowledge about the ways to avoid truck/car crashes, drivers will be able to avoid often catastrophic collisions with large trucks.

But, professional commercial drivers also have a high burden of responsibility for safety on our roadways. They are the professionally trained drivers, operating a vehicle 10 to 20 times heavier than the average passenger vehicle, and thus bear the greater burden for creating a safe driving environment.

The federal government can assist efforts like this by continuing to work with stakeholder groups to advance consistent messages throughout the highway user community. For example, AAA is a member of an active public-private coalition of organizations that include federal, state and local governments, private motor carriers, insurance companies, law enforcement and highway safety organizations. Congress should continue to fund these types of education/outreach efforts by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.

The Need for Better Data

Mr. Chairman, it was four years ago that Congress last took a serious look at the truck safety issue. Passage of the Motor Carrier Safety Improvement Act (P.L. 106-159) in 1999 was an important step toward improving safety and oversight of the trucking industry. AAA worked with your committee to include in the bill a study to determine the causes and contributing factors to crashes involving large trucks. We emphasized the need to invest in building data systems to gather and analyze the factors that contribute to truck crashes and the injuries they produce. That study has been underway for over a year now and is scheduled for completion by year’s end.

The importance of scientifically-based crash causation data often takes a back seat in our efforts to reduce fatalities on the nation’s highways. Yet improved data collection and analysis is the best way to pinpoint the factors that contribute to crashes, enabling policy makers to target actions where they will have the greatest impact.

When it comes to truck safety, simple logic tells us that the sheer size differences between cars and trucks dictate an approach that emphasizes crash prevention. Once the crash occurs, it’s too late. All too often drivers and passengers in cars become fatality statistics. Our challenge is to prevent the crash from ever occurring.

Crash prevention is the theme around which are based all of AAA’s safety recommendations for the reauthorization of TEA-21. Congress has already invested resources to improve truck/car crash data. But, we need to go further and collect better data on all crashes. Unfortunately, currently available crash causation data is 25 years old. It’s time to invest in data collection as part of the reauthorization. AAA urges the committee to build on the framework of the existing truck crash causation study which will wrap up by year’s end and adapt it for a more comprehensive, up-to-date car crash causation study.

Bigger and Heavier Trucks are not the Answer

AAA is aware that some representatives of the trucking industry believe that increasing the size and weight of trucks will help meet the demands of moving freight in this country. They hope Congress will relax the existing freeze on increasing size and weight limits that was imposed in 1991 and retained in TEA-21.

Given the problems cars and trucks have sharing the road under current circumstances, AAA will vigorously oppose such action. Larger, longer and heavier trucks – allowed by changes in the law or by overweight and oversized permits – create serious safety hazards and accelerate the deterioration of highway pavement and bridges. For example, a 95,000 pound truck, operating legally on a Florida DOT-issued overweight permit, does more than twice the pavement damage as a legal, 80,000 pound truck. And the damage to roadway infrastructure continues to increase exponentially as the weight increases.

In Florida and other states, penalties for illegal operation of overweight trucks have become nothing more than a cost of doing business that are more than offset by the revenue generated by the extra freight. Another concern is a growing desire to use overweight permits – which should be used to accommodate only the exceptional/occasional excessive load – as a means for more routine transport of freight that exceeds the 80,000 pound maximum legal limit.

The safety implications of increased size and weight have not been satisfactorily addressed, not even in the recently completed Transportation Research Board study.

AAA is prepared to ask Congress to go one step further. Our association supports the Safe Highways and Infrastructure Preservation Act which is expected to be reintroduced shortly. This bill would extend existing interstate weight limits to the National Highway system. We see this legislation as preserving the status quo on our roadways. It does not roll-back current state laws. Rather, it shifts jurisdiction to Congress over any proposed increases affecting the NHS. Decisions on critical truck size and weight issues for a national system should be made at the national level.

Congress should stick to its guns, and retain the existing freeze on size and weight, as well as retain a ban on expanded use of longer combination vehicles (LCVs). The challenge is for the trucking industry to develop technologies and operations that assure safety, not for other road users to defend their very real concerns about driving on our nation’s increasingly crowded roadways along side of even bigger trucks.

Operational improvements, better use of off-peak times, revised business and industry expectations on “just in time” delivery, improved equipment, and possibly revisions to railroad-trucking allocation of freight are some ideas for how to accommodate an increase in domestic freight.

Adequate Funding for Enforcement

The Motor Carrier Safety Assistance Program (MCSAP) is a federal grant program that provides financial assistance to states to reduce the number and severity of accidents and hazardous materials incidents involving commercial motor vehicles. In its 20-year history, MCSAP has proven itself to be a valuable instrument in improving truck safety. It funds roadside driver and commercial motor vehicle inspections, data collection and reporting, traffic enforcement, drug and alcohol enforcement, educational activities, and compliance reviews.

The burden placed on state enforcement authorities has steadily increased over the years and will continue to do so, particularly with the expected entry of trucks from Mexico and the new entrant program for U.S. roadways. Congress must work with industry representatives to review the program, allowing adjustments and increased funding to meet this growing demand.


Mr. Chairman and Congressman Mica: Thank you for this opportunity to appear before your subcommittee on an issue that is a priority for our association because it is of utmost importance to our 46 million members and the traveling public. We hope you will call on AAA as a resource toward achieving our mutual goal of cars and trucks sharing the road safely. Thank you.

This information came from a
US House online article.

*** Any law, statute, regulation or other precedent is subject to change at any time ***

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