Posted on / by The Trucking Alliance

Trucking’s Duty to Public Safety

When boarding a commercial flight, what do you expect? Cramped seats. Maybe an incessant talker. Or everyone’s favorite – leave the gate on time, only to sit on the tarmac for an hour.

But what about safety? Do you expect airlines to keep you safe? Absolutely. US airlines have achieved a remarkable safety record. Since 2010, only two (2) people have died in a commercial airline crash.

In fact, the odds of dying in a commercial airline crash are about 1 in 11 million, compared to say, dying from a lightning strike. Those odds are 1 in 138,849. Flying is safe. Period.

The US Department of Transportation regulates all commercial transportation modes to ensure public safety. Airlines, Amtrak, freight railroads, and the trucking industry. After all, millions of large trucks share the roads with motorists, usually within 4 or 5 feet of our cars.

But trucking’s safety record is nowhere close to airlines.

  • Since 2010, 46,682 people died in large truck crashes. (Source: NTSA)
  • Another 1.3 million were injured. (Source: NTSA)
  • Ninety-four percent (94%) of trucking companies don’t even have a DOT safety rating. (Source: FMCSA)

Like airlines, the trucking industry has an absolute duty to protect the public. This extends to all truck drivers, other motorists, passengers, pedestrians, construction workers, cyclists, and all road users.

First Duty: Eliminate Large Truck Crash Fatalities

Trucking company owners must continuously prioritize safe driving practices. As Steve Williams, chairman/CEO of Maverick USA, and cofounder of the Trucking Alliance, frequently says, “We must make sure our drivers are properly trained, well-rested and drug and alcohol-free.”

Truck drivers deliver almost all the products we purchase. But there’s no way to rationalize that almost 5,000 truck crash deaths occur every year in the process. Trucking’s public duty should be to eliminate crash fatalities. Higher safety standards and emerging technologies can make it possible to achieve that goal.

Public opinion creates public policy. How aggressively the industry commits to achieving zero traffic deaths could ultimately determine how well trucking fares in the future.

Second Duty: Compensate Crash Victims

Nothing automatically entitles a person to own a trucking company. In fact, the US Congress, back in 1985, set the bar high for that privilege. Trucking company owners were required to have a $750,000 minimum financial worth or to post insurance in that amount, in order to operate in interstate commerce. Congress set this amount for one reason – so the company would meet its’ public duty and if at fault, have enough dollars to compensate crash victims.

Congress hasn’t increased that amount in 40 years. Adjusted for inflation, the minimum financial worth required to operate in interstate commerce should be $2.1 million. But to save money, almost all trucking company owners only purchased the minimum insurance amount set back in 1985.

When trucking companies cause a catastrophic crash, there are frequently not enough dollars to cover victims’ damages. The industry is underinsured and failing to meet its duty to the public.

If the minimum financial responsibility of motor carriers is adjusted for inflation, numerous benefits would accrue to crash victims and motor carriers:

  1. Improved Compensation for Accident Victims: A higher insurance requirement will cover almost all victims’ claims for medical expenses and damages. There’ll be no incentive for plaintiff lawsuits.
  2. Safer Carrier Operations: Increasing the potential financial consequences of accidents will be an incentive for motor carriers to prioritize safety and risk management practices. Business owners will be able to rationalize investing in safety training and education technology, proven safety technologies, and equipment maintenance. These improved standards will reduce accidents and cause fewer deaths on the roads.
  3. Reduced Burden on Public Resources: When trucking companies don’t adequately pay victims for the crashes they cause, the victims frequently turn to public resources. Society pays the difference, effectively subsidizing the industry. More insurance will ensure that accident victims rely on the motor carrier’s insurance coverage.
  4. Fair Competition: A higher insurance requirement will level the playing field. Whether a one-truck operation or a 1,000-truck fleet, carriers will have similar insurance coverage. Premiums will level off and be more equitable for everyone.
  5. Predictable Premiums: Insurance markets will stabilize, and the volatility in insurance expenses will diminish. Underwriters will better predict losses. More insurance companies will enter the marketplace, creating competition, and lowering premiums.

In Summary

Ethical standards have a place in the trucking industry. These standards include a public duty to eliminate fatal crashes. Second, if at fault, companies must be properly insured to compensate crash victims. If the commercial airlines can do it, so can trucking. The public deserves nothing less.

Lane Kidd
Managing Director
The Trucking Alliance
Washington, D.C.