Editorial: Scaling the Mountain of Safety

The desire for safety is obvious and broadly shared — it’s intuitive.

Far less intuitive, in the eyes of many in trucking, are the rules that determine a motor carrier’s safety score under the Department of Transportation’s Compliance, Safety, Accountability program. Our front page this week features a story on a federal initiative to offer fleets a chance to be heard when they believe their drivers are not at fault in accidents.

The crashes under consideration involve heavy property damage, personal injuries and even death — precisely the sort of events everyone wants to eliminate. That’s why involvement in a major accident is recorded as a fault in CSA. Regulators want to know who is having big accidents, and one example of carelessness is often a good predictor of a second incident.

But not always. There are also accidents that even the best truck drivers cannot avoid: drunk drivers traveling the wrong way on interstate highways, rock slides or falling trees and motorists who hit trucks when a rig is legally stopped.

Truck drivers in these instances are not careless and worthy of sanction; they are simply victims of bad luck.

Therefore, we are very pleased to hear that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is starting a two-year pilot program to see if safety scores can be made more accurate and useful by eliminating unfortunate yet unavoidable accidents from the records of drivers and motors carriers. Scores that separate actual carelessness from freakish tragedies will be far more useful.

We are hopeful that this pilot can lead to real improvements in the scoring of safety records.

We also note earnest discussions among fleet managers, safety system managers and government officials on advanced driver-assistance systems, or ADAS.

These technologies, such as collision avoidance and mitigation, can save numerous lives.

In a July 24 webcast sponsored by the National Safety Council and the National Transportation Safety Board, truck makers Freightliner and Volvo touted the capabilities of ADAS systems currently available for heavy-duty trucks.

A Schneider executive said he has seen a 69% reduction in crash frequency and a 95% reduction in severity. Schneider ranks No. 6 on our list of the top 100 for-hire carriers and is well-known for its thoroughness with experimentation.

However, the CEO of much smaller Sentinel Transportation has also used the systems and said their costs have dropped significantly over the last 10 years.

We salute these people and others for their work on ADAS technologies and urge them to continue with their campaign of persuasion to see the systems spread.