October 5, 2009 8:00 AM, EDT

Getting It Right

This Editorial appears in the Oct. 5 print edition of Transport Topics. Click here to subscribe today.

Twice in recent days, the New York Times has uncharacteristically turned its attention to the trucking industry, and twice it has tried to give trucking a black eye, strongly implying that the industry is unsafe and has little interest in getting safer.

In the first instance, on Sept. 23, the Times editorialized against President Obama’s nomination of Anne Ferro to head the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, claiming that Ferro’s service as president of the Maryland Motor Truck Association disqualified her from the federal post.

The newspaper said that Ferro, who also has served as the head of Maryland’s motor vehicle agency, was not fit to serve in Washington because in her six years at MMTA she has supported “the trucking industry’s efforts to thwart and defeat policies and programs needed to protect the public and promote the health and safety of truck drivers.”

Her crime? She has supported the new hours-of-service rule adopted by FMCSA after long study, the very rule that has helped reduce truck-related highway deaths despite all of the carping from the Teamsters and some other interest groups. Actually, crash and fatality rates for large trucks are at the lowest level since the federal government began collecting the statistics.

The Times’ reasoning is hogwash and extremely unfair to a woman who has spent much of her career making roads and drivers safer — including a Maryland licensing system for young drivers that slowly expands their eligibility as they gain experience and maturity, and an ignition interlock program for motorists convicted of drunken driving.

On Sept. 28, the Times focused its latest installment of a series on distracted driving on truckers, claiming that truck accident rates are increasing even as safety improvements have brought down overall death rates.

The newspaper’s numbers were wrong, and led to a correction a couple of days later that included data that show truck-involved crashes actually have declined.

The story also said that “large trucks caused 4,808 deaths” in 2007. What the Times meant to say — its editors admitted in the subsequent correction — was that 4,808 people were killed in crashes involving large trucks.

As we’ve written many times, recent studies show that in a truck-car crash, the accident is most likely to have been caused by the automobile driver.

The Times tried to use these erroneous “facts” to show that trucking isn’t interested in improving safety.

Fact is, the nation’s road system is our workplace. No group has more interest in improving highway safety than trucking, no matter what you read in some newspapers.