August 28, 2015 11:00 AM, EDT

Kenworth's Feight Defends Trucking's Safety Record

Neil Abt/Transport Topics

KIRKLAND, Wash. — During a media event at Kenworth Truck Co.’s headquarters here Aug. 26, I asked General Manager Preston Feight a question: “Is trucking safe?”

Feight also is a vice president of Paccar Inc., which is the corporate parent of Kenworth and Peterbilt Motors Co.

While my question was prompted by the recent New York Times opinion piece critical of the trucking industry by former Transport Topics publisher Howard S. Abramson, I did not ask Feight to specifically address any points raised in that piece. (New York Times opinion piece | ATA response)

Below are excerpts from Feight’s response:

“We have professional drivers as a starting point. That differentiates them from most of the rest of us driving on the road. So they’re already at a higher skill level.

“The equipment we build has improved in its safety capabilities . . . over the decades.

“Additional safety systems are available to a point where I would say the truck industry leads the automotive industry in terms of safety equipment that’s available for it. You think about the camera-based vision systems that we are able to put on. The radar systems that we put on — active braking. They are right up with high-end luxury cars.

“We have excellent equipment that is maintained and inspected every day by law, which is much different than most people treat their vehicles.

“Trucks are mostly speed-limited. Maybe not legally mandated, but mostly speed-limited. So that helps as well.

“There are just so many factors. There is hours of service. You can jump into your car and drive 20 hours if you want to and that is not illegal. But a professional truck driver cannot do that. So the opportunity of fatigue setting in is limited also.

“You can keep walking through item after item about how this industry is on top of safety and takes it very, very seriously. We have done an amazing job, I think. That would be my answer. I have some passion around this because I think we do the right thing as an industry.”

After Feight’s remarks, Kevin Baney, Kenworth’s chief engineer, amplified those points by referring to topics previously discussed during the question-and-answer session.

He suggested drivers of passenger vehicles may be worried about a concept such as platooning, which allows trucks to follow each other at close distances through an electronic link. However, cars routinely tailgate other vehicles and perform risky maneuvers, even though they don’t have access to many safety features available on trucks, such as adaptive cruise control.

Later in the day, I witnessed a number of cars darting between trucks during a test drive featuring the adaptive cruise control system on the highways near the Paccar Technical Center in Mount Vernon, Washington.

“It is a tough environment, but that happens every day,” Baney said.