Safety is as fundamental to trucking as the freight it carries, but never has it been more important in the public's mind. Recent events, such as the Bourbonnais, Ill., train crash or the rollover of a tractor-trailer carrying black powder in Virginia, have put safety in the spotlight.
The Bourbonnais incident - which left 11 people dead - called into question the integrity of the commercial driver licensing system and how - or if - states share information about drivers. This has prompted federal officials to find a way to plug the holes in the system.
A constant topic of debate is whether its safe to have big trucks on the nation's highways. While the fatality rate in relation to miles driven has dropped considerably since 1975, the total number of people killed in those crashes has remained steady. So are trucks safe? The debate boils down to trends versus numbers.
Even though no one can settle on a benchmark to gauge trucking safety, technology is being eyed as a a way to reduce the number of accidents and save lives. Rollover warning alarms and collision avoidance systems could help prevent many roadway accidents. But what's available - and what's on the drawing board - for the safe truck of the future?
But there's something missing from our super safety rig - the much-debated data recorder. Despite a recommendation by the National Transportation Safety Board in 1989, drivers and the industry at large have been lukewarm to the idea of "black boxes" in the rigs of the future.
Of course, this technology comes at a price. Even a basic black box runs about $600, so equipping an entire fleet can be costly. Perhaps too costly for some, which raises the question: Is the price of safe trucking keeping new carriers out of the industry?
Meanwhile, debate has been stirring over the Federal highway Administration's Office of Motor Carrier and Highway Safety. After George Reagle was removed as head of the office earlier this year, OMCHS underwent a massive reorganization under it's new boss, Julie Cirillo. The agency is currently preparing a revised and reorganized Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations. Whether the new FMCSR will help promote safety - or create more bookkeeping headaches - remains to be seen.