Avery Vise is editorial director of Commercial Carrier Journal. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
You often hear about studies that question long-held assumptions. Maybe you learn that the nitrites in bacon neutralize the cholesterol in eggs. Or second-hand tobacco smoke actually immunizes people against certain cardiac and respiratory diseases. Fascinating stuff, brought to you as a public service by groups like the American Egg Board or the Tobacco Institute. (These are not real findings, so please, no letters.)
One of the first rules of critical thought is: Consider the source. Unfortunately, that’s not always easy to do. Even research conducted by universities, independent research firms and “think tanks” isn’t necessarily unbiased. To get the full picture, you have to understand how the research was funded, how the scope of work was defined and what methodology was used.
Good luck. Few reporters have the time, energy or patience for this level of investigation. And even if they did, who would read, watch or listen to that much information? If you can’t squeeze the story into a “sound bite” or “factoid,” forget about it.
Once in a while, however, you come across a study that gains credibility because of the source. That happened last month when the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety released a study finding that driver errors by both car and truck drivers were responsible for more than half of fatal car-truck accidents.
The AAA Foundation study also confirmed earlier studies’ findings that car drivers commit many more unsafe actions than do truck drivers.
It’s not the study’s finding that’s surprising. We have heard it before and know it from personal experience. What’s surprising is that the statement comes in a report released by a research group affiliated with AAA, the nation’s top association of motorists. You don’t hear that sort of thing every day.
Admittedly, the AAA Foundation and AAA don’t have the same mission. AAA provides services to and represents the interests of its members. The foundation’s mission is “to prevent traffic-related deaths and injuries by conducting research and educating the public about preventive strategies.”
Clearly, however, there is a strong connection between the two organizations. USA Today reported in April that the AAA Foundation’s previous top executive resigned after AAA’s president questioned whether the foundation should publicize this very report on car-truck crashes. That might explain why the report, which was released in late July, bears an April 2002 date.
AAA responded to the AAA Foundation report immediately by announcing that it would re-launch its Share with Care campaign, which provides education and tips to car and truck drivers. Unlike the AAA Foundation’s press release, AAA’s statement didn’t acknowledge that car drivers’ actions are usually more responsible for crashes than truck drivers’ actions. But it’s a start.
Ideally, the AAA Foundation report and AAA’s Share with Care program would be the beginning of a huge shift in public opinion about truck-involved crashes. Eventually, everyone would realize that the problem isn’t big trucks; it’s bad drivers. But I’m too much of a cynic to even wish for that. We can’t expect AAA to focus on this issue.
The trucking industry should take every opportunity to publicize the new study. The AAA Foundation and AAA news releases, the study itself and Share with Care materials are available on their websites, www.aaafoundation.org and www.aaanewsroom.net. Download them and send them to local media.
Write a letter to the editor of your newspaper highlighting the study’s findings and, especially, praising the AAA Foundation for conducting the study. Now that four-wheelers have taken the first step toward treating their problem, let’s give them all the encouragement we can.