So many issues, so little space

Occasionally, editorial writers know weeks in advance what they will write about in the upcoming issue. Often a topic rises to the top as the deadline approaches. Perhaps a veteran truck driver spots the suspects in a nationwide manhunt for two serial killers. Or maybe a company runs a commercial during the Super Bowl that infuriates the trucking industry.

Rarely do we see a month like May, however. It’s difficult to choose between so many enticing subjects.

I could, for example, revisit the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s changes to drivers’ hours-of-service regulations. I stand by my earlier conclusion that the rule overall is reasonable. But there are some legitimate concerns that carriers and drivers have voiced in recent weeks.

I could discuss the effect of adding two more hours of off-duty time on the availability of truck parking. I could explore concerns that creating a 14-hour window during which driving must be completed might encourage drivers to speed and avoid breaks, thereby increasing fatigue. And I certainly could write volumes on whether carriers will – as they should – use that same provision as leverage to get shippers and consignees to fix longstanding inefficiencies.

Or certainly the Transportation Security Administration’s new background check for truck drivers holding hazardous materials endorsements is fertile ground for discussion. I could argue that the entire trucking industry should make a hazmat endorsement a standard hiring qualification, allowing it to enlist TSA’s resources to cleanse its work force of individuals whose undesirability might lie concealed – until it is too late.

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association is urging drivers to comply with the hours-of-service regulations to the absolute letter in June. I could commend OOIDA for taking a bold stand to underscore how drivers bear the brunt – financially and emotionally – for inefficiencies at the nation’s docks.

At the same time, I could object to OOIDA’s characterization of this campaign as National Truck Safety Month. The group is focusing solely on compliance with the hours rule as a way to highlight causes that are more about economics than safety. Meanwhile, there is no specific call for drivers to obey posted speed limits as strictly as they are to obey the hours requirements. According to the government’s data, driving too fast for conditions or in excess of the posted speed limit is the No. 1 driver-related violation recorded in fatal accidents involving large trucks.

Rather than discuss those issues, I will applaud the U.S. Department of Transportation for some of the ideas it floated as part of its proposed reauthorization of highway safety and development programs.

First, DOT proposed to let states use Motor Carrier Safety Assistance Program funds to enforce traffic laws and regulations against non-commercial motor vehicles when the behavior of their drivers increases the risk of CMV accidents. Today, this type of enforcement can be conducted only when combined with a CMV inspection.

This proposal sounds minor, but it suggests a more results-oriented approach regarding truck safety. If most accidents involving automobiles and large trucks are caused by automobile drivers, then why not allow motor carrier safety funds to be used to enforce laws against them?

DOT also proposes to increase funding for the “Share the Road Safely” program to make non-professional drivers aware of the design and handling limits of CMVs. The department would authorize a similar program directed toward improving the situational awareness and defensive driving behaviors of CMV drivers.

These small but important initiatives won’t revolutionize the trucking industry. But they are good ideas that shouldn’t get lost in the shuffle.