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Safety Starts Behind the Wheel

Growing up in the family trucking business, I learned at a young age that safety is vital to the success of the trucking industry.

By Bill Graves

Motor carriers reap great economic benefits from safe operations. Costs add up very quickly when a driver is pulled over and then put out of service for safety violations. Taking drivers off the road adds delay costs, throws off delivery schedules, and can harm customer relationships.

In addition to its cost-saving aspects, safety is also a moral obligation. Not only is it our responsibility to provide a safe environment for our own employees, but we must also encourage the safety of all motorists sharing our nation’s roads. This commitment is deep-rooted, and is reflected in ATA’s mission statement and original certificate of incorporation filed in 1933. Today that same dedication to safety still rings true throughout the trucking industry.


At a press conference on Capitol Hill, ATA recently announced that the 18-point safety agenda created by ATA’s Safety Task Force has been adopted as ATA policy. The progressive approach to highway safety focuses largely on the driver, targeting ways to improve performance and behavior, and also looks to create safer vehicles and improve motor carrier performance.

Creating safer highways and improving driver behavior begins with better education. ATA encourages uniform commercial driver’s license (CDL) standards and graduated licensing for CDL drivers. On the passenger vehicle side, ATA also supports graduated licensing in all states for non-commercial teen drivers aged 16–19 years old. Studies show a significantly higher risk of accidents among drivers 18–19 years old.

Recently, the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety released a study attributing 56 percent of fatal motor vehicle crashes to aggressive driving. ATA strongly encourages a comprehensive focus on targeting aggressive passenger vehicles and trucks. One recommendation to curb these aggressive behaviors is to institute a national speed limit of 65 mph. It’s no coincidence that last summer, as gas prices skyrocketed and driving speeds decreased, traffic fatalities also decreased.

We’re living in a time of tremendous technological advances. It’s imperative that we embrace the new technology by effectively using tools like automatic speed enforcement and red-light cameras. Nearly 2,000 Americans were killed and 176,000 were injured in 2003 as a result of red light running-related crashes, according to the Federal Highway Administration. Implementing these technologies will promote safer behaviors.

The use of cell phones while driving is another dangerous behavior that must be addressed. It’s estimated that 85 percent of all cell phone users talk on their phones while driving. That’s a scary figure, considering drivers on cell phones are 18 percent slower to react to brake lights. Each year cell phone distraction has been shown to cause a tremendous number of deaths and injuries in the United States.

As an industry, we’ll continue pushing for continued improvement in highway safety, but regulations can only go so far. We need a commitment from all motorists. Whether it’s behind the wheel of a tractor-trailer full of medical supplies or a minivan full of Little Leaguers, safely sharing America’s roadways is a great responsibility that begins in the driver’s seat.

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