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U.S. Department of Transportation U.S. Department of Transportation Icon United States Department of Transportation United States Department of Transportation

Public Roads - Summer 1995

The Top Truck and Bus Safety Issues

by Stan Hamilton

One hears the words "Kansas City" around the Federal Highway Administration's (FHWA) Office of Motor Carriers (OMC) a lot these days. And, for that matter, in the administrator's office and the office of the secretary of transportation, too.

"Kansas City" is the synonym for "action" -- for a new emphasis on highway safety.

The reason is FHWA's first-ever Truck and Bus Safety Summit, which took place in Kansas City in mid-March. A summit that brought together no fewer than 200 select and diverse, recognized leaders of industry, manufacturing, the enforcement community, and safety advocacy groups, to single out some.

And, perhaps most importantly, a group of the cream of the crop of commercial drivers -- 25 safety award-winning experts in everyday, highway operating conditions.

Never before had all these interest groups, with their varying agendas and strategies for promoting them, been assembled under one roof in an attempt to reach consensus on issues most needing attention. They were not asked for solutions or suggested countermeasures. The purpose was only to develop the list of most significant safety issues.

Secretary of Transportation Federico Peña set the tone in his remarks to the group when he said: "This summit... raises the profile of safety to the highest levels and gives us a unique opportunity to expand the partnerships we've been building. This summit is the right way to start, but it's only a beginning. After it's over, we've got to come down from the mountaintop and continue the hard work of developing common-sense initiatives that protect Americans and that work for industry."

The overall theme of the three-day forum -- Safety Is Our Driving Force -- was picked up and stressed by another opening-day speaker, Federal Highway Administrator Rodney E. Slater.


Federal Highway Administrator Rodney Slater greets some of the truck drivers who were Summit participants. Slater and Department of Transportation Secretary Federico Pena had a private lunch with the drivers.


"Each word," he said, "connotes something different to each person hearing it. 'Safety' -- We will be hearing much in the next three days about what this means to each of the 10 groups represented. 'Our' Connotes ownership. 'Driving' Moving an idea forward, making progress, being proactive. 'Force' Sounds like power, something strong, something to be contended with. Safety should be the strongest voice in our dialogue. Hopefully, by the end of the summit, it will have a similar meaning to each person hearing the phrase 'Safety Is Our Driving Force.'"

The participants were divided into 10 work groups organized under single themes, such as drivers, and each group was charged on the first day to develop a short list of top safety issues. They all reassembled on day two to hear what the other groups had developed. Then, taking all the lists, they went back into their separate meetings to vote on a final list.

What evolved from this process was a list of 17 issues (see box) -- the most votes going to the broad subject of fatigue.


Secretary Pena, with Administrator Slater behind him, gets ready to inspect a truck with the help of a Kansas City, Mo., police officer.
Secretary Pena gets an inspector's view of a truck undercarriage -- part of the inspection procedure.


The delegates clearly recognized that fatigue is more than a simple matter of determining when one is so tired that driving should cease. George L. Reagle, the FHWA associate administrator for motor carriers, spelled it out a week after the summit in a talk at a National Press Club Transportation Table luncheon: "Many factors were cited in the fatigue area; some of them were also mentioned under 'working conditions,' which was ranked number 13. For instance, schedules imposed by shippers, receivers, carriers themselves, dispatchers. Lumping and other unloading practices that may induce fatigue or eat into a driver's available driving hours. Whether the way some drivers are compensated forces hours-of-service violations. Unforeseen road conditions; you know what drivers say: 'The shortest distance between two points is always under repair.' A substantial lack of adequate places for drivers to pull over and rest when tired. And then there are recently recognized scientific elements like sleep apnea, microsleep, circadian rhythms, and so forth."

"Fatigue is not an issue with easy solutions. And as congestion increases and highways do not, the problems will only get more difficult," Reagle said.

So, armed with the 17 issues, what is the plan?

Reagle told the Press Club audience that Secretary Peña and Administrator Slater were pleased by the summit results and made it very clear to Reagle that OMC must keep the ball rolling.

To that end, Reagle appointed John Grimm to the temporary position of senior adviser for commercial vehicle outreach. Grimm, director of OMC's Office of Motor Carrier Information Analysis and a former truck company owner, is tasked to see that the issues are confronted and dealt with collectively by all the agency's partners and customers.

"We have identified some 75 such partners with vested interests in truck and bus safety," said Grimm. "We are working with them to establish a national, coordinated plan in which each partner does his share and no one is reinventing the wheel.

"We got a lot of excellent nuggets of ideas at the summit, and we intend to see how they can be used nationwide. We want to implement these quickly."

Top Safety Issues

The Summit participants rated these 17 areas as the most significant safety issues, in descending order:

  1. Fatigue -- driving, scheduling, unloading, and road conditions that induce fatigue, as well as hours-of-service violations and a lack of adequate places to rest.
  2. Data/information -- lack of information regarding heavy vehicle crashes and their related causes.
  3. Driver training -- need for better and continuing education for all drivers, commercial and private.
  4. Technology -- development and deployment of emerging, practical technologies to improve safety.
  5. Uniform regulations -- lack of uniformity in safety regulations and procedures among states and between Mexico and Canada, causing poor attitude toward safety.
  6. Enforcement -- need for effective testing and licensing, traffic enforcement, and adjudication of highway user violations.
  7. Carrier/shipper responsibility -- demands by carriers, shippers, and receivers on drivers that result in driver violations.
  8. Communications -- develop national motor carrier safety marketing campaign and expand education efforts to public for sharing the road with large vehicles.
  9. Partnership -- better coordination and communication among all highway users.
  10. License deficiencies -- review of commercial driver license testing procedures.
  11. Funding -- better safety promotion through adequate funding.
  12. Size and weight -- impacts of different vehicle sizes and configurations, as well as impact of road design on commercial vehicles.
  13. Working conditions -- review of standards and industry practices as they affect driver workload.
  14. Regulatory reform -- regulations based on common sense and science, consistent across government agencies.
  15. Infrastructure -- close coordination among all modes, organizations, and needs.
  16. Resource allocations -- priorities and allocation of scarce resources through better safety management systems, with safety as top priority.
  17. Accident countermeasures -- research targeted to seek and define proactive and nonpunitive countermeasures to prevent accidents.


Secretary Pena sat in on several of the work group sessions. This is the enforcement/legal group led by Terrance W. Gainer (standing, in sweater), director of the Illinois State Police. Group input is being recorded by Ronald Havelaar of OMC's Fort Worth office.


Stan Hamilton is the public affairs spokesman for the FHWA's Office of Motor Carriers. Before joining OMC in 1987, he held top-level positions with the Interstate Truckload Carriers Conference of the American Trucking Associations and the American Bus Association. He also was a reporter and editor for Traffic World magazine and the Kansas City Star. He is a graduate of the University of Kansas.