WASHINGTON, D.C.—Trucks are enormously important to our nation’s economy, bringing goods and commodities to our homes, stores, and businesses. In fact, almost 72 percent of the manufactured tonnage from my state of West Virginia is transported by trucks, travelling alongside passenger cars on our highways—and across the nation.
For everyone on the road, we have a responsibility to make sure those trucks are operating safely. Yet far too often, they are not, and the consequences can be deadly. Earlier this month, a set of dual wheels broke from a tractor-trailer driving along Interstate 470 in Wheeling, West Virginia. They slammed into a passing car and killed its driver, John Ruskowski of Shadyside, Ohio. The driver of the tractor-trailer was cited for equipment violations.
When we fail to make safety priority number one, our entire community is put in danger. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) reports that the total number of large truck crashes increased 23 percent from 2001 to 2008. That is despite the recent economic downturn and a decline in the number of trucks on the road. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recently warned that accidents on our nation’s highways will increase as the economy continues to recover.
In West Virginia, the 2007 highway traffic fatality rate of 24 per 100,000 people was tied for fourth highest in the nation. Further, the fatality rate measured by vehicle miles traveled is also not improving significantly. In 2004, West Virginia’s fatality rate per 100 million vehicle miles traveled was 2.02 compared to the national average of 1.44. By 2008, we still had a rate of 1.83, well above the national average of 1.25.
This year, the Commerce Committee is gearing up to reauthorize the FMCSA, which has jurisdiction over large truck and bus safety. I firmly believe a lot can be done – and should be done – to improve large truck and bus safety. For one, the agency must ensure its actions do not impede efforts by states to address truck safety. I was disappointed by FMCSA’s delay in issuing the 2010 Unified Carrier Registration (UCR) fee preventing 41 states from collecting critical revenue to help support their truck safety efforts.
UCR fees allow West Virginia, for example, to have a Motor Carrier Safety Assistance Program. We use UCR fees as a match for the Commercial Vehicle Information Systems and Networks grant and to help administer West Virginia’s motor carrier safety program. West Virginia is not alone. Many states count on UCR fees for their motor carrier safety and enforcement programs. I am glad FMCSA was recently able to issue the rule, but I believe this delay could have been avoided, and I trust the agency will take steps so that such a delay doesn’t happen again.
I also believe that driver safety is an incredibly important part of this conversation. Drivers behind the wheels of our trucks and buses are the heart and soul of our nation’s surface transportation system – we want to make sure they are well-trained, well-rested, and fully supported by employers who always put safety first. I agree with Senator Lautenberg that we must take a hard look at increasing our scrutiny over the trucking industry. We have a lot of good ideas to improve truck safety and I look forward to working with him as we reauthorize the FMCSA.