WASHINGTON, D.C. – The U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation announces the following Surface Transportation and Merchant Marine Infrastructure, Safety, and Security Subcommittee hearing on Oversight of Motor Carrier Safety Efforts.
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Chairman John D. (Jay) Rockefeller IVU.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation
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.
Senator Frank R. LautenbergChairmanU.S. Senate Subcommittee on Surface Transportation and Merchant Marine Infrastructure, Safety, and Security
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Let me welcome everyone to today’s hearing as we continue this Subcommittee’s work on truck and bus safety.
On an early Friday morning last month, a tractor trailer in Kentucky unexpectedly left the lane of the highway it was driving down, crossed the median and veered toward oncoming traffic. The out-of-control truck soon struck a dark green van head on. The van was carrying 15 members of an extended family—all on their way to a relative’s wedding. Ten of the passengers on board the van died—including parents and children. The 45 year-old truck driver—who is believed to have fallen asleep while behind the wheel—was also killed.
It was Kentucky’s worst highway crash in more than 20 years. But it was not an isolated incident. The fact is, when a car has a serious crash with a large truck—the results are almost always fatal. Crashes with large trucks along our highways cause, on average, 14 Americans to die every single day.
Just think—big trucks account for only 3.5 percent of all registered vehicles on our roads, yet they are involved in more than 11 percent of all motor vehicle crash deaths. Make no mistake—our economy relies on trucks. In fact, New Jersey is home to the biggest port on the East Coast. It relies on trucks to transport goods. But as important as trucks are—we have to remember these vehicles share the roads with our families and they are more widespread than ever before.
Between 1980 and 2000, highway capacity in our country increased by less than two percent. But during roughly that same period, the number of miles traveled by trucks grew by 100 percent. And since 2000, the number of large trucks on our highways has increased by more than a million newly registered vehicles.
As more trucks clog our highways, we have to make sure they are safe.
Double- and triple-trailers don’t belong on our highways—yet a loophole in our laws allows them to endanger the public. We need to close that loophole and block these long, overweight trucks from using our National Highway System. We also need to make sure truck drivers are alert and driving safely.
While the Department of Transportation has taken some steps recently to increase safety—including moving to ban texting while driving—we have to do more. It is essential that we take the danger posed by tired truck drivers seriously. In the last Congress, we brought to light the flaws in hours of service regulations imposed by the Bush Administration.
Those regulations allowed drivers of large trucks to remain behind the wheel nearly 30 percent longer each week, pushing them to the brink of fatigue. These regulations were so egregious that the courts struck them down not once—but twice. The Obama Administration has made the right move by initiating a new rulemaking on driver hours. But let’s be clear—when this process is over, we cannot wind up with the same flawed regulations that the last Administration designed.
A key way to enforce hours of service rules, combat driver fatigue and hold drivers accountable is with electronic on-board recorders, or EOBRs. A new rule was recently issued by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration that will require some trucks and buses to have EOBRs. While this proposal is a modest improvement over what the last Administration suggested—these new rules still only affect 1.3 percent of all trucking companies. That is far short of universal installation, which the National Transportation Safety Board has placed on its most-wanted list.
Electronic on board recorders should be installed on every truck and bus to protect all drivers on the roads—whether they’re driving a truck, a bus, or a family car. I look forward to working with our witnesses and my colleagues on this Committee to create commonsense solutions so that our trucking industry is safe, our economy keeps moving and our families are protected.
Witness Panel 1
The Honorable Anne S. FerroAdministratorFederal Motor Carrier Safety Administration
The Honorable Deborah A.P. HersmanChairmanNational Transportation Safety Board
Witness Panel 2
Mr. Francis FrancePresidentCommercial Vehicle Safety Alliance
Ms. Jacqueline S. GillanVice PresidentAdvocates for Highway and Auto Safety
Mr. Dave OsieckiSenior Vice President - Policy and Regulatory AffairsAmerican Trucking Association
Mr. Todd SpencerExecutive Vice PresidentOwner-Operator Independent Drivers Association