The National Transportation Safety Board concluded its investigation into the New Jersey traffic accident that injured comedian Tracy Morgan and killed James McNair. The corresponding statement by NTSB Chairman Christopher Hart presented several statistics reflecting on the dangerousness of commercial trucks on the road. Heavy trucks, according to Hart, are involved in nearly one in eight fatal crashes and one in four accidents with a fatality in a work zone.
The report concluded that Wal-Mart could have done a better job of educating its drivers about the importance of sleep, that emergency responders had inadequate training, and the lack of seat belt usage in the van contributed to the severity of the accidents.
The report spurred an op-ed in the New York Times over the weekend entitled “The Trucks Are Killing Us by Howard Abramson. The article notes that more people “will be killed in traffic accidents involving large trucks this year than have died in all of the domestic commercial airline crashes over the past 45 years…” Approximately four thousand people will die this year in truck-invoved crashes and that number has risen for four years in a row.
The op-ed takes issue with the truck industry’s resistance to safety improvements and Congress’ attempted relaxation of safety standards such as the the number of hours that can be worked in a week. It also makes fun of the notion in the truck industry that larger trucks with heavier payloads will decrease the number of trucks on the road and thus accidents.
Congress is going to need to pass a comprehensive highway funding bill soon and will also eventually need to respond to the various recalls related to unsafe cars on the road. It will be interesting to see if Congress will at some point reverse course and start making regulations on commercial trucks tougher in order to crack down on the increasing number of accidents.