The truck and bus industries have come a long way on safety. According to FMCSA’s Large Truck and Bus Crash Facts reports, in 1979, the fatal crash rate among these carriers was 0.393 fatal crashes per 100 million miles traveled. In 2020, that number was 0.158, a nearly 60% decline. STC sees a coming-of-age story when we look at these numbers in context.
Despite this nearly 60% decline in the fatal crash rate, the success has not been evenly distributed over the years. The earlier data shows a more pronounced downward trend compared to the more recent years, demonstrating slowed improvement and even a recent degradation of safety. To explain this, we’ll rely on a metaphor in which FMCSA (and its predecessor agencies) is the parent, and the truck and bus industries are the offspring.
As budding young children in the mid to late 20th century, motor carriers were still learning to think and act on safety concerns. Learning how to improve safety was like navigating uncharted waters, and they looked to regulators as our parents to provide needed knowledge and guidance. Regulators conducted studies to provide foundational building blocks upon which our safety programs could grow and mature. During this time, we saw the implementation of the Commercial Driver’s Licensing apparatus, the promulgation of drug and alcohol testing rules, and the setting of minimum medical standards for operators of commercial motor vehicles, among other things.
These big, important pieces informed our fundamental thinking on basic principles of safe driving. Like any good child, we absorbed those as important truths and, as we matured, started thinking more critically about how to make continued safety improvements beyond what was taught by regulators. Over the years, motor carriers have continued to mature, and it has been a challenge for regulators. Regulators began having difficulty managing all of their motor carriers as they began to take risks and mistakes. And, like any parent, regulators made mistakes, too.
But now, our understanding of safety is firmly rooted in the values bestowed upon us by regulators who led the way. We have grown up and are ready to venture into the real world to reinvent safety and make the industry a better place.
Similarly, FMCSA, like all parents, might struggle now that the student has become the teacher and that motor carriers are ready to be more independent after years of learning the basics. Motor carriers are prepared, having absorbed lessons and applied them in the field by inventing new ways to improve safety. Sadly, like all parents, FMCSA struggles to keep up with the times. It may be time for them to remove barriers to innovation while being open to discussion when motor carriers experience challenges. FMCSA needs to trust that the lessons they taught are enough and for us to begin leading the way.
Look, STC understands. Just a few years ago, we were teaching our kids how to log into an iPad and access a movie on Netflix. Now our kids are using devices we’ve never seen and apps we’ve never heard of. Now we just have to let them make their own choices in this digital world and just hope we’ve taught them how to make the right decisions when it really matters. We’ll be right here for our kids when they need us and will continue to offer guidance as they forge their paths without us standing in the way.