With all the tumult at the top of FMCSA as well as internal shuffling, sadly, safety continues to suffer. New NHTSA early estimate data for 2021 shows crashes continuing to rise even in the face of big regulatory changes. In fact, NHTSA data estimates that fatality crashes involving at least one large truck was up 13% over 2020. To be fair, FHWA estimates that vehicles miles traveled increased by 11% last year too, but an increase is an increase and one crash and one life lost is too many.
But what is the government’s role in this? STC has been discussing the paradigm between safety and compliance lately. The relationship is, of course, tenuous. Whenever a new rule is proposed, regulators justify the need it by estimating the number of crashes eliminated and lives saved. The implementation of three significant rule changes the last several years to include ELDs, the Drug & Alcohol Clearinghouse and changes to hours of service appears to some to have failed to live up to its promises. Sure, crashes are inherently complicated and rare events, but each time a new rule is proposed, they come with the expectation of improved safety. Looking at the latest numbers, it seems reality may not be living up to expectations. STC isn’t suggesting these rule changes were made in error, in fact, we’ve supported each in the past. That’s why regular and timely evaluations of these new rules is necessary to understand their true impact as well as to validate the Agency’s modeling techniques. Without it, we can’t be sure of their real-life impacts and may be failing to learn important lessons that could meaningfully improve safety.
Whenever STC helps a carrier develop or update their safety policies and procedures, we also recommend their regular review to ensure they’re properly addressing the ever-changing safety and operational landscape. Safety policies that are placed on the shelf to collect dust are seldom effective. The same may be true for safety regulations.