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Consumer, Highway Safety Groups Give Broken Axle Awards to Office of Motor Carriers

June 3, 1999

Consumer, Highway Safety Groups Give Broken Axle Awards to Office of Motor Carriers

Awards Highlight Push to Strengthen Safety Rules for Big Trucks

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Public Citizen and Citizens for Reliable and Safe Highways (CRASH) today gave the first Broken Axle awards to the federal Office of Motor Carriers for its failure to effectively regulate the trucking industry. At a press conference, the groups also released a National Truck Safety Repair Manual that lists the top 10 actions the government should take to fix truck safety.

Last year more than 5,300 people died in crashes involving large trucks — an average of more than 100 per week — and another 141,000 were injured. It is estimated that deaths will rise to 6,000 in 2000. Yet, the OMC has done little or nothing to stem the highway carnage.

“Imagine if we had an airplane crash that killed 100 people every week throughout the year,” said Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook. “There would be public outrage. There would be congressional hearings. It would be on the front pages of every major newspaper and every evening news show. Yet with truck crashes, tragedy strikes community by community, family by family. These crashes don t make headlines. But make no mistake, this is a national tragedy. A national scandal. It is preventable. And it must stop.”

The No. 1 recommendation contained in the National Truck Safety Repair Manual is moving the OMC from the Federal Highway Administration, where it is located now, to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), as proposed by Rep. Frank Wolf, a Virginia Republican. The agency has been severely criticized recently by the Department of Transportation s inspector general, the General Accounting Office, the National Transportation Safety Board and at four congressional hearings.

The 10 Broken Axle awards correspond to specific failures of the OMC. For example, the OMC received the Tired Axle award because it has ignored recommendations to update hours-of-service rules to provide adequate off-duty rest time. Truck driver fatigue is a major contributing factor in heavy truck crashes. The Crooked Axle award was given to OMC because it has conducted faulty research in collaboration with the trucking industry and has attempted to use tainted results as a basis for regulatory actions and other public policy decisions affecting safety.

“It is now clear that the OMC is a broken agency, and that s why we give it the Broken Axle awards,” said Michael Scippa, executive director of CRASH, based in San Francisco. “This agency has failed the American public. It has systematically ignored mandates from Congress and has done nothing to stem the slaughter on our highways. Its recently announced Safety Action Plan is nothing more than a continuation of its laissez-faire approach.”

Police Officer Lee Jackson from Ft. Worth, Texas, was injured in 1996 when a large truck veered in front of his police car. He said he knew from his 15 years of police experience that the OMC s regulation is lax. “I know there needs to be greater conspicuity so people can see these trucks at night and a freeze on the weight on the length of these trucks. The driver s hours of service also need to be regulated.”

Theresa Hamm, a member of CRASH who prepared a statement for the press conference about the loss of four family members, including two children, in a truck crash in North Carolina. “I can t ignore what happened to me and my family, and I must struggle daily to turn my grief and pain into something positive,” she said. “I am outraged by trucking lobbyists demands for even more massive trucks and less stringent work rules for their drivers. The trucking lobby is stubbornly ignoring tragedies like mine in order to continue with business as usual.”

Also presenting awards were Harry Benoit of Gaithersburg, Md., who lost his daughter Nancy in 1984 when her car was rear-ended by a big rig in Texas, and Vince Laubach of Springfield, Va., who has been a victim of two truck hit-and-run crashes.

Public Citizen and CRASH recommended the following government actions:

Move the OMC to NHTSA;

Change hours-of-service rules so drivers work/rest schedule adheres to a 24-hour day;

Act immediately to issue long-overdue regulations for entry-level driver standards and for advanced training of drivers of Longer Combination Vehicles;

Immediately terminate existing pilot programs that provide exemptions from Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations;

Rate all registered interstate motor carriers and make safety ratings more stringent;

Reject past research results that are scientifically defective, such as the Driver Fatigue and Alertness Study;

Immediately issue regulations requiring in-service truck tractors to have reflective tape;

Do not open the border states and allow carriers from Mexico to travel beyond commercial zones until sufficient inspection facilities are in place to guarantee safety;

Issue rulemaking proposal that explicitly prohibits the viewing of TV screens and monitors by truck and bus drivers;

Replace failed “education” efforts funded by taxpayer dollars with effective regulation and enforcement actions.