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Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook Testifies Before Senate Subcommittee On Truck Safety Measure

Sept. 29, 1999

Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook Testifies Before Senate Subcommittee On Truck Safety Measure

Survey Results Show Americans Want Stricter Enforcement

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook, testifying before a Senate subcommittee on Wednesday, released results of a new public opinion survey showing that a substantial majority of Americans say they are willing to pay more for truck safety improvements.

“This clearly shows that consumers see an obvious benefit in paying more for their goods when lives are at stake,” Claybrook said.

Seventy-eight percent of the people surveyed said they would be willing to pay more for goods shipped by trucks in exchange for truck safety improvements. An overwhelming 93 percent of the public said that allowing truck drivers to drive longer hours is less safe, and 80 percent said that driving longer hours is much less safe.

“Motorists know that fatigued truck drivers behind the wheel are a safety hazard on the road and that the problem would only be worsened by allowing longer driving hours,” Claybrook said.

The poll was conducted this summer by Opinion Research Corporation International for the Consumer Federation of America and Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, of which Claybrook is program co-chair.

In a separate poll released earlier in the week, a large majority — 81 percent — favor installation of new technologies such as driver warning systems and black boxes in trucks to improve enforcement of safety standards.

In her testimony, Claybrook also said that the agency responsible for truck safety is riddled with systemic defects and conflicts of interest, and its safety responsibilities should be moved to a more effective agency. Claybrook testified before the Senate Subcommittee on Surface Transportation and Merchant Marine. Claybrook was administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) from 1977 to 1981.

Claybrook spoke about S. 1501, a bill introduced by Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee Chairman John McCain that would establish a separate Motor Carrier Safety Administration within the U.S. Department of Transportation. Currently, the Office of Motor Carrier and Highway Safety (OMC), which is responsible for truck safety, is housed within the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA).

In her testimony, Claybrook pointed out that the number of people in passenger vehicles who are killed and injured in large truck crashes has steadily increased over the past seven years. In 1998, 4,212 occupants of passenger vehicles were killed in big truck crashes, up from 4,189 who died in 1997. She pointed out that if the same number of people were killed in airline crashes, there would be media and congressional outrage.

Claybrook also said that truck safety has steadily declined because of enforcement lapses by the OMC. Claybrook recommended that truck safety regulation and enforcement be housed in NHTSA, which has a good track record of targeted safety regulation, data collection and research.