“Safety Efforts Making a Difference in Saving Lives.”

The year was 1997 – Bill Clinton was inaugurated for his second term as U.S. President. Sovereignty of Hong Kong was handed back to China by the United Kingdom. The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed above 8,000 for the first time. And in Utah, history was also made that year when the state experienced 57 fatalities – the highest number in decades – from crashes involving large trucks.

Flash forward 15 years – in 2012, 4.5 million hybrid cars are sold worldwide. Facebook has one billion members. Skydiver Felix Baumgartner free falls 24 miles from the stratosphere. And in Utah, a critical number also has fallen – the state experiences a record low of 18 fatalities from crashes involving large trucks . While the number of fatalities in crashes involving large trucks also declined nationwide during that 15-year period, the reduction was particularly pronounced in Utah.

When the Utah Trucking Association invited me to write an article about truck crash fatality trends in our State, I respond- ed with enthusiasm since we have indeed made significant progress in the past 15 years. In addition, this provides an opportunity to highlight the vital role that each of us plays in reducing the number and the severity of crashes involving large commercial trucks and buses – and ultimately saving lives.

Utah experienced an 18 percent reduction in fatalities in crash- es involving large trucks from the previous year – 18 fatalities in 2012, down from 22 in 2011, and from 35 in 2010, as shown in FIGURE 1:

This reduction in fatalities is remarkable for several reasons:

  • The reduction in Utah from the previous year occurred while truck crash fatalities across the Nation increased slightly, although still near historic lows;
  • This represents a two-thirds reduction from the peak year in Utah, 1997, when 57 lives were lost in truck crashes in our State;
  • Perhaps most significantly, 18 is the lowest number of lives lost in truck crashes in any year in Utah in recent decades.

The reduction in lives lost is positive news, but we still have much work to do. According to the Utah Highway Safety Office, Utah has experienced an increase in overall highway crash fatalities during 2014 through the end of August (167), over the same time period last year (144). While the number of fatali- ties in large truck crashes has not yet been separated out from that overall figure, it is normally the case that truck crash fatali- ty trends in the State are closely tied to overall fatality trends.

So how do we determine how to divide up the pie with regard to giving credit for these reductions? Which entity has had the greatest impact – motor carriers, drivers, industry safety per- sonnel, regulators, law enforcement, equipment manufactur- ers, technology providers, highway design engineers, or traffic safety and education organizations? While I am one who thinks that there is value in analyzing the data to look for answers to such questions, I also believe that in this case it’s not possible to determine an exact portion of the reduced number of crash- es for which any one entity or effort is responsible. Utah has very comprehensive and robust safety systems and programs in place that are greater and more effective in combination than the sum of the individual parts; accordingly, there is no clear dividing line between those slices.

Nonetheless, I am confident that we can identify many factors that contribute to such crash reductions. For example, consider a hypothetical trucking company with markedly poor performance scores in the Safety Measurement System (SMS). Specifically, they have a high Crash Indicator score (due in part to fatigue-involved crashes) and a high score in Hours of Service Compliance (principally due to false log and hours-of-service violations). The troubling SMS scores will trigger an intervention by federal or state investigators to include an on- site investigation, which identifies critical violations and results in enforcement action and civil penalties.

Our hypothetical company responds by equipping its trucks with electronic logging devices, closely monitoring its drivers’ hours, establishing an effective system of discipline and rewards for drivers, considering information available through the pre-employment screening program (PSP) to screen out unsafe driver applicants, and working to establish a top-to- bottom, owner-to-dispatcher-to-driver safety culture within the company. With these changes and enhancements in place, drivers are less fatigued, and the company experiences fewer crashes. Carrier by carrier, with each doing their part to improve their own safety performance, this approach leads to improvement across the state and the nation, and contributes to the overall reduction in the large truck fatality figures.

To everyone working in the commercial motor vehicle industry in Utah – I can report to you here that you are making a signifi- cant difference in saving lives. We must nonetheless redouble our efforts and strengthen our safety initiatives, and in keeping with Utah’s Zero Fatalities approach, continue to drive down Utah’s crash fatality figures to zero by focusing on safety – every mile, every day, everywhere.

Speaking of saving lives – since I have the “bully pulpit” here – before I conclude I am asking you to use whatever influence your position yields to convince your drivers to wear their safety belts. It is the responsibility of all of us in the commercial vehicle safety community to promote the safest possible workplace for these employees who work out there where the rubber meets the road, and this relatively “low-tech” approach is an effective and low-cost way to help save commercial driv- ers’ lives. Wearing a safety belt can also save your company another inspection violation – Section 392.16 of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations requires that safety belts be worn by commercial drivers.

In one year’s time, it is my intent to be able to report to you that Utah’s impressive safety trend continues. On behalf of FMCSA, I thank you for all of your efforts to make the highways and roads of Utah and our Nation ever safer.

Please feel free to contact me with any questions you may have at Robert.Kelleher@dot.gov, or 801-270-5420.