NTSB’s Most Wanted List: Trucking Safety

Each year, the National Transportation Safety Board issues its 10 Most Wanted List of Transportation Safety Improvements aimed at reducing transportation accidents and saving lives. It’s nice to see that four of the 10 items would impact the safety of commercial trucks.

Because of their size and the sheer number of commercial trucks on our roads, 18-wheelers pose a potentially serious threat when a driver is impaired, distracted or physically unfit for duty, or when the rig has been improperly maintained. According to the NTSB, nearly 4,000 people were killed and more than 100,000 were injured in truck crashes in 2012.

So it’s not surprising that the NTSB devoted one of its 10 Most Wanted to strengthening commercial trucking safety. The agency suggested stronger oversight by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) “to ensure that new carriers address any safety deficiencies in a timely fashion.” The NTSB also recommended that regulators “promote proper fleet maintenance and proven life-saving technology.”

The agency also called for ways to reduce distracted driving. Clearly, all drivers would do well to focus on the road rather than their phone, but a distracted truck driver has the potential to do far more damage than the driver of a VW Bug.

Another recommendation by the NTSB that could help reduce deadly truck crashes is a crackdown on substance impairment. According to the NHTSA, the number of fatally injured drivers who had drugs in their system rose from 13 percent to 18 percent from 2005-2009. Although most drivers know the risk of driving under the influence of alcohol, marijuana or prescription drugs, the fact remains that over-the-counter medications (such as Benadryl) have also been linked to a large number of crashes, according to the NTSB.

To combat impaired driving, the agency urged stronger impaired driving laws, increased use of high-visibility enforcement, expanded use of technology, such as ignition interlocks and passive alcohol sensors, and development of emerging in-vehicle technology, such as the Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety.

The fourth item on the NTSB’s Most Wanted list that would dramatically improve truck safety is to require medical fitness for duty for safety-critical personnel, such as commercial truckers. Undiagnosed or untreated sleep apnea, inadequate color vision, certain medications and other physical conditions can significantly impair driver fitness. The NTSB urged a medical certification system for safety-critical transportation personnel that ensures they are medically fit for duty.

Enacting these four trucking-related items on the NTSB’s Most Wanted List could save lives and improve the public’s confidence in one of our nation’s most vital industries. Here’s hoping that trucking companies take heed and make our highways safer for everyone.