Truck safety mandates progress at a glacial pace

Commercial truck accidents are far too common in the United States. And those most likely to be injured and killed in such accidents are everyday drivers – anyone driving a vehicle smaller than a semi.

There are numerous common causes of truck crashes – inattention, vehicle maintenance issues, driver fatigue, etc. But the biggest obstacle standing in the way of crash reduction seems to be politics. Whenever the Department of Transportation tries to implement common-sense safety measures and regulations, trucking industry groups nearly always push back with legal challenges. As a result, new rules and regulations can take years or decades to implement – if they can be implemented at all.

A recent safety “win” is an example of this problem. Electronic logging devices are essentially gadgets that automatically log information on when a truck is moving, how far it has travelled and how many hours it has recently been in service. The DOT recently issued a mandate requiring the use of ELDs on the majority of interstate trucks.

These devices will replace paper log books, which are unreliable and easy for drivers to falsify. The goal of requiring ELDs is to reduce fatigue-related crashes by making it nearly impossible for truck drivers to get away with violating hours of service rules.

This common-sense, low-cost mandate should have been easy to enact. Versions of these devices have been around since the 1980s. But due to trucking industry groups fighting even basic safety requirements, the ELD mandate has taken nearly 3 decades to put in place. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety first petitioned the DOT to create an electronic logging device mandate in 1986. And with another legal challenge pending, it’s not clear that the current mandate will actually survive long enough to go into effect.

Truck accidents are a major hazard on America’s roads and highways, yet most are preventable. Why should politics continue to stand in the way of measures that could literally save lives?