It’s easy to get stuck in the rut of talking about the poor state of our roads, both in terms of physical structure and ever-worsening congestion. After all, that’s the issue that first grabbed us here at Be Prepared to Stop. But hand-in-hand with that came our concern about safety. We can talk from now until next Christmas about the impact of poor infrastructure on the supply chain and our national, state, and local economies. Yeah, we can hear you yawning from here.
So howzabout 32,719 traffic-related deaths every year (2013 statistics)? Too big a number to get your arms around? That’s about 90 deaths a day. That’s nearly four per hour. And that, my friends, is one death every fifteen minutes every day of every week of the year. Awake now?
3,964 of those deaths – about 11 of the 90 daily fatalities – involved large trucks. Unsurprisingly, the majority of those deaths are not the people in the trucks. The laws of physics are easy enough to grasp in these situations. An 80,000-pound truck versus 4,000-pound car (or a 30,000-pound bus or 15-pound bicycle) means the big rig is hardest to stop, hardest to maneuver, and more likely to cause most of the damage – even when the accident is not the truck’s fault. That being said, those completely unacceptable statistics include approximately 700 truck drivers who are killed in crashes across the US each year.
We recently sat down with Dean Newell, Vice President of Safety and Driver Training at Maverick USA in Little Rock, Arkansas. Newell was an over-the-road driver for more than ten years before he moved into management and has since become a respected voice for trucking safety working with the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance, the American Trucking Association and the Transportation Research Board. In addition, he was recently named Safety Professional of the Year by the Transportation Carriers of America. He spoke with us about the safety investment needed and its payoff.
“[Maverick] spends an enormous amount of money. I think the number this year is $10,200 per person that we bring in, to put them through the entire [training] program,” said Newell. “But I think, if you look at our accident numbers… if we can control our losses, I can spend the money upfront to offset the money in the back. To me it’s about putting the best quality product out on the road that I can possibly put out there. We have a moral obligation to the motoring public and to our employees to get them back home safely.”
Obviously, not every company can afford this kind of investment. The majority of trucking companies aren’t as big as Maverick (approx. 1500 trucks). 97% of US trucking companies operate 20 or fewer trucks. That doesn’t make their drivers any less skilled or safe. It just highlights that there are no industry-wide training standards that could cull some of the bad apples out there.
We also asked Newell about the perception of drivers not getting enough sleep and how that could be regulated. “Unfortunately,” he said, “we can’t control what [drivers do] in their time off, especially on weekends. These guys and gals have a life, so it’s no different than anybody else. You can say that they have to be off and the truck can’t move for 10 hours but you can’t regulate that they actually sleep, unfortunately. You can’t regulate behavior.”
Human behavior. Bites us in the backside every time. No one can make you wear a seat belt, or slow down, or stop you from cutting off another vehicle on a congested highway. No one can make you put down your phone or get enough sleep. No one can stop you from drinking. No one can make you drive smarter and safer. No one but you.
We’re hopeful that Be Prepared to Stop can paint a picture that shows how each and every one of us are responsible for better and safer roads. How each and every one of us needs to demand better and safer roads. Who’s in?