The continued blind emphasis on developing more stringent and more invasive methods of enforcement against truckers will not result in increased highway safety, says Jim Johnston, president of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA).
"There is a price to pay for this philosophy of blindly pushing ahead with continuously increasing enforcement," he says. "Obviously the millions of dollars invested every year in this effort is a stiff price, but even more significant is the rule of diminishing returns."
Johnston made the comments at the International Truck and Bus Safety Symposium at the University of Tennessee, April 3.
Diminishing returns, according to Johnston, result from the negative impact the increasing levels of enforcement are having on professional drivers, influencing many of the best to exit the business.
"The exodus of thousands of good, hardworking professional drivers who are sick and tired of being treated as second class citizens, or targeted for enforcement in every jurisdiction they pass through, is a substantial loss to the industry and to the effort to improve commercial vehicle safety," he said.
Johnston pointed out that there is no pool of well-trained replacements to fill the seats of those experienced professionals leaving the industry. New, inexperienced replacements would only have a negative impact on highway safety. "Truckers have far more at stake than most in improved highway safety, and should be considered partners in the efforts instead of the unjustified targets of enforcement efforts."
He singled out for particular criticism agencies, politicians, and other state and federal forums that continually depict truckers as careless, reckless, irresponsible lawbreakers in need of targeted enforcement. He cited several recent examples of law enforcement officials and politicians whose derogatory comments towards truckers were seemingly done for public relations motives, to seek additional funding or simply to cover their "political behind".
Johnston quoted Department of Transportation statistics involving fatal collisions between trucks and passenger vehicles that indicate passenger vehicles were at fault in the vast majority of cases. "Truckers are the safest drivers on the road; and they do an outstanding job in furthering the cause of highway safety," he said.
Recommending alternative considerations for budget allocation in addressing highway safety, he said efforts should be made to direct funding to research for correcting major vehicle defect problems. "Would it not make more sense to invest some of these resources to develop efficient, dependable brake systems that are less prone to maintenance problems?" he asked. "Does anybody really believe that a large percentage of truckers are knowingly and intentionally running around out there with dangerously defective brakes?"
The lack of mandatory standardized has left the door open for many abuses and a continuing influx of new and unprepared drivers, Johnston added. "It is absolutely ludicrous that occupations such as barbers, hairdressers, and insurance agents are required to go through mandatory training in order to be licensed, but that no training at all is required to obtain a license to operate an 80,000-pound truck over the highway."
Johnston addressed what he said are loading and unloading abuses faced by truckers at docks, and the lack of adequate parking and rest facilities that add stress and impact the daily performance of truckers. "The answer lies not in further victimizing and alienating this force of drivers, but rather in finding ways to involve them in addressing the problem," Johnston said. "Truckers are intelligent, patriotic citizens who are willing to work hard and commit their efforts and loyalty when the cause is worthwhile."