Stay Alert

Defensive driving, adequate training are keys to getting there safely.


With study after study showing that truck drivers with an excessive number of violations are more likely to be involved in crashes than their violation-free counterparts, removing at-risk drivers from behind the wheel as quickly as possible is becoming a top priority for the transportation industry.

One way the industry is seeking to address this is through a driver violation notification program, which will alert employers to changes in a driver’s record.

While civil libertarians and others are seeking to block this from happening, studies by the American Transportation Research Institute have determined that trucking fleet operators with such a program can save huge amounts on their insurance premiums, while at the same time eliminating between 1,700 and 1,900 crashes a year. That could lead to 25 fewer fatalities and 600 fewer injuries.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Admini­stra­tion (FMCSA) is one government agency that has been looking at the driver violation notification issue, as are many individual trucking firms and industry associations.

In fact, FMCSA has begun a large-scale effort to promote a program associated with managing and distributing truck driver information and ensure that fleet managers have accurate, up-to-date information on driver safety records. One solution proposed is an Internet-based program that allows transporters to register drivers and receive e-mail notification of license status changes.

With few exceptions, existing regulatory requirements place the burden on employers to discover a driver’s safety record. Current laws require drivers to notify employers of convictions, but that does not always happen, meaning that unsafe drivers may continue to pose a danger on the roads, an FMCSA spokesperson says.

And, of course, truck drivers themselves are concerned. Paul Beote, a driver for H.P. Hood Dairy, based in Chelsea, MA, is not one of them. In his 34 years behind the wheel for the dairy company, he has not recorded a single violation or accident in more than 3.1 million miles traveled, and has earned half a dozen awards for driver safety. The most recent was the Ryder Fleet Management Solutions 2004 Driver of the Year.

Beote averages about 400 miles a day, or 2,000-2,500 miles a week, traveling throughout New England delivering ice cream, milk, yogurt, cottage cheese and the like between H.P. Hood dairy plants and customers. His day starts and ends at the dairy’s Portland, ME, facility. Though he is employed by H.P. Hood, he qualified for the Ryder driver safety award, issued earlier this year, because the dairy company leases its trucks from Ryder Systems Inc., based in Miami.

He considers himself lucky to have driven so long without incident, but there is certainly more to safe driving than just outwitting fate. For Beote, driver safety is all about a mindset. “You have to want to drive and enjoy your job. You have to enjoy what you’re doing to stay calm behind the wheel,” he says.

“If there’s a car around, I slow down and let him get away from me,” says Beote, “because there are a lot of aggressive drivers and you don’t know what they will do next.”

Truck Drivers Are Improving Their Habits, But...
Research by FMCSA and the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety continues to show that it is usually those other drivers, and not the truck drivers, who cause up to 75 percent of fatal car-truck accidents. Statistically, during the past 10 years, truck drivers have far better safety records than drivers of other vehicle types. For example:

  • The number of large trucks involved in injury crashes per 100 million miles traveled dropped 32 percent, while the rate for passenger vehicles dropped 23 percent.
  • Seventy-seven percent of truck drivers involved in fatal crashes were wearing their seat belts, compared to 59 percent of passenger vehicle drivers.
  • Factors like speeding, running off the road or out of the traffic lane and failure to yield the right of way accounted for 41 percent of fatal truck crashes and 68 percent of fatal passenger vehicle crashes. Speeding was a factor in only 22 percent of fatal truck crashes, compared to 31 percent of all crashes.
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