Report: Trucking industry avoids mandatory safety devices

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The trucking industry, which lobbies Congress heavily on a wide-swath of transportation issues, is not required to have certain safety devices despite a decades-old push to make them mandatory, according to a new report on NBC’s Today Show.

The Department of Transportation (DOT) has been weighing whether to require “side guards” on all trucks since the 1960s. The devices can help prevent nine out of 10 injuries from under-ride collisions, in which a car hits the side of a tractor-trailer and crashes underneath it.

The collisions are responsible for killing hundreds of people each year in the U.S. Nearly all trucks in Europe have the potentially life-saving devices installed.

{mosads}But safety advocates say the American trucking industry has spent big money to lobby lawmakers, which they say helps them wield some influence over public policy. The report notes that some cities have started requiring the devices in the trucks that they purchase.

The American Trucking Associations (ATA), however, points out the group has never taken a stance on the issue and points out that there haven’t been legislative proposals to lobby against.

“It would save a lot of lives, but the trucking industry opposes it,” said Joan Claybrook, former head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). “The trucking industry gives a huge amount of money to members of Congress.”

Members of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee received more than $9 million in contributions from the entire transportation sector over the last six years, $1 million of which was from the trucking industry, according to the report.

Meanwhile, Chairman John Thune (R-S.D.) has received $830,341 from the transportation industry in the most recent six-year period, $133,250 of which was from the trucking industry.

The trucking industry argues that side guards are not cost-effective, could weaken parts of the trailer and dangerously increase their weight, according to the report.

“[American Trucking Associations] is strongly committed to safety and believes that every fatality or injury on our highways is a tragedy. We also support NHTSA’s proposed rule to strengthen the standards that these guards must meet, and that the vast majority of new trailers already meet,” the group said in a statement to The Hill.

“We believe preventing crashes should be the preeminent strategic safety goal, and that the best underride guard is one that never gets used.  Rather than focus on lessening the impact of a crash after it occurs, we believe the focus should be on preventing crashes through education, enforcement of speed limits, adoption of distracted and aggressive driving laws, and increased use of technology including automatic emergency braking and collision warning systems that provide safety benefits that are the precursors to what we may see from autonomous vehicles in the future.”

Thune pointed out that NHSTA has the authority to draft its own rules and doesn’t need Congress to direct the agency to do so. He also expressed openness to examining any issue that could increase road safety.

“We want to do everything we can to make roads safer,” he said. “If side guards on trucks is something that fits the definition, than that’s something we’ll take a look at in this next [highway] bill.”

–This story was updated to reflect corrections made by NBC to its report, which includes breaking out trucking sector donations from the transportation industry figures and correcting the time period during which those contributions were made.

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