In the United States, tractor trailers can be driven, with very few exceptions, as if they were cars (in the same lanes, at the same speed limits). Of course, from a physics standpoint, large trucks are nothing like a passenger vehicle since they can weigh 80,000 pounds and more. Consequently, they have a longer stopping distance than smaller vehicles when they apply the brakes at the same speeds.
RSA recognizes several other issues that make trucking less safe, including:
- Pay Structure: The vast majority of truck drivers get paid a flat rate per mile driven or an amount per job derived from the mileage involved. This incents truck drivers to drive further and faster, even if they are fatigued. This “as many miles as possible” approach is both unsafe and unfair to the truck drivers and to those with whom they share the road, especially considering this is the only freight method occurring 100 percent of the time on public thoroughfares.Furthermore, truck drivers are specifically exempted from overtime pay treatment by a labor law passed in the 1930’s. In addition, many truck drivers report being compensated inadequately, if at all, for the costs associated with driver detention (time spent waiting at pick-up and delivery docks).
- Tracking Driving Time: Truck drivers can drive 11 hours and work for a total of 14 hours per day. This amounts to some truck drivers working twice as long as the average American each week. Until 2017, truck drivers are allowed to track their work and driving time by using paper logbooks. This antiquated practice makes it easy for bad actors to falsify the amount of hours they have driven. In some cases, drivers have even been found with two log books; they maintain one with their actual hours driven for their employer and one with erroneous information in case they are pulled over by a law enforcement official.
- Minimum Insurance: Following the Motor Carrier Act of 1980, the trucking industry was deregulated. Included in this sweeping legislation was a provision that set the minimum level of insurance for motor carriers at $750,000 per crash (not per claim). The intent of this policy was to create a barrier to entry for unsafe motors carriers. Unfortunately, the amount has never been increased, even for inflation, resulting in inadequate coverage to pay for the costs of a truck crash.
- Schedule II Drug Use: The Large Truck Crash Causation Study found that the most frequently cited contributing factor, when the truck driver was seen as having contributed to a crash, was prescription drug use. Schedule II opioids are prescription drugs that should not be used while operating heavy machinery (per the label on such drugs). Every freight mode prohibits their use while on the job EXCEPT trucking. A truck driver simply needs to obtain verbal permission from a medical professional that he may use the drug while driving. In other words, there is NO documentation required proving that this permission was received.
- Interstate vs. Intrastate Trucking: There are a different set of laws for interstate and intrastate trucking. If a driver crosses a state line with a load, this is interstate trucking and the truck is then subject to federal laws; if the driver stays within a state’s boundaries, however, this is intrastate trucking and that state’s laws apply. This causes drivers, companies, and enforcement personnel to get confused as to what rules should be enforced in given circumstances.