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Billions in Safety Costs Pay Off for Truckers

3 min read

It’s nice when you get what you pay for — especially when you pay $9.5 billion a year for it.

The American Trucking Associations just released a report on a 2015 study that showed that the trucking industry spends $9.5 billion a year on safety initiatives. The ATA said that money covered four areas: technology, driver training, reward pay and regulatory compliance.

The investments are proving to be worth it. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration reported a 32 percent decrease in the number of fatal crashes involving large trucks from 1980 to 2014. The rate of such crashes per 100 million miles dropped 74 percent, and trucks had a 28 percent less chance of being in a crash than a car.

The ATA reported that 36 percent of the $9.5 billion was spent on driving training, followed by 26 percent for compliance and 25 for safety technology. Rewards paid to drivers for safety accomplishments made up 13 percent.

“We know this industry prioritizes and invests in improving safety on our nation’s highways,” said Dave Osiecki, the executive vice president of national advocacy for the American Trucking Associations. “With the results of this survey, we now can put a dollar figure on that investment, and that figure is significant.”

Driver training is the first line of defense, and the report’s findings support that. Maverick Transportation of North Little Rock is a good example of that locally.

Maverick, led by CEO Steve Williams, spent $4 million to expand the company’s training center two years ago. Maverick specializes in transporting cargo such as steel and glass on flatbed trucks, so part of Maverick’s driver training is on securing those loads properly.

Williams has said it costs him $10,000 to train each new driver for Maverick.

Regulatory compliance, next on the expenditure list, refers to expenses such as drug testing and record checks. It probably could go without saying that a sober driver with a clean road record is a much better safety risk than the opposite.

Technological advancements also help improve safety. Modern trucks, like modern anythings, have improved features that were unimaginable a few decades ago: Now trucks can have collision avoidance and blind spot warnings.

That is a vast improvement over the old system: a sign on the rear of the trailer that says, “If you can’t see my side mirror, I can’t see you.”

The American Trucking Associations pointed out that the $9.5 billion figure did not include the money that trucking companies spend on new equipment and maintenance, two areas that companies do indeed spend a lot of money on and which are crucial to road safety. For example, earlier this year J.B. Hunt Transport Services of Lowell spent millions for 4,000 Wabash trailers that are designed to protect against high-impact collisions.

“Safety is the highest priority at J.B. Hunt,” said Greer Woodruff, the company’s senior vice president of safety, security and driver personnel. “We do everything possible to ensure we have the safest drivers and equipment on the road.”

Some might quibble that incentive pay is fourth on the list, but driver pay is a story for another day. What is clear is that the trucking industry loves its super-safe drivers.

Robert Decker, the Driver of the Year for USA Truck Inc. of Van Buren, got a fancy new tractor as a reward for a record of nearly 3 million accident-free miles. Loren Hatfield of ABF Freight, a subsidiary of ArcBest Corp. of Fort Smith, was named the Arkansas Trucking Association’s Driver of the Year this year and has more than 2 million accident-free miles under his belt.

Ken Jones of Wal-Mart Stores Inc. was the Arkansas Trucking Association’s Driver of the Year last year with nearly 4 million miles of accident-free driving in his career. The accidents he worked as a tow truck driver influenced his safety consciousness.

“It sticks in your mind,” Jones said. “That could by your family, my family.”

That thought also makes $9.5 billion seem like a good investment.

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